Secrets of Colorado: Go inside the Daniels and Fisher Clocktower on the 16th Street Mall in Denver

DENVER - Thousands of people walk by the clocktower on the 16th Street Mall everyday, but have you ever wondered just what’s up there?

7NEWS took a tour of the top five floors that people don't often get to see. Let’s go inside Denver’s first skyscraper.

 

Secret No. 1: While the elevator stops on the 17th floor, there are several floors above that.

The clocks on each side of the building are two stories high. Walk around on the 17th and 18th floor and the walls are dominated by the clocks.

“It’s so dramatic with the clock faces on all the walls,” said Holly Kylberg, owner of Clocktower Events. She rents  the upper floors for parties and events for two to 150 people. She’s rented the space for proposals, weddings, fundraisers and other events.

“We create a lot of happy memories for people,” Kylberg said.

While the 19th floor is very small, the 20th floor is famous.

 

Secret No. 2:  There’s an observation deck that wraps around the 20th floor. From the time the tower opened in 1911, until the 1940s, some 1,500 people a day were visiting the Daniels and Fisher Tower, according to Barb Gibson with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Tourists came to shop at the department store on the ground floor and came to the 20th floor for the views.

From the observation deck, visitors could see 200 miles in any direction and enjoy a wide view of the Rocky Mountains from Pikes Peak to Longs Peak.

When the 372-foot tower was built, it was the tallest building outside New York City.

Secret No. 3: Someone has fallen from the observation deck. She survived. The story goes that a nurse in 1919 was leaning over the railing on the 20th floor when she dropped a glove just out of reach. When she stretched for it, she slipped and fell. However, the 17th floor is wider than the 20th floor and she was caught.

(The observation deck is above the clock face, the 17th floor is just below the clock face.)

Somehow, no one saw her fall. She was found 38 hours later, when a security guard heard her on the 17th floor. She was rushed to the hospital and made a full recovery.

Another man jumped, trying to commit suicide, but he also was stopped by the 17th floor. However, he died from his injuries.

 

Secret No. 4: The clocks don’t need winding anymore. In the 1980s, the large mechanical arms and a pendulum were removed and the clocks were motorized and synchronized, explained Gibson. The mechanics for the clocks used to fill the 18th floor. If you look closely, you can still see the holes in the floor from the bolts.

The pendulum parts are now under the stairs in the mechanical room.

Yes, we were allowed to sneak back there in the dark, but it’s hard to see the pendulum parts.

A computer now runs the clocks, the lights outside and the bell at the top of the building.

 

Secret No. 5: There are floors above the observation deck. In the northeast corner of the 20th floor, there’s a very small staircase to the 21st floor. The 21st floor has a major feature -- a spiral staircase with 62 steps leading to the cupola on the 23rd floor.

The bell in the cupola chimes on the hour and half-hour, 24 hours a day.

The flag pole on top of the tower is 42-feet high. The flag is changed every six months.

Secret No. 6:  The tower was almost torn down. The Daniels and Fisher department store was closed in the late 1950s and when urban developers decided to tear it down, they wanted the tower to go, too. They didn’t think the tower could stand without the store. Preservationists fought the plan, determined the tower was solid thanks to deep, strong caissons, so it was saved from the wrecking ball, according to Richard Hentzell, the D&F Tower property manager.

In 1979, the building was purchased for $72,700 and each floor was sold individually. The 2nd through 16th floor are now offices.

“Every floor is different,” Hentzell said. “Each floor was sold empty, as its own unit.”

Secret No. 7: If the tower feels familiar, it’s supposed to. William C. Daniels loved Europe’s Italian Renaissance Revival architecture. He wanted the tower to resemble the famous tower in the plaza of St. Mark in Venice. He wanted to show the world that a department store could be a thing of loveliness” and he wanted his tower to be a “monument by which Denver shall be known.”

 

Secret No. 8: There may, or may not, be ghosts in the tower. Kylberg will admit that’s she heard about “incidents” and there may be “something up there.”

Hentzell will only say slyly, “I’ve never seen one.”

Secret No. 9: There are the remains in the building. When W. C. Daniels passed away in 1918. His last will requested that a portion of his ashes by laid to rest in the tower. The ashes are in a silver vase in a display on the 1st floor.

 

Secret No. 10: You can visit the restored lobby of the clocktower. The first floor has a display with historic information.

The floors are original, the ceiling has been restored and if you look at the sconces, one is an original, while the rest were recreated to match.

There are a couple slight differences so look around and see if you can find the original.

The D & F Tower is one of dozens of sites open for tours during Doors Open Denver April 25 and 26. However, the D&F tours are sold out. Visit the Doors Open Denver website to find other tours being offered that weekend.

You can scheduled a guided tour of the tower and learn more about the history of the building on Kylberg’s website.

Check out more of our secrets of Colorado stories:

Got a place you want us to go inside and learn the secrets of? Email Debbie@TheDenverChannel.com.

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