The Denver Museum of Miniatures, Toys and Dolls is no longer in Denver. After 35 years in City Park West, a “1,000 percent rent increase” meant this Church of Small had to move, executive director Wendy Littlepage told us. The big collection of tiny hoses, furnishings, dolls and toys are almost ready for the public again in their new location at 830 Kipling Street in Lakewood.
Museum members can catch a glimpse this weekend. The general public is invited to come look at $5 a pop starting August 8. Everyone will be required to enter in timed increments, and full-sized masks are required.
Doll house culture is kind of a big deal in Denver, Littlepage said.
One reason is due to Norm Nielsen, who ran a doll house and miniature shop in Denver for decades. His son, David, was helping get things together at the museum when we visited on Tuesday. He remembers his father started out building stuff on the family ping pong table, but business soon grew to the point that he needed a storefront. The first Norm’s Dollhouse opened in 1978 in the old Southglenn mall. His last location, in Centennial, closed in 2017.
“Norm wanted to own his own business so he could take off fishing any time he wanted,” Nielsen recalled. “He never did that.”
Instead, he was part of a niche community of miniatures lovers around town. The TLC Doll Hospital near Sloan’s Lake is another surviving piece of that era.
Nielsen said he’s still kept busy with repairs and new projects. He needs to have some new furnishings for a post-pandemic day when doll house expos open up again.
To get a closer look at his dad’s handiwork, we stuck a 360-degree camera inside. Here’s an interactive look into a piece Norm made for Betty “Bets” Van Vleet O’Meara, of the century-old Denver Ford dealership legacy. It’s a replica of her home in the Country Club Neighborhood.
(Click and drag to look around!)
The new space, Littlepage said, is significantly larger than the museum’s old digs by City Park. The museum currently takes up about 2,500 square feet, but she has plans to expand up to 8,000 more. Littlepage has been furiously writing grant proposals to make their upstairs area ADA-compliant.
In the meantime, it’s given Littlepage and her volunteers room to spread things out. Their collections area is full of items that are being logged into their systems or restored. And there’s always the potential for more stuff to process, too. Littlepage said people try to donate about 1,500 items a week, tiny as they may be.
When asked if she takes in anywhere close to that, she said: “Nope!”
Littlepage is the only staffer, so she’s got little time to take in every single dollhouse chair or dining room set offered up each week. Instead, she’s looking for things with local ties, like the O’Meara house, or that fill in the collection’s representation gaps. Dolls depicting people from most countries, except a few African nations, are already part of the museum and need not be donated. The collection also has plenty of Victorian-era doll houses.
But among the items currently on tables in the back room are miniature houses built in a western architectural tradition. Littlepage said she’s not seen the West and Southwest represented as much in the collecting world. She’s excited to begin work on a show that will bring some of these differing styles to light.