Trinity United Methodist Church: A Preservation Story in Three Parts
Originally published August 2005
As its name suggests, Trinity United Methodist Church of Denver does everything in threes. Its congregation has worshiped in three buildings, including a carpenter’s cabin, an 1864 edifice on the corner of Lawrence and 14th Streets, and its current modern Gothic home on Broadway. It has had three names between 1859 and today, beginning with the Auraria and Denver City Methodist Episcopal Mission, followed by First Methodist Episcopal Church, and finally, Trinity United Methodist. And when the Broadway building’s masonry deterioration required repairs, the church and its contractors carried out a preservation project during three construction seasons.
Carpenter and lay minister George W. Fisher held Denver City’s first religious service in his cabin on November 21, 1858. As the nascent metropolis grew with the gold rush, Methodists organized a formal congregation. The Cherry Creek flood of 1864 washed away their place of worship—along with the city of Auraria—but did not diminish their spirits. A successful fund-raising campaign financed a new church on Lawrence Street, which served them until the 1880s. When members began to migrate eastward, attendance at worship services declined. So the church built another new building closer to their members’ homes.
Formally dedicated on December 23, 1888, the Broadway building embodies the theological concept of the Holy Trinity. Architect Robert Roeschlaub applied the rule of three to all of the church’s character-defining elements. Three arches cap the Broadway entrance, the 183-foot corner spire is divided into three sections, and three intertwined circles decorate the ends of each pew.
This sturdy sanctuary withstood a century of city hustle before it began to show serious signs of age. Then, in a scene eerily reminiscent of the 1864 disaster, preservationists identified water as one of its prime assailants.
In 2000, professional architects conducting an historic structure assessment (HAS) diagnosed Trinity with rising damp condition. Rising damp is caused by moisture that migrates from the ground and is wicked up by the foundation and lower walls. The water expands and contracts as the temperature changes, and can damage individual stones and affect structural integrity. The HSA also documented severe deterioration of the sandstone trim as the primary exterior problem.
The congregation wanted to protect the landmark—universally recognized as one of the most highly visible historic buildings in Colorado—but lacked adequate funds. Church leaders knew that stone repair and replacement would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. So they turned to the State Historical Fund for help.
Trinity United Methodist, despite being a religious entity, is eligible for such assistance. That is, the separation of church and state does not necessarily separate churches from the State Historical Fund. Application guidelines say that churches and church-owned properties may be considered for funding if a public benefit exists and if the grant’s purpose is secular. For example, if interior work is involved, the public must have reasonable access to the building without being required to participate in or witness religious activities. Church buildings like Trinity United Methodist, which open their doors to the general public for secular community events, meet this requirement. Also, the grant cannot promote religion, and must seek to protect those qualities that are historically or architecturally significant. Grant funds cannot be used to restore religious symbols. Such features as steeple crosses and stained glass windows illustrating religious themes are examples of features the State Historical Fund grant program cannot help to restore.
According to church trustee and CHS Board of Directors member Jim Ranniger, Trinity United Methodist opens its doors to the public almost every day. “More than 3,500 people visit the church every week,” he says. Only 700 of them are there for church services.
Trinity, which has benefited from previous SHF grants to restore its roof and Roosevelt pipe organ, received a total of $688,000 to partially fund exterior masonry repair and restoration. Many companies deserve recognition, including White Construction, A. P. Eberline Company, Pine Stone Company, as well as countless donors and volunteers. The successful project, which wrapped up last year, will enhance another trinity of sorts: Denver’s past, present, and future.