Annie Levinsky’s time at the helm of Historic Denver Inc. has included its share of challenges.
After joining the historic preservation advocacy organization 19 years ago, Levinsky was named executive director in 2009. One of the first things she was faced with was keeping the nonprofit preservation organization’s community programs afloat during the Great Recession. That included some tough calls like ending the organization’s labor-intensive home tours to focus on other things.
Then came boom times and a tidal wave of redevelopment in the city that lead to a huge uptick in applications to demolish old buildings in the city and replace them with new structures.
Levinsky and Historic Denver have celebrated their share of preservation wins and losses during the ongoing redevelopment surge.
After a nearly two-decade run that has left some very visible marks on her hometown, Levinsky, 42, is preparing for her next role. At the end of June, she will leave Historic Denver to take a position as the chief of staff for History Colorado, the state’s historical society.
“Historic Denver has been a tremendous labor of love. It’s been the perfect marriage of history and the city where my family’s stories are tied up,” Levinsky said. “But also I have been here for the majority of my adult, professional life. I’ve learned so much and enjoyed it but I am also looking forward to some new challenges.”
Levinsky’s job at History Colorado will involve working with that organization’s leadership to implement strategic goals and build connections with communities across the state.
Levinsky was almost destined to go into historic preservation work. She was in grade school at Denver’s then Dora Moore Elementary when that landmark building turned 100 years old.
“Even from that very early age, I think I understood the value of these legacy buildings,” Levinsky said.
She would go on to graduate from East High School and majored in history in college before landing a job at the Molly Brown House Museum, an architectural and historic gem owned and operated by Historic Denver.
After being named executive director and navigating the challenges of the Great Recession, Levinsky and Historic Denver started to see a major shift around 2015. That’s when Levinsky said redevelopment efforts noticeably spiked in the city. Applications for certificates of demolition eligibility — documents that make it easier for property owners to tear down structures and harder to turn them into protected landmarks — picked up from a trickle to a flood.
Denver’s planning department received more than 750 applications for certificates of demolition eligibility last year, according to Jennifer Cappetto, the city’s landmark preservation manager.
“We did have to get busy on how we could build capacity and make sure that as the city grew and changed we maintained these places that had significance,” Levinsky said of the development boom.
That capacity-building initiative included launching an action fund that has provided financial support and subject matter expertise to groups looking to take on heritage preservation projects in the city.
That fund helped support efforts to create the La Alma Lincoln Park cultural district, approved by the Denver City Council last summer, Levinsky said. The district, now subject to requirements that protect the historic character of the neighborhood, was created to honor the area’s role in the Chicano movement.
“It was a five-year effort and it was really rooted in community,” Levinsky said of the cultural district which she counts among the biggest successes of her time at Historic Denver. “It obviously protects part of the heritage that hadn’t been fully recognized, connecting to the Chicano movement and some of the community art there.”
Levinsky led a $1.5 million fundraising effort from 2014 to 2017 that paid for rehabbing the Molly Brown House as well as creating that action fund, according to a Historic Denver news release. The organization credited her for helping preserve hundreds of buildings in the city through the creation of the historic districts and individual landmarks. It has launched a national search for her replacement.
“The impact she’s had on preservation in this city will last for generations. And thanks to her tireless efforts, Historic Denver is well-equipped to serve its mission for the next 50 years and beyond,” John Lucero, chair of the organization’s board of trustees, said in a statement.
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Cappetto, the city’s landmark preservation supervisor, said she doesn’t know how Historic Denver is going to fill Levinsky’s shoes. Working closely with her since joining the landmark office in 2015, Cappetto lauded Levinsky for her institutional knowledge and deep knowledge of the city itself.
“She has done so much for the city of Denver and the people of Denver and the historic preservation of Denver that I am personally very grateful for all the work she has done,” Cappetto said. “She an excellent partner.”
Adam Estroff, with the organization YIMBY Denver, has sometimes found himself at odds with Historic Denver and Levinsky’s preservation efforts. That was the case with an attempt in 2019 to make the Tom’s Diner building on Colfax Avenue a city landmark. The landmark application for that building, opposed by then-owner Tom Messina, was eventually withdrawn but Levinsky helped broker a sale to a historic preservation group. That prevented the distinctive diner building from being torn down to make way for what Estroff emphasized was sorely needed housing.
But Estroff has been impressed by Levinsky’s work to direct more money to efforts to preserve Chicano murals around Denver among other initiatives she has been a part of.
“I think she has done a really great job dealing with a changing city and I think she is going to do a great job at History Colorado,” he said.
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