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.

Wyatt Academy

3620 Franklin St, Denver, CO 80205

(303) 292-5515


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 rather 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 were 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 Phillips Foundation

The Phillips Foundation was established in 1999. From the beginning, we have been dedicated to rebuilding the community with projects such as the Renovation of the Historic Wyatt School House, which now houses the Wyatt Academy housing over 600 students.  The Phillips Family Trust, which owns the building, leases the property to Wyatt Academy, for only one dollar a year. As if to make the deal more sweet, the duration of their lease is 40 years!

Charles "Chuck" Phillips is an entrepreneur and has a long history of Philanthropy in the state of Colorado. In 1953, at the age of seventeen, Chuck decided to venture out of his small town of Okmulgee, Oklahoma and move to Denver to find work.  Chuck set off to explore the world with $3.00 and a bus ticket, and with only $0.30 in his pocket, Chuck stepped off the bus at Colfax and York Street in the early fifties. 

Work was not easy to find so during his first year in Colorado. Chuck lived as a street person for three months. Over the next three years he held various odd jobs to earn a living. Chuck's first break in life came when he got a job at Hertz rent a truck in 1958, where he worked for the next three years. During this period his employer encouraged him to continue his education. Chuck took his advice and entered the Emily Griffith Opportunity School in 1960 where he studied and learned his skills in auto body repair. 

After attending school and working at Hertz, Chuck received additional training in auto body repair. Over the next year; Chuck worked at Vic's Auto Body 8 hours a day, five days a week for no pay. To make ends meet Chuck also needed to work an additional full time job. Keeping his days occupied for up to 16 hours during the week. After his one year apprenticeship, Chuck became a full time (paid) employee and eventually a shop foreman. 

Chuck felt it was time to challenge himself and become the entrepreneur that was destined for him. He eventually established his own body shop and pursued that career over the next ten years, owning several body shops and auto salvage yards. He also ventured into other business entities that would further develop into providing more for the community.


During this same time Chuck became interested in trying to help the disadvantaged people in Denver's Cole neighborhood.  Through training and education, which were the building blocks of his own success, Chuck made available a place wherein futures could be made. He established The Phillips Foundation and purchased the old historical trolley car building at 35th Avenue and Franklin Street. This building is over 123 years old now, and known as the Tramway Non Profit Center.  Mr. Phillips began renovating the building to become an education and training center. As love would have it Mr. Phillips continues to develop and execute community projects. 



City and County of Denver Proclamation No. 12-0929

Honoring Charles "Chuck" Phillips and the Phillips Family for their dedication and long-standing services to the Cole neighborhood

WHEREAS, Charles "Chuck" Phillips and the Phillips Family were pioneers in the Cole community, purchasing the Tramway Nonprofit Center and the historic Wyatt School to provide educational facilities and services for the Cole neighborhood; and 

WHEREAS, the Phillips Family have a long history of philanthropic efforts, Chuck Phillips purchased the historic Wyatt School facility in 1994 after 15 years of being abandoned, and because of his generosity, he leased the school facility to Denver Public Schools for $1 per year annually for a 40-year term, allowing the school to re-open its doors in 1998, which has helped more than 8,000 students; and 

WHEREAS, the Tramway Nonprofit Center is a multi-generational building dating back to the 1980's and is listed on the Colorado State and Federal Registry; which Chuck also purchased and later sold to The Gary-Williams Company for Urban Land Conservancy to develop collaborative, affordable space for various non-profits to serve the Cole community; and

WHEREAS, in honor of Chuck and the Phillips Family for their investment and dedication to provide opportunity for education and family services to the Cole neighborhood, the City declared Wednesday, November 28, 2012, as Phillips Family Day in Denver.



Section 1. That Denver City Council honors Chuck and the Phillips Family for their vision in creating significant community assets, jobs and economic development on behalf of the Cole community.

Section 2. That the Clerk of the City and County of Denver shall attest and affix the seal of the City and County of Denver to this proclamation and that a copy be transmitted to the Phillips Family.


December 10, 2012


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."