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The Wyatt Charter School - A Piece of History

Article by: Mary Voelz Chandler  originally printed in the Rocky Mountain News, Sunday, November 2, 1997

Denver is a city of neighborhoods, and what a difference that can make in the way a civic building is maintained.  In this instance, the building in question is a historic Denver school, part of a legacy to which the adjective civic can be applied in total honesty.  For years, the Denver school system employed the best architects to design its buildings.  Then these places were on their own, left to the wavering interests of administrators, the fortunes of neighborhoods, the instincts of parents. And that’s where the new story of Wyatt School begins.

Wyatt opened in 1887 as Hyde Park School, an imposing red brick and sandstone building at 36th Avenue and Franklin Street.  It was designed by Robert S. Roeschlaub, the state’s first registered architect, and the school district’s architect of choice during the 1880’s and 1890’s.

For Hyde Park, which a few years later was renamed Wyatt to honor a prominent school official, Roeschlaub pulled out all the stops in his quest to create a building that pushed the limits on volume. This place has a massive, irregularly shaped roof line, a tiny turret by the entrance, wonderful terra cotta decoration that incorporates vines and floral elements, and decoration on the upper roof line areas that adds texture and a certain nobility.  It is a combination that adds up to a fanciful building, a surprisingly playful place, considering it’s made of the no-nonsense material of the era.

Since 1981, Wyatt has been empty.  The Denver Public Schools sold it to the New Pride organization, from whom neighborhood businessman Chuck Phillips bought it in 1994.  For about $160,000, Phillips got a building that survived not only a 1950s addition with all the charm of a trip to the principal’s office, but also years of neglect.  The school is home to a zillion pigeons and is engaged in regular battle with the onslaught graffiti.  It looks like an orphanage out of Dickens than a place for community pride.  The place sits there, empty yet miraculously still there, it’s window openings blinded by teal covered boards, it’s playground equipment forlorn.
It’s even typecast forlorn: During a weekend of blizzard induced TV viewing, suddenly, on the screen was. . . Wyatt School, backdrop for a scene from an old Father Dowling episode.  When that show was shot here in the late 1980s, Wyatt was among the buildings that used to approximate the red brick sorrow of a Chicago slum.
Aside from that fantasy experience, it is impossible not to consider Wyatt and think of a slightly newer Roeschlaub design: Dora Moore School, at East nineteenth Ave. and Corona St., shows some of the same elements, including a big roof, turret-like entries, and a wealth of terra cotta ornamentation. But Moore, which was built in 1889 as Corona School, has benefited from a classy 1920s addition, a not harmful 1990s bridge between old and new, 
and a neighborhood that works hard for the school.

Now plans are afoot to bring Wyatt back to life.  Phillips, who also owns the old Denver Tramway building across the street, where the Community College of Denver has classrooms, has rented Wyatt for $1 a year, for 40 years, to the New Cole Economic Development Corp.

Garett Wyman, development director for the Edison project at Wyatt, says that if plans proceed quickly, the school could open in fall 1998 to almost 700 
students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Denver thus would join the national Edison network of 25 schools serving 13,000 students, many of them in old buildings given new life by a system that emphasizes long hours, parental involvement and computer links between school and home and between school and school.

There would also be the priceless lesson of the importance of place, how the built environment influences our opinions- of the world and ourselves.

“It sends a message that the community does not want to neglect this piece of itself,” said Delzell, who sits on the New Cole board.  “for such a historic building to be allowed to be a ruin, it’s as if we had given up on this area, these people, these children.  That is not true.”   


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                  The Money Car.

Educating Young People - paving the way to a stronger workforce. The Money Car started as an experiment and concept in car wrapping technology. After designing and installing the artwork for The Money Car Limousine Mr. Phillips noticed that children were drawn to the car everywhere he went.
Mr. Phillips decided that the money car would be a means to give a voice to the future educational needs of young people. The Money Car represents the rewards of hard work and is a vehicle to help kids make this connection. Using The Money Car Limousine to show young people that money is important and is a tool that gives birth to new ideas - it shows them more choices in life. Through education children can live to their greatest potential, in addition to encouragement, persistence and their determination to succeed. Mr. Phillips says "The Money Car is also a symbol to create awareness, inspire and motivation."

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Wyatt Academy
3620 Franklin Street
Denver, Colorado  80205
Phone: 303.292.5515
Fax: 303.292.9111
www.wyattacademy.org
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