History of the Emerson School

The Emerson School is located in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, one block south of Colfax Avenue and eight blocks east of the Colorado State Capitol. It was designed by Robert Roeschlaub (1843 – 1923), who is widely recognized as Colorado’s first master architect.

Surviving Roeschlaub buildings include the Chamberlain Observatory at the University of Denver, Trinity United Methodist Church in Denver, the Central City Opera House, Dora Moore School and Wyatt School. Roeschlaub’s commissions for more than 50 school and college buildings are a particularly significant aspect of his architectural legacy and were influential in Colorado and nationally.

Completed in 1885, the Emerson School is the oldest remaining Roeschlaub School in Colorado. It is a two-story red brick structure with a raised basement and a large attic under a massive hipped roof. The school has a slightly irregular plan and asymmetrically arranged facades, with some Gothic Revival influence evident in the entry porticos. The large limestone sundial on the south façade is believed to be the first example of the use of a sundial on a Colorado building. It was included as a reminder to students to be on time.

The school has a masonry and timber frame interior structure and thick masonry walls. Four classrooms are located around generous central hallways on the first and second floors. Each classroom has a wall of large windows to provide natural light and ventilation. Classrooms were arranged so that light came from windows to the left of each student’s desk.

A one-story “cottage school” was added to the north side of the Emerson School in 1917. The idea of the cottage school was to separate kindergartners and first graders from the older students and provide a more home-like and cozy environment. The Emerson cottage school had fireplaces in each classroom and a large front porch that could be used for classes when weather allowed. The total square footage for main school, cottage addition and the boiler room (also added in 1917) is just under 20,000-square-feet.

The nomination of the Emerson School to the National Register of Historic Places notes, “The quality of the Emerson School design and construction is borne out by its nearly century-long life as an elementary school.” The Emerson School finally closed in 1979, due to declining enrollment from the Capitol Hill neighborhood. In 1980, a group of three nonprofit organizations purchased the Emerson School and converted it to a senior center, including a geriatric clinic on the first floor.

The Medical Care and Research Foundation took over management of the building in 1989 and a number of additional nonprofit organizations were added as tenants. Several interior changes were made to the main school building, including the construction of individual offices, the addition of a conference room in the original first floor hallway and the installation of a five-stop elevator. The front porch of the cottage school addition was enclosed.

In 1994, the Colorado State Historical Fund provided a grant for masonry repairs, including cleaning, pointing, and replacement of chimney caps and finials. The Emerson School was renamed the Frank B. McGlone Center to honor a physician who served as Executive Director of Capitol Hill Senior Resources and was widely recognized for his service to seniors.

In 2010, the trustees of Capitol Hill Senior Resources, Inc. donated the Emerson School to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In addition, a $2.0 million endowment, established specifically for the long-term maintenance of the Emerson School, has been given to the National Trust by a trustee of Capitol Hill Senior Resources, Inc.

The Emerson School was individually designated a Denver Landmark in 1984 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.