The Englewood Depot’s transformation into a world-class letterpress lab starts in the basement

The Englewood Train Depot is more than a century old. It used to sit a few blocks south, closer to the tracks.
5 min. read
Tom Parson inside his massive collection of letterpress equipment. May 4, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) letterpress; art; englewood; depot; tom parson; collector; kevinjbeaty; denverite; odd spot; denver; colorado;

The Englewood Depot and Tom Parson, May 4, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

For some artists, there's a bit of magic in old technology that is absolutely captivating. For Tom Parson it's cast iron, manually-operated printing presses that do it for him. You can tell because his home, the garage out back, a handful of storage units and at least one semi-truck in his possession are chock full of materials related to the craft.

But Parson is no hoarder. He'd prefer to think he's preserving a crucial part of American culture and a cornerstone of democracy: personal presses that have allowed poets and thinkers like himself propagate their own ideas as far back as Benjamin Franklin debuted his Silence Dogood letters.

Soon he won't have to pack his own spaces with all this gear. After much preparation, ink has finally graced Englewood city permits that will allow him and his crew of obsessed letterpress artists to transform a historic train depot into what may be the largest publicly-accessible collection of its kind in the western hemisphere: the Letterpress Depot.

Tom Parson inside his massive collection of letterpress equipment. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Englewood Train Depot is more than a century old. It used to sit a few blocks south, closer to the tracks, where it served the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway for 50 years. It closed in the 1950s and then was moved to its current location at Dartmouth Ave. and Galapago St. in the '90s.

In 2012, Englewood City Council put out a call for proposals as to how the building should be used. Tom Parson and his crew were one party in a "tug of war" that divided city officials. In 2013 the council narrowly voted in favor of Parson's plan to create a museum and library of letterpress knowledge over a competing plan to make it a train museum.

Tom Parson stands in a new space beneath the Englewood Depot that will house workshops and printing materials. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

In the next few weeks, his contractor will begin to reshape the modern foundation space beneath the Depot.

But the space will not be a place to house just one man's obsession. Parson's garage has become the home of many Denver printers' gear after they died or no longer could maintain their own collections. Presses, typeface shelves and precious books from a great many collectors have all found their way into his hands, and he's ready to move everything into a place where it can be shared with the community.

"It's not gonna be a glass case museum,” Parson said. “We want people to come get their hands dirty and thereby need to preserve it themselves.”

Tom Parson inside a shed housing part of his massive collection of letterpress equipment. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

For him and his cohorts, an independent press is more important than just aesthetics. Parson remembers hand-printed booklets passed around during the Vietnam War that seemed to tell more truth than was available from the mainstream media.

"It was one of the ways people learned the body counts (on TV) were wrong," he said.

Since he fell into the craft in the '60s, Parson has become a member of what he says is an international community of letterpressers and print makers, all who share his sense of thrill over the process. That global niche is what gets him excited about the Depot's future.

Parsons says he sees Englewood becoming a global destination for letterpress nerds everywhere, though he thinks there are plenty of local artists to populate the space on a regular basis.

A collection of pictoral printing blocks - the original emoji - in Tom Parson's colleciton. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

He and his team have a lot of work ahead of them. Though they have about $40,000 at hand to build in the Depot's basement space, they're hoping for an additional $60,000 to get the museum and workshop going. Parson envisions a place that will serve not only as a printing studio and museum but also offer public space for Englewood residents to gather in.

He and his team have raised nearly $10,000 already from an IndieGoGo campaign with no shortage of stylish rewards for backers flying out of the team's many presses.

CORRECTION: This story originally said the crowd funding campaign was through GoFundMe and that the train depot was moved in the '80s. It's actually IndieGoGo and the building was moved in the '90s.

Inside the historic train depot where there's a lot of work do.

Tom Parson holds up posters that are perks in the Letterpress Depot crowdfunding campaign, May 4, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Tom Parson holds the Handy-Book of Printing Types, a cataloge of pre-digital fonts from 1901. Many of those typefaces no longer exist. May 4, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
"MAKE IT NEW," Tom Parson's catchphrase. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A print by Tom Parson held by Tom Parson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
14 point Hellenic wide in Tom Parson's collection. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Inside the old Englewood train depot. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Tom Parson opens a window inside the old Englewood train depot. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
A map of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway that the Englewood train depot once served. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Tom Parson at a 19th century tebletop press in his kitchen. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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