Written by Steve Lord
Architecture as a metaphor: a new “look” at the St James Episcopal Church
The year was 1951 and Wheat Ridge was still displaying her farming roots. The new city would not become incorporated for another 18 years, but already young families were leaving Denver proper for the cleaner, quieter countryside.
In October of that year a group of like-minded Episcopalians began meeting at the Grange Hall on West 38 th Ave and High Court. Within weeks there was talk of forming a new Mission. It was the Episcopal Bishop of Colorado Harold Brown who assigned the name of “St. James”. The new group cobbled their savings together and paid $17,000 to buy the two-acre lot at W 44 th Ave and Brentwood. A white- washed and weathered, six-room prairie home became their first place of worship.
By 1957, the first of two permanent church buildings opened. In 1967, it was joined to a new, roundish sanctuary built in the most modern of the post-war architectural styles. The new building satisfied the specific needs and wants of the burgeoning St James congregation. But, even then, consensus was hard to come by. What was then a unique and affordable design…functions just as well today (70 years later) by providing outstanding acoustics and seating for 350, on a smallish footprint.
More about the architect:
David Williams was a quiet, thoughtful man, born on November 20 th , 1927 in
Rutland Massachusetts. His family moved to Colorado when he and his siblings
were quite young. He attended and graduated from South High School. David was
always drawing; buildings, bridges and landscapes. So, it was no surprise to his
family that he decided to seek a degreed program from the University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor. It is there in Michigan, (as a member of the local Episcopal
Church) that David would meet his future wife; Lura Cation. The two became
inseparable. Upon graduation, their courtship continued, though now in
Colorado, where they became members of St John’s Cathedral (1350 N
Washington St. Denver). It is at St John’s the couple would later wed…in June of
David practiced his drawing skills at a drafting table in the second bedroom of
their first apartment. Later…in the basement of their first central Denver home.
Families that attended St John’s Episcopal, knew that David was a licensed
architect. He joined the American Institute of Architects and earned “just enough”
from a series of small jobs…until one day, when he got his big break! It was 1963,
and the building committee of a newly-formed congregation (in the suburb of
Wheat Ridge), approached David with the idea of drawing up some plans for a new church building. It was to be erected on a two-acre piece of land they had
purchased back in 1952, and it would be called; St. James Episcopal Church.
One of the original members of the new Church, a man named Stephen Driftmier,
would later comment (in a 2001 interview) that he remembered David as being a
fine architect, easy to work with and on-hand (with the Contractor) every step of
the way…during construction from October 1966 until its completion in March
While David would go onto designing several residences throughout metro
Denver; St James would be his only iconic project. He and Lura remained at St
John’s and raised a family of three children. David developed Multiple Sclerosis
later in life and died in October 1999 at the age of 71. His Denver Post obituary is
available online. CLICK HERE if you would like to read the scope of the St James
project in David’s own words.
This story was compiled and written in May 2023 by Steve Lord; a member at
St James and admirer of Mid-Century architecture.