Why are griffins hidden all over Denver?

The mythical creatures are everywhere in Denver A silly quest to find some artifacts might have revealed something deeper about the city’s very identity.

An old Arapahoe Courthouse griffin inside Scherer Metals Inc. on Larimer Street, Sept. 6, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

griffin; sculpture; public art; kevinjbeaty; denverite; colorado; denver; five points; rino;
An old Arapahoe Courthouse griffin inside Scherer Metals Inc. on Larimer Street, Sept. 6, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) griffin; sculpture; public art; kevinjbeaty; denverite; colorado; denver; five points; rino;
An old Arapahoe Courthouse griffin inside Scherer Metals Inc. on Larimer Street, Sept. 6, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

In July we reported on a zinc griffin sculpture for sale on eBay that allegedly used to perch atop the Arapahoe Courthouse downtown. Lon Stanley, the seller, suggested that the hulking creature was perhaps the last remaining of its kind. That is not so.

Not only did we find two more of the Arapahoe sculptures, we also started to notice griffins all over town. Perhaps these part-eagle-part-lion guardians are the Mile High mascot we never knew.

After the last story, reader Sue Glassmacher wrote in with a tip that Scherer Metals on Larimer Street has an Arapahoe griffin in their shop. Naturally, we gave them a call.

Scherer Metals Inc. co-owner Peter Bolan with an old Arapahoe Courthouse griffin inside his shop on Larimer Street, Sept. 6, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) griffin; sculpture; public art; kevinjbeaty; denverite; colorado; denver; five points; rino;
Scherer Metals Inc. co-owner Peter Bolan with an old Arapahoe Courthouse griffin inside his shop. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

I reached Scherer co-owner Peter Bolan, who said they used to own two of the sculptures. One, he said, was “lassoed” down by thieves before he bought the place in 2007. The other sat proudly atop his shop in Five Points for a few more years before it was eventually moved to storage. He was kind enough to pull it off the shelf for me to see.

“That’s Scherer Metals,” he said. “That’s what I’m known for.”

Scherer has been around for more than a century. Bolan and his employees say they can’t remember a time when the griffin wasn’t their symbol. It appears on their front door and business cards.

Bolan pulled out a folder containing a Denver Business Journal article from 1996, celebrating his company’s 100-year anniversary. The story says Scherer Metals refurbished 36 griffins from the old courthouse in 1933, the year that it was demolished. They might have been the first to get a hold of the zinc statues after they were removed from the courthouse.

Scherer Metals' logo, which includes a griffin, Sept. 6, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) griffin; sculpture; public art; kevinjbeaty; denverite; colorado; denver; five points; rino;
Scherer Metals’ griffin logo on some business cards. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

In my last story, we assumed there were only 8 sculptures. That’s what the eBay listing said and only eight are visible from old photos of the courthouse. We also had no idea how their diaspora went down.

I’m still not sure if there were 36 sculptures as claimed by the Business Journal. They incorrectly said the griffins were made of iron and 36 is a lot of griffins, but their story offers a good clue as to where they may have gone after the courthouse’s demolition.

It’s vexing because nobody seems to know how these pieces came into their possession. Bolan pointed me toward the Englewood City Center building, which also contains another Arapahoe griffin, so I went to ask them.

Today you’ll find their piece with a spiffy new coat of silver paint and perched above the staircase leading up to the city’s offices. Some poking around inside led me to Doug Cohn, founding member of the Englewood Historic Preservation Society and also Englewood’s 2017 Citizen of the Year.

A griffin statue on display above a staircase in the Englewood City Center building. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) griffin; sculpture; public art; kevinjbeaty; denverite; colorado; denver;
A griffin statue on display above a staircase in the Englewood City Center building. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Englewood’s griffin, Cohn said, has floated around the city since the 1930s. He sent me a clipping from the 1993 book The History of Englewood, which says the griffin long sat atop the city’s firehouses. It apparently once had a bright red lightbulb mounted in its mouth to get the attention of firefighters “back in the day before modern-day communication.”

Sadly, neither Cohn nor The History knows exactly who brought the piece to their city. The book says perhaps a fire chief or a businessman got his hands on one.

The old Englewood town hall under a 1946 snowstorm. (Englewood Public Library) englewood; historic; archive;
The old Englewood town hall with an Arapahoe griffin perched atop, 1946. (Englewood Public Library)
So, why is this worth talking about in the first place?

OK, so first off, there are a few of us here at Denverite who love a good investigative goose chase, especially if they involve statues. But there’s also something here about Denver’s very identity, a forgotten symbol that can still be found if you know where to look.

Griffins recently have shown up in our stories about old architecture. South High School has one perched right above its main entrance. The Brown Palace tea lobby is watched over by hundreds of griffins built into the grating on the upper floors’ balconies.

Griffons adorn grating along the open halls inside the Brown Palace Hotel, Aug. 3, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) brown palace hotel; denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty;
Griffins adorn grating along the open halls inside the Brown Palace Hotel. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

While I was at the Brown Palace I asked their historian, Debra Faulkner, what the deal is with all these griffins.

“They’re protectors of mountain treasure,” she said.

Perhaps this repeated image can tell us about the role that Denverites a century ago hoped to assume: guardians of gold and silver or maybe the mountains themselves.

"Gertie Gargoyle" perched atop South High School. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) high school; architecture; denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; washington park;
“Gertie Gargoyle,” the griffin, perched atop South High School. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

If you know about any more of the Arapahoe griffins, please do shoot me a line. I’m hoping to catch them all.

There very well may be another still around in Denver. Doug Cohn said he once saw on sitting in front of a home at 4th Avenue and Downing Street.

“It would be a great lawn decoration,” he said. 

Kevin Beaty

Author: Kevin Beaty

Kevin Beaty is a media producer with experience in a variety of settings spanning Hollywood film sets to international backpack journalism expeditions. He is on a never-ending quest to meld artful imagery, functional design and intimate storytelling. His biggest struggle in any given moment is whether to shoot stills or video. Find him on Twitter and Instagram at @kevinjbeaty.