The John R. Henderson Collection: Colorado’s First Licensed Black Architect
On October 7, 1959, John R. Henderson, Jr. registered to practice architecture in Colorado, becoming the first licensed Black architect in the state. Born in Kansas, Henderson came to Denver by way of Ohio, where he worked as a city planner after completing his architecture degree at Kansas State University. In Denver, Henderson worked for such prominent firms as James Sudler Associates and Hornbein & White. In 1963, he joined the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and worked on projects across the United States. After retiring in 1981, he went on to design several residences and commercial projects, both independently and as a consultant, many of them represented in the collection.
Henderson’s proudest achievement was the mid-century modern home he designed for his own family at 2600 Milwaukee in Denver in the early 1960s, which was designated as a local historic landmark in 2018. The home shows the influence of Henderson’s favorite modernist architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, with its glass walls and “less is more” aesthetic. It also reflects the legacy of the city’s segregated past.
Limited on where to buy a home given Denver’s racially discriminatory real estate practices, Henderson decided to build his own and bought one of the last available plots in the Skyland neighborhood. Located on the north side of Twenty-sixth Avenue, the Henderson House sits along what was once the line of de facto segregation in east Denver; today it’s the neighborhood’s first landmark. The home remains one of the few designated individual landmarks acknowledging the African American contribution to Denver’s built environment.
The drawings in the Henderson Collection include the plans for the home’s northern wing, an addition that brought the project to completion in 1971. The drawings also depict the home’s extensive built-ins, which Henderson designed to hold everything from canned goods to his wife Gloria’s handbags, hats, and shoes. These details reflect the modernist principles that drove the design of the residence—one of the few mid-century modern houses to be landmarked in Denver.
We’re working to make the Henderson Collection available to the public through our Stephen H. Hart Research Center. Do you know of a Colorado architecture collection in need of a good home? Contact us at 303/866-2306 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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