Prominent architects in Lafayette’s past

The Simpson Mine Casino, designed in 1910 by Northern Coal and Coke Co. architect R.A. Pierce. Blueprint courtesy Lafayette Public Library.

Robert Ansel Pierce (1880-1948)

The industrial nature of coal extraction meant that most of the utilitarian coal mine structures were plain, shed-like and sided with simple planks or board and batten. Draftsmen employed by the coal company primarily drafted complex machines and machine parts, and simple floor plans and elevation drawings for boiler houses, barns and wash rooms. Their workload offered tedium and very little room for creativity. Occasionally, a draftsman was charged with creating residential plans for a mine superintendent or engineer.

From 1903 to 1910, Northern Coal and Coke Co. mining engineer and draftsman D.A. Wheatley created plans for several managers’ residences at the Simpson Mine in Lafayette. His designs reflected Victorian elements, with hipped roofs and gabled front porches with scalloped shingle siding. Ornamentation such as stain glass windows and turned porch posts were specified, but because of the expense, those elements were often ignored by the notoriously frugal coal operators.

Due to the partitioning of the coal camps into standalone communities at the start of the Long Strike in 1910, Chief Mining and Construction Engineer Robert Ansel Pierce (1880-1948) was tasked with producing a dozen Northern Coal and Coke Co. company home and boarding house designs in a few short months. Pierce is credited with designing the coal company’s house Types E,F,H,J,K and N. The town of Serene, built in the 1920s and surrounding the Columbine Mine near Erie, was composed of primarily Type H houses, as was Simpson Mine coal camp housing. Most of the relocated coal camp homes that remain today in Louisville, Lafayette Erie and Superior are Type E and Type H.

A Type E coal miner’s cottage designed in 1910 by Robert A. Pierce. Courtesy Western History Collection, Denver Public Library.

Pierce’s design tastes favored the Craftsman-style structure with deep eaves with exposed rafters, dormers and large covered front porches. An extension of the Arts and Crafts movement and pioneered by California architects Greene and Greene, the Craftsman ethos centered on a grounding in nature and natural forms. Built between 1905 and 1930, Craftsman houses often exhibit ornamentation and attention paid to the foundational elements — prominent porches with square and tapered porch posts extending to ground level. Roof elements included decorative triangular knee braces under gable eaves and earthy stucco patterns embedded in gable fronts.

In October 1910, Pierce designed the Simpson Mine Casino, a two-story Craftsman structure that would have dominated (stylistically, at least) the Simpson Mine company camp from 1910 until it was torn down in the 1930s. The structure featured deep eaves and overhangs with triangle decorative braces, a square shingle pattern on the gable ends and unique 25-over-one double hung windows. The 3,000 sq. ft. structure had a pool room, card room, separate “Refreshment Bar” and a “ladies room,” meaning a room for “ladies of the night.”

Pierce’s Craftsman-style Hecla Casino at the former Hecla Mine east of Louisville, torn down by Balfour Senior Living in 2017, also had triangular knee braces and would have been the visual highlight of the coal camp. At the time, the casino’s down-to-earth architectural style would have been much different than architectural styles in Louisville proper. The nearby, three-story Hecla Heights Hotel was a larger building, but was a box-like structure with multiple hipped roofs and little ornamentation. The company-built, single-family Type E houses at Hecla Heights were unadorned, peaked hipped roof structures as well.

After about 1911, Fort Collins native and Colorado Agricultural College (CSU) graduate Robert A. Pierce went on to practice privately as an architect, and designed and built the historic Pierce-Haley House, a National Register of Historic Places structure at 857 Grant Street in Denver. Pierce also designed and supervised the construction in 1916 of the Vulcan Iron Works building on West Colfax. Vulcan was established in Denver in 1894 and manufactured ore mining carts from its location at 1430 W. Colfax. The building no longer stands.

In 1917, Pierce was mentioned in the Fort Collins Weekly Courier as “architect and superintendent of the new opera house block.” Pierce supervised the renovation of the Fort Collins Opera House, which stands today. Pierce later returned to his mining engineer roots and worked at several coal mines in southern Colorado and southern New Mexico.

Lafayette High, completed in 1925 as it appeared in 1932. The building was designed by architect Robert Kenneth Fuller. Photo courtesy Lafayette Public Library.

Robert Kenneth Fuller (1886-1966)

Escuela Bilingüe Pioneer school at 101 E. Baseline in Lafayette was completed in 1925 as Lafayette High School and reflects the Classical Revival style of architecture. The original two-story brick portion of the school building, sandwiched between the arched gymnasium on the west side and the modern, one-story addition to the east, was designed by renowned Colorado architect Robert Kenneth Fuller.

Fuller was the son of Fort Collins architect Montezuma Fuller and worked for prominent Denver architect Robert S. Roeschlaub starting in 1910. Fuller’s work reflected Denver’s “City Beautiful” movement that emphasized public works projects that beautified Denver and elevated it from the shabby mining supply town image.

Other prominent stone and brick buildings that Fuller designed include the City and County Building, Isis Theater and Edison Elementary School in Denver, the Grand Junction Public Library, Brighton High School, the Routt County Courthouse in Steamboat Springs and Hover Mansion in Longmont.

The design for Lafayette High School, built in 1925, was floated in 1918 to convince voters to approve a school bond issue. From Lafayette News, June 6, 1918.

The high school’s design was proposed as early as 1918 when school district officials proposed replacing the Baseline School, an elementary through high school facility at the corner of Iowa and Baseline. The two-story wood frame building, covered with faux brick tin siding, had been condemned the previous year due to structural damage from subsidence. The bond issue for a new high school building passed, but the brick building wasn’t built and the money was used to repair the existing wood frame building, which stood until 1964.

Fuller’s Lafayette High School project cost $65,677 to complete and the building has had seven additions since 1925. In 1991, the Boulder Valley School District attempted to cover the historic facade of the 1925 building and remove the arched gymnasium. High school alumni and the Lafayette Historical Society successfully fought the planned update, an effort that preserved the historic building’s character.

Louisville’s high school building, built in 1937 and formerly located at today’s Louisville Middle School, was also built in the Classical Revival style. It was a Works Progress Administration project and was completed at a cost of $42,000. Unlike Lafayette, in 2009 Louisville residents offered scant resistance when the Boulder Valley School District deemed the historic building too expensive to remodel. It was torn down and hauled to the landfill.


Colorado architects Biographical Sketch, Colorado Historical Society, 2002

Lafayette 2008 Commercial and Agricultural Properties Survey, Cathleen Norman.

Rocky Mountain Fuel Company records, Denver Public Library