The Equitable Building, located at the southeast corner of Seventeenth and Stout Street in the central business district, was one of the structures that helped earn Seventeenth Street the nickname “Wall Street of the West”. A luxurious example of Italian Renaissance Revival architecture adapted to the needs and technology of the 1890s, this nine-story office building was the tallest building in Denver from 1892 to 1911, when the Daniels & Fisher tower overtook it. The building has been home to many law offices over the years, including that of Mary Lathrop, who practiced law in Colorado from 1897 until her death in 1951. In 1918, Mary Lathrop became one of the first two women admitted to the American Bar Association.
The nine-story Equitable Building, completed in 1892,
reflects the growing city’s determination to take its place on the national
stage. Built for the Equitable Assurance Company at a cost of $1.5 million, the
Equitable Building was designed by the Boston firm of Andrews, Jacques and
Rantoul in the Renaissance Revival style. Many details, including the massive
street-level base of rusticated Pikes Peak granite punctuated by Roman arches,
and the naked “amorini” standing far above the street under ornately carved
balconies, recall the urban palazzi
of Renaissance Italy.
The building’s interior is equally ambitious, lavishly
appointed in various imported marbles, with brass and iron stair railings,
stained glass windows (including some by Tiffany), and mosaic ceilings bearing
Byzantine motifs. Said by its builders
to be completely fireproof, the Equitable Building was an example of modern luxury
in a historical style. The Equitable Assurance Company’s role as patrons is
commemorated by the use of “E”s as a repeated element in the building’s
decoration, and in the design itself: seen from above, it is shaped like two
capital “E”s placed back to back, with the deep bays between the “bars”
providing plentiful light and ventilation.
Unfortunately, the building opened only a year before the
silver panic of 1893, which devastated Denver’s company. The building still
enjoyed high-profile occupants as the governor of Colorado, who kept offices in
the building until relocating to the new state capitol building in 1896, but it
was years before lease rates returned to their initial levels. Eventually, the building became home to many
of downtown Denver’s law practices, as it still is today. In the words of Colorado
historian Tom Noel, subsequent skyscrapers have left it “overshadowed, but not
Among the lawyers who worked from the Equitable Building was
Mary Florence Lathrop, the first woman to practice law in Colorado. Law was
actually Lathrop’s second career; as a young journalist she had traveled the
country covering the events of the day. After her coverage of attacks against
Chinese laborers in San Francisco earned her the praise of the Chinese government,
her editors even sent her to China.
But the life of a traveling correspondent took its toll on
Lathrop, and she fell ill with tuberculosis.
At that time, the sunshine and dry air of Colorado were widely
advertised as bringing relief to sufferers, and Lathrop became one of the many “lungers”
to settle in Colorado for health reasons. Recovering her health, Lathrop
decided that the law would provide a more settled life than journalism, and
soon graduated first in her class from the University of Denver’s law school,
passing the state bar exam with flying colors in 1896.
In 1897, Lathrop began her practice, despite the scorn
directed at her by male colleagues who felt the law was a man’s preserve. Aomng many firsts, Lathrop was the first woman
in Clorado to establish a law office, the first to be admitted to practice in the
U.S. District Court in Coloraado, and the first woman to argue before the
Colorado Supreme Court. Specializing in probate law, Lathrop developed a
substantial practice and became a prominent figure in Denver’s legal circles.
Her arguments in the case of Jackson v. Hallett helped establish Colorado laws
regarding charitable bequests.
In 1918, she became one of the first two women admitted to
the American Bar Association, alongside Mary Belle Grossman of Ohio.Lathrop
continued to practice until her death in 1951, at the age of 85. According to
one biographer, she furnished her offices in the Equitable Building with
rocking chairs, and wore a lacey apron as she carried out the work of her