Architect: Hoyt, Burnham F.
Birth / Death Dates: 1887-1960
Practice Dates: 1919-1955
Firms: Kidder and Wieger
Post and Goodhue
Hoyt and Hoyt 1919-1933
Burnham Hoyt 1936-1955
Biographical Information
Born in Denver in 1887, Burnham F. Hoyt attended the Boulevard School and graduated from
Denver’s North High School. Hoyt began his architectural apprenticeship with the Denver firm of
Kidder and Wieger. In 1908, with the encouragement of his brother Merrill, a Denver architect,
Burnham left Denver to study at the Beaux Arts Institute in New York City. He excelled in his
studies, won design competitions, and continued his training with the prominent New York firm
of George Post and Bertram Goodhue. While there Hoyt designed the interior woodwork for St.
Bartholomew’s Church, a New York City landmark.
Goodhue was one of the foremost architects of the early twentieth century. He was responsible
for one of the great masterpieces of the Art Deco Style in America, the Nebraska State House of
1922-1932 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Hoyt’s developed sense of detailing may have had its origins in
Goodhue’s office.
After serving two years in the army designing camouflage during World War I, Hoyt returned to
Denver in 1919 and became a partner with his brother, Merrill. The Hoyts prospered in the
postwar years. The firm was responsible for a number of buildings in various historical revival
styles. These include the English Gothic Style Lake Junior High, the Spanish Baroque Revival
Park Hill Branch Library, and the eclectic Cactus Club. In 1926 Hoyt returned to New York to
undertake the ultimate commission of the first phase of his career, the interior design of the
Riverside Church in New York, commissioned by John D. Rockefeller. Associate architects on
the project were Henry C. Pelton, Francis Allen and Charles Collens. After working for several
years as a professor of architectural criticism at New York University, Hoyt became dean of the
School of Architecture in 1930 while retaining his association with the firm of Pelton, Allen and
Collens. Throughout this time he maintained a long-distance relationship with Hoyt and Hoyt.
His brother Merrill died of a heart attack in 1933 at the age of 52. This ostensibly ended the
existence of the firm. In 1936 Burnham married Mildred Fuller, a Denver-born interior designer,
in New York. That same year, he returned to Denver and established his own firm. It is at this
time that his second mature phase emerged.
Hoyt’s debut work with his own firm was the Bromfield Residence of 1936. This structure
immediately established Hoyt’s preeminent position among the first generation of Colorado
Modernists. The residence was frequently illustrated in national publications and in surveys of
modern architecture of the period. The placement of the residence derives from an analysis of
the “view” from the principal sitting room. Furniture in this room was “laid- out” by Hoyt’s brother-in-law Thornton Fuller, the premier Denver interior designer of the period. The design of the rest
of the house carried out from there. This great work was significantly altered through numerous
major renovations.
Hoyt’s work following the Bromfield House is marked by a consistently high level of architectural
design. These buildings constitute the most important body of International Style work in the
region by a single figure. Hoyt was recognized nationally for his achievements. The Denver
Children’s Hospital of 1936 at E. Nineteenth Avenue and Downing was described in
Architectural Forum as the first hospital design in the country to eschew the historicizing
elements of the various revival styles then current. The hospital likewise has been affected
badly through insensitive resurfacing and substantial alterations. The Albany Hotel, also of
1936, was built at Seventeenth and Broadway and received praise in Architectural Forum for its
elegant and functional plan (demolished). The Boettcher School of 1940 at 1900 Downing was
featured in Architectural Forum as an early example of an educational building specially
designed for the physically disabled(demolished). An important innovation in the Boettcher
School was the wheelchair accessibility of the building. Colorado Springs High School (now
Palmer High) of 1940 was also praised by Architectural Forum for its up-to-date features. The
1941 Sullivan residence at 545 Circle Drive in Denver is Hoyt’s finest surviving commission in
luxury residential design. The residence is closely associated stylistically with the now-lost
Bromfield House.
His best-known work is the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison. Hoyt incorporated the natural
topographic features and rock formations to create the amphitheater. Constructed in the 1930s
using Civilian Conservation Corps labor, it is considered to have some of the finest acoustics of
any concert venue in the country. The project brought Hoyt immediate national recognition in
architectural and design publications. The amphitheater was the only work of architecture in
Colorado to be featured in the American institute of Architect’s historical review exhibit of
American architecture in 1957 at the National Gallery. The Museum of Modern Art in New York
selected Red Rocks Amphitheater as one of the decade’s 50 outstanding examples of American
architecture. Red Rocks is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
During the period 1945 to 1960, Hoyt’s practice was severely limited by declining health. He
designed his own home and studio at 3130 E. Exposition in 1947. With architect James Sudler,
he designed the renovation of a dry cleaner, a garage, and other buildings for the Denver Art
Museum at Acoma and Thirteenth, which was on-going from the late 1940s until its completion
in 1960 (demolished). Hoyt’s only major commission in the period was the 1955, International
Style, Central Library of the Denver Public Library system.
Hoyt’s body of work in the International Style is a seamless and consistent whole. Hoyt
generated the designs for his buildings with reference both to site and to the unique functional
considerations of the building type. He often juxtaposed circular volumes to rectangular ones.
Typically, these buildings have flat roofs. The regularity of the facades suggest a symmetrical
treatment; yet, the facades are generally handled in an asymmetrical way. These buildings
feature smooth and uniform walls. These walls are eaveless, though boxed-in eaves are
sometimes used by Hoyt. His interest in light is demonstrated by his attention to fenestration.
Large expanses of glass are typically seen. The windows and doors of Hoyt’s buildings are
stressed with trim. In the interiors, this interest in light is further stressed by clever uses of a
variety of direct and indirect lighting. All of these standard features of Hoyt’s best work in the
International Style are fully illustrated in the Central Library, the finest expression of Hoyt’s
mature design philosophy.
The aesthetic of the Central Library was industrial. This aesthetic was softened, however, with
the juxtaposition of the warm tones of traditional materials, such as wood and stone, with
modern industrial materials like the gleaming window trim and the shiny interior surfaces. Hoyt
generated the design of the building from functional analysis. This analysis has been so
completely applied that even the specific dimensions, as has been previously described, were
derived from the dimensions of the standard library shelving used. The height, color, materials,
and massing of the building were determined in response to its Civic Center site.
The interior abounded in Hoytian details. Ventilators and lighting were used to create visual
interest. Lighting in the library directed users through the building. The lighted interior of the
rotunda, though altered, remains one of the most notable views on the Civic Center at night.
Hoyt was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the early 1950s. He designed the library in
collaboration with the Denver firm of Arthur Fisher and Alan Fisher. Fisher and Fisher carried
out much of the actual design work due to Hoyt’s growing disability. Hoyt closed his office in
1955 and his staff was absorbed by Fisher and Fisher. Nonetheless, from conception through
execution, the library was clearly within the concerns of Hoyt’s full body of work and well
illustrates his mature design philosophy. Hoyt was assisted on the site by architect Oscar
Stromquist, who carried out Hoyt’s spoken instructions. Rod Davis was the on-site supervising
architect for the firm of Fisher and Fisher. The library was listed in the National Register of
Historic Places in 1990.
Michael Graves designed the major Postmodern addition to the library which reopened in 1995.
Though preserving most of the exterior integrity of the Hoyt building, the interior was extensively
modified. The only original interior feature to survive was the main staircase.
Burnham Hoyt died at his home in 1960. Mildred Fuller Hoyt donated his papers to the Western
History Collection of the Denver Public Library.