Texans had big plans with rotating Sun Building

This is Denver architect Jared B. Mores’ drawing of the proposed six-story translucent-faced building that was designed to rotate with the sun. The building was to be the centerpiece of the $7.4 million Energy Center.



When two Texas oil and uranium men, Lucien Cullen and Wellborn Foreman, unveiled their concept of a $7.4 million Energy Center in 1954, they were 56 years ahead of their time.

Their 1954 vision mirrors what the city of Grand Junction has just unveiled as Village Centers in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan.

But Foreman and Cullen went a step further. They envisioned a Sun Building, which would rotate with the sun as it moved across the sky. That concept is probably what is best remembered about the Cullen-Foreman promotion.

Whether the two men were visionaries or just a couple of Texans trying to turn a fast buck still puzzles residents who remember the December 1954 announcement in The Daily Sentinel of the Sun Building and its surroundings.

The announcement occurred at the height of western Colorado’s 1950s uranium boom, when a few men made fortunes and some others lost their shirts hunting for the elusive metallic element.

At the much-hyped December 1954 announcement meeting, Foreman told Alan Pritchard, the reporter covering the story, that the goal of the project was “to centralize the energy industry and to help alleviate housing conditions in this area.”

Foreman said there was not going to be a stock promotion, as he already had financial backers in place, adding “the site is being kept secret for the present in order to preclude land speculation in the area.”

Later, according to longtime Grand Junction residents, Dave Sundal and Pat Gormley, the present site of The Ridges was announced as the locale.

According to a front-page story in the December 1954 Daily Sentinel, the Energy Center was to be made up of:

A one-story building to provide space for independent businesses related to mining and oil and including geologists, surveyors, blueprint firms, electronic manufacturers, and an area for research foundations engaged in atomic or oil studies.

A community shopping center, the first on the Western Slope, including a large general merchandise store, a service station, shoe store, men’s store, women’s store, drug store, barber shop, beauty salon, jewelry store, dry cleaners and a gift shop.

A restaurant and swank hotel.

A nine-hole golf course, country club and residential area, with homes ranging from $10,000 up. (This was nearly 60 years ago, when $10,000 would buy a comfortable house.)

An apartment building south of the business and shopping area.

A recreational park with a swimming pool west of the business area.

A $2 million-plus, six-story office building designed in a half-circle was to be the centerpiece of the project. The design of the building was not the usual “box” style.

It was going to rotate with the movement of the sun, and its amenities would include a cocktail lounge.

As Cullen and Foreman described the building to Pritchard, it was to be constructed of light but durable materials normally used in aircraft manufacturing. The east and west faces of the building would be translucent brick. The entire structure would be on a circular base that would pivot 90 degrees.

The movement would be geared by clockwork mechanisms to follow the course of the sun so that in wintertime the front of the building would be continually in the sunlight.

Foreman told the reporter that the idea grew out of “bull sessions” between him, Cullen and others because it was apparent that “Grand Junction was lacking in the facilities for the multimillion dollar companies doing business on the Plateau.”

Foreman continued that “The uranium industry is getting out of the fly-by-night stage. We are frankly gambling on its future as an industry. There is nothing idealistic about it. We feel that the center will pay dividends.”

When Pritchard asked about the availability of water, Foreman answered, “We believe we have that problem solved now,” but he did not go into details.

If in fact this “center” were to be developed on the Redlands in the 1950s, the water supply would have been a major stumbling block for this massive development.

Domestic water supply on the Redlands was from individual cisterns, refilled by water from various artesian water suppliers and brought in by truck.

The Ute water pipeline was not approved until 1962, some eight years after Foreman told reporters the water problem was “solved.”

The Sun Building project never developed. The outcome remains lost in 56-year-old newspaper files.

Apparently the money never materialized, the uranium boom wore down, and the two developers quietly slipped away and went back to Texas.

Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.

 

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