The Rchive no. 21—Poets’ Row in Denver
In August I conducted a lettering walk in Denver for TypeCon 2015. As part of my preparation I spent the day before walking and driving around the city. My chauffeur and cicerone was Diane Wray Tomasso, former New York graphic designer and Denver preservationist, an excellent repository of knowledge of the city’s architectural heritage past and present. One part of the city which we visited but which did not make it into the TypeCon 2015 lettering walk was Poets’ Row, the block of Sherman Street between 10th and 11th Avenues on Capitol Hill.
The block is a bit of a misnomer as not all of the apartments are named after poets. The original 1930s named buildings are, in alphabetical order: Robert Browning (1000 Sherman Avenue), Thomas Carlyle (1010 Sherman Avenue), Eugene Field (1055 Sherman Avenue), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1045 Sherman Avenue), James Russell Lowell (1020 Sherman Avenue) and Mark Twain (1035 Sherman Avenue). They were all designed by Charles Strong. Other buildings on the street—not designed by Strong—have since been renamed to fit the literary theme of the neighborhood. They include two named after female writers (Emily Dickinson and Louisa May Alcott).
The original Strong apartments all sport Art Deco lettering. The lettering on the Lowell (1936), Carlyle (1936), Browning (1937) and Field (1939) buildings is lovely but fairly predictable. However, the lettering on the Twain (1938) and Hawthorne (1938) buildings is more inventive. (In contrast, the Dickinson and Alcott have signage that is typographically insipid, lacking any affinity with their modernist architectural features.)
The Twain lettering is dynamic with descending M, the extension of the crossbars of A to the left, the unbalanced leg and arm of K, and the closely parallel left diagonals of W pulling the viewer’s eyes in several directions at once.
At first glance the Nathaniel Hawthorne seems similar with its loose letterspacing and extended crossbars on A and H. But at the right, hidden behind the foliage of the tree, is an R that is truly bizarre. Its bowl is nearly the full height of the letter and its leg is completely horizontal. Only context makes the letter identifiable as an R. It is a fantastic design, further evidence of the malleability of the Latin alphabet.