Eugene Sternberg was born in 1915 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. He earned an architectural engineering degree from the Technion, just outside of Prague. Sternberg was pursuing his graduate degree in architecture at Cambridge University in England when World War II broke out. He remained in London through the war, teaching part-time at Cambridge, then joining the firm of Sir Patrick Abercrombie, where he was involved in the rebuilding of housing destroyed by the bombing of London.
In 1945, like many European architects displaced by the war, Sternberg emigrated to the United States. He had accepted a teaching invitation at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, but quickly became dissatisfied with Cornell’s restrictions on combining an architectural practice with teaching. At the urging at his friend Lewis Mumford, Sternberg accepted a teaching offer from Carl Feiss, Director of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Denver.
Feiss had come to Denver in 1942, hired by the city of Denver as Planning Director. He had previously served with distinction as head of the Planning & Housing Division of Columbia University’s School of Architecture in New York City.
After the war, Feiss was hired as Planning Director by the University of Denver, where the student population had leaped from 3,000 to 10,000 as young soldiers returned from the war to the classroom. Under Feiss’ direction, prominent Denver architects including Fisher and Fisher, Burnham Hoyt, G. Meredith Musick, and Smith, Hegner and Moore updated and expanded the University Park and Civic Center Campuses.
In 1946, Feiss’ interest in architectural education drew him to spearhead the creation of the new School of Architecture and Planning, of which he was appointed director. It was the first school of architecture in the Rocky Mountain region. In 1949, Architectural Record discussed his innovative program combining architecture and planning in their article “Architectural Education in the West.”
It was a model curriculum at a time when many architectural schools were being transformed from programs based on the traditional, Old World model of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, focused on classical and historical models, to a syllabus based on modern materials, techniques, styles, planning and social concerns.
Sternberg was the first faculty member to be hired for the University of Denver’s new School of Architecture and Planning. He and his English-born wife Barbara settled into a faculty housing complex of prefabricated, military-surplus quonset huts and buildings on the University Park Campus, just one mile northeast of Arapahoe Acres.
In 1949, Sternberg’s site and construction plans were submitted to the Revere Quality House Program. Upon their acceptance into the program, William C. Atkin, a San Antonio based technical advisor to the Southwest Research Institute, visited Denver to lay the groundwork for the construction and display of nine initial homes.
Charlotte Hawkins was to serve as business manager. Clyde Mannon, who had previously worked as Hawkins’ shop foreman, joined the operation at Arapahoe Acres. Mannon, a native of Golden, Colorado, became Hawkins’ partner in General Investments Company and Hawkins Associates, both corporations formed to finance and build Arapahoe Acres. He was to assist Hawkins with construction and to direct and supervise prefabrication at the carpentry shop at 2901 Lafayette.
On October 13, 1949, after a battle with the Englewood fire department over the radical street design, the full subdivision plan was approved and filed with Arapahoe County and the Englewood Planning and Zoning Commission. In November of 1949, Hawkins borrowed $85,000 from Central Bank to finance the initial construction phase, mortgaging nine of the lots.
Sternberg’s site planning was founded on his training with the firm of Sir Patrick Abercrombie, a key architect of London’s 1944 Green Belt plan.
It was unconventional, standing in stark contrast to the surrounding neighborhoods. Instead of regrading and leveling the lots, common residential development practice, the natural grade was retained. Some houses were sited on flat lots atop high points or low expanses below. Some stepped up or down to the front, rear or side of their sites. Houses were oriented on their lots for privacy, and to take best advantage of south and west exposures for solar heating and mountain views.
Within Arapahoe Acres, Sternberg partially abandoned the surrounding street grid. This reduced traffic speed and discouraged through traffic, resulting in a safer, quieter neighborhood. Unlike the neighborhoods to the north, south and west, there were no alleys within Arapahoe Acres. Garages and carports faced the street. Deliveries and garbage pickup took place on the street, increasing backyard privacy and security.
Sternberg’s original concept included a private neighborhood park to be situated between Cornell Place (originally named Arapahoe Place) and Cornell Circle, but it was eliminated in the interests of economy by Hawkins.
Most residential developments narrowly defined lot size, floor space and home price. As a result, most were composed of a very homogeneous socio-economic group. For Arapahoe Acres, a more diverse community was envisioned for families of varying size and financial resources. Homes were grouped in price ranges from $10,000 to over $20,000. Lot sizes varied from 66 x 100 feet up to 80 x 150 feet.
The initial nine homes designed by Sternberg were a single basic plan varied by individual location on the lot and by the position and character of the carport and main entrance. Each home had a paved terrace to the rear. The primary exterior materials were red or yellow brick, plywood panels and glass.
The homes were designed on a four-foot module with flowing living and work areas set off from the bedrooms for privacy. Sliding interior wall panels were based on the Japanese Shoji screen. Avariety of options were offered on the roof types, the fireplaces, and the color and finish of exterior and interior walls. Interior walls were often paneled in natural hardwood plywood. State-of-the-art kitchens offered new appliances and efficient workspaces. Floors were asphalt tile. Due to the sponsorship of Revere Copper and Brass, the model home featured copper in the mechanical construction and interior finishes.
The homes were characterized by many construction innovations which Sternberg had brought with him from his work in London. They included insulated cavity brick walls and the area’s first warm-air heating system combining radiant floor heat with forced air heat distributed under concrete slabs to floor registers along walls. Acoustical ceilings provided noise control.
Stylistically, Sternberg’s work was related to the International Style as seen in the work of Marcel Breuer. Breuer was a first generation student who later taught at the Bauhaus in Germany, the pioneering school of modern design. He emigrated to the United States in 1937 where he taught and practiced architecture with Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus founder who had been appointed Director of the Architecture Department at Harvard.