Apple of Westminster’s Eye


Early 20th-century prairie-style architecture influenced the look of Macy’s, and the apple orchards of the past led to an apple-themed playground.

North Denver’s rolling prairies and apple orchard-dotted acreages were the perfect setting for a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired, prairie-style, open-air lifestyle center created not only to credit the area’s past, but to serve a forward-thinking community hungry for services.

The Orchard Town Center, a nearly 1 million-sq.-ft., mixed-use gathering place situated at the intersection of bustling Interstate 25 and 144th Avenue, was developed by the commercial development division of Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises. Opening in phases—the grand opening of the AMC Orchard 12 cinema was held April 4—the center features low horizontal lines, large overhangs and natural materials to reference Wright’s prairie style, popular in the Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 20th century.

“At the time when the Orchard concept was being formulated, we were opening Victoria Gardens [in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.],” said Dan Hill, project developer for The Orchard Town Center. “We wanted something different from the eclectic Main Street of Victoria Gardens, perhaps a more village feel,” he said. The prairie style was a snug fit for the plains of Colorado.

That was 2004. Over the course of the next four years, the project continued to grow in its scope and amenities. Today, its features include the less rare, but still desirable—fountains, fire pits, a town-center stage and lawn—as well as the unique. One-of-a-kind rock seating sculptures embody the local identity; a sculpture called The Boneyard is of solid Colorado Buff Sandstone native to the Colorado stone quarries. Three-dimensional ceramic art depicts the apple trees that once graced the land. Prints of Pride tiles feature the hand and paw prints of area children and pets. Then there is the playground.

“Imagine a 6-ft. apple sliced vertically to create a unique space where kids can play,” said Hill. “We added a mosaic worm that ‘worms’ its way through the slices.”

The apple imagery finds its way into the center’s many nooks and crannies and signage. So do the Frank Lloyd Wright-proportioned brick, sourced locally, and the warm, natural colors reflective of the local environment. In fact, many of the tenants have committed fully to the prairie-style architecture. “I have never seen another J.C. Penney or Macy’s such as at The Orchard,” said Hill. “The AMC also incorporated the architecture into its building, as did many of the small shops. There is a unique quality to the site because all the architecture is somewhat interrelated,” he added.

The result of the cohesive architecture and unique amenities, as well as powerful retail names, is an inviting gathering place with a feel for the past but a strategy for the future. “We are providing this area of Denver with a lot of different moments,” said Hill. “And we’re providing random opportunities for visual interest, whether it be the art sculptures or the ceramic sculptures or the Prints of Pride.

“We have created a sense of intrigue and discovery.”

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