Lighthouse Opens New Home

By Jill Carstens

It was standing room only recently at the opening of the Lighthouse Writers’ new home near the York Street Yards at 3844 York St.

Having gained official access to their new building just days after it was completed, and hours before the annual Lit Fest, Executive Director Michael Henry thanked his staff and more than 300 donors who contributed to their capital fund. He spoke about the “long road” to getting there, reflecting on Lighthouse’s days at various rented spaces in Capitol Hill and then more recently at their temporary space at York Street Yards, where they waited out the construction less than a block away.

In addition to the well-supported capital campaign, the $5-million project received grants from The Gates Family Foundation, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and the Boettcher Foundation. Lit Fest, Lighthouse’s annual gathering of writers, gained more notoriety due in part to COVID-19.

The new location of the Lighthouse Writers. Photo by Jill Carstens

Participation in virtual programs exploded during lockdown, expanding the organization’s reach and leading to a Colorado Creative Industries grant. The $2.4 million helped to solidify Lighthouse’s status as Denver’s writing hub for in-house as well as a myriad of satellite programs all around the Denver area.

Visiting speaker Leslie Herod, state District 8’s state representative, spoke about the new space noting Denver’s “vibe” as a growing creative community. She cited a study showing how fields in the creative arts are outgrowing other areas and thus garnering more grant funding. Entering the light-filled building, the space reflects an aesthetic feel that was intentionally curated from the input of members.

The design, led by local architect Collin Kemberlin, known for redesigning historic landmarks as well as fashioning new construction to fit into older surroundings, the Lighthouse structure brings together energy efficiency with ADA compliance, combined with an artsy interior.

Delightful off-angles and curved walls lead to unexpected nooks for perusing random shelves of literature and poetry, making the over 11,000 square feet of space welcoming, if not intimate, in many areas. The spiral staircase is a statement in itself, the tower encasing it imitating a lighthouse, reminiscent of the nonprofit’s name. Reaching up three floors, the tall turret offers mountain views as you climb.

Henry and co-founder Andrea Dupree were very purposeful in working with Kemberlin to create elements of the space they hoped would nurture their writers. Using the I-Ching, an ancient Chinese method of divination, to help make the original commitment to found the organization, Dupree and Henry started Lighthouse in a Denver loft in 1997.

The name came from Henry’s fondness for Edward Hopper’s paintings depicting lighthouses on Cape Cod shores. Their tagline became, “A beacon for writers.” Walking through the building, it wasn’t hard to imagine all of the possibilities.

The second and third floors provide ample spaces for offices and programming as well as intentionally created spaces for just writing and hanging out, with the goal of inspiring creative output without feeling quite so solitary.

While most of the inside is painted white, accent walls are painted greens, peaches and purples, mimicking hues in large paintings of the Colorado Plateau by Denver-based artist Sangeeta Reddy. A corner library with comfortable seating occupies one corner of the second floor, while on the third floor you can reflect by a fireplace. Other features include a catering kitchen, event space and classrooms with soundproofing and smart TVs.

Windows feature the surrounding warehouses with the mountains in the background. Because Lit Fest was in full swing, many of the spaces were already occupied, giving an accurate feel of how the building will be inhabited.

With all of the new space, Alexa Culshaw, Lighthouse’s marketing and communications manager, said the hope is for the new building to act as a catalyst for even more programming. She expressed excitement for a new, after-school, drop-in program for neighborhood kids, as well as many other programs in development.

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