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Ahead of Its Time

What: Arapahoe Acres, a 124-house subdivision built between 1949 and 1957.

Where: A suburb of Denver, Colorado.

What's Notable: Economical homes designed for a diverse community that took advantage of new technologies and innovative ideas on land planning and architecture.

Strolling along a quiet, curving street in a suburb just south of Denver is wandering back to the future of homebuilding. Back because Arapahoe Acres was built in the early 1950s, and into the future because housing has yet to catch up with the vision of homebuilder and developer Edward B. Hawkins.

Arapahoe Acres, the first modern subdivision to have made it into the National Register of Historic Places, includes 124 houses built between 1949 and 1957. Modeled on Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian concept, the subdivision featured new concepts in land planning, architecture and construction. Along with Hawkins, the European architect and advocate of affordable housing, Eugene Sternberg, took an unconventional approach to neighborhood planning, exploiting existing grades and abandoning a traditional street grid.

Hawkins and Sternberg used new post-war technologies, such as plastics, aluminum and plywood. They included insulated cavity brick walls and Denver's first warm-air heating system. The homes were distinctively modern, with flat roofs and plain, asymmetrical facades.

Unlike subdivisions that use architectural covenants to create a homogeneous socio-economic group, Arapahoe Acres was developed as a diverse community with economical homes starting at $10,000 and luxurious homes costing upwards of $20,000.

Nowadays, the peaceable streets with well-kept lawns and homes prove that good architectural values and careful land planning can create affordable housing that matures into the kind of friendly, inviting and livable neighborhoods that seem most suitable for human habitation.

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