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Denver 1973

This is a great photograph. I don’t know who took the photo originally, but I snagged it from the 2007 Auraria Campus Master Plan document, which had included a small version of this photo in the chapter discussing Auraria’s history. With a little help from Photoshop, I was able to extract the image at a high resolution and present it to you today. The Auraria neighborhood and surrounding areas in 1973:

2010-03-27_auraria1973

There’s so much here to talk about in this photo.

First, obviously, we have a great view of the Auraria neighborhood (originally the Town of Auraria before the consolidation of Denver City, Auraria, and Highland on April 3, 1860) before the Auraria Campus was created. The buildings that survived the demolition of the neighborhood to make way for the campus were the Tivoli Brewery, St. Elizabeth’s Church, St. Cajetan’s Church, Emmanuel Episcopal Chapel (Denver’s oldest surviving church, built in 1876, and now the Emmanuel Gallery), and the historic homes along Ninth Street Historic Park.

What’s also visible in the Auraria area is the old Larimer Street and Lawrence Street viaducts.  As in-bound and out-bound viaducts, they were one of the main ways to get between I-25 and Downtown Denver. They were replaced in the late 1980s by Auraria Parkway; the viaducts were removed and in their place today are mostly broad pedestrian walkways or narrow streets for local access and RTD busses. The street running in front of  the taller historic buildings where Kacey Fine Furniture, Brooklyn’s, and the Auraria Lofts are today—that was Wazee Street.  Behind those buildings, where the Pepsi Center is now located, were more rail yards. We also get a nice view from this angle of the 13th and 14th Street (Speer) viaducts that I mentioned in my Denver 1961 post. What was neat about those viaducts, as you can see in this photo, was that the out-bound 14th Street viaduct didn’t go elevated until about 14th and Wazee, and it ran along the Cherry Creek side of the Acme and Volker Loft buildings. But the in-bound 13th Street viaduct remained elevated until Larimer, and ran along the southwest side of the Acme and Volker buildings. The two streets then did a clumsy readjustment over Cherry Creek to eventually flow into the Speer Boulevard alignment we have today to the south.

Union Station is clearly visible in this photo, with the big boxy blond brick Postal Annex next door (replaced by the EPA Building and 1515 Wynkoop). What you see behind Union Station to the Platte River—yeah, that area has changed a bit, no?  We also see the old 15th Street viaduct (replaced in the 1980s by the current 15th Street which goes under the railroad tracks and features twin red pedestrian bridges), the old 16th Street viaduct (gone entirely), and, off in the distance, the 20th Street, 23rd Street/Park Avenue, and Broadway viaducts—all replaced in the 1990s/early 2000s.  The bright white grain elevator at 20th and Wazee—that’s where Coors Field is today.

Finally, there are a few remarkable changes in the Downtown area to note. Brooks Tower is there, but its companion building (formerly the Executive Tower Inn and now the Curtis Hotel) is not.  However, the black-glass modern Park Central complex on Block 075 is clearly under construction in this photo. Who would have ever guessed from their outward appearances that Park Central is older than the Curtis Hotel tower? In front of the Park Central site at 15th and Arapahoe is the side of the Central Bank building.

The two blocks of parking lots in the foreground of the Brooks Tower… that’s where the Denver Performing Arts Complex is.  The department store around the D&F tower has been torn down, but the Tabor Center is still a decade off in the future; although the Tabor Center’s other block between Lawrence and Larimer has not yet been razed. On the foreground side of 16th Street (pre-Mall, of course) you can see that the entire block where Writer Square is today has been leveled, as has the half-block to the left where The Larimer condo tower is today. Its neighbor, the blank-walled former-Dave Cook’s-now-Office-Depot building hasn’t been built yet. Also visible are the buildings that were there before Market Street Station was built.

The year 1973 was probably an exciting year in Denver. They were on the cusp of the city’s greatest building boom, probably not unlike how we all felt in 2005. In the next twelve years, from 1973 until the date of the next photo I’m going to feature (1985), over forty towers (yes, you read correctly, 40) were built in Downtown Denver. Now that was a building boom!

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19 Comments

  1. Nick says:

    Absolutely brilliant! I never realized how many viaducts spanned downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. The influence of the railroads is equally amazing and makes me proud that Denver is keeping rail alive in a living, breathing form in our city!

  2. Ralph says:

    It makes you wonder what Denver would have been like if we never tore down the old buildings and tried to modernize downtown. Would we be the envy of most other US cities for our extensive stock of historical structures, most restored as the ones we kept have? Or would the city have been passed by in the ’70s and ’80s due to a lack of modern facilities only to become more like a Detroit of the Rockies? Beautiful historical buildings don’t add much to a city if they sit decaying into decrepitude. Ideally city officials would have kept all the old buildings and put the skyscrapers on vacant lots near or in downtown, (I’m not sure if there would have been room for this). Guess you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    I like these historic posts, keep them coming.

  3. Daniel says:

    If we don’t build In, we build Out! (TM) Its a balance, but everyone seems to go to extremes these days. We all benefit by preserving our heritage, history and culture. It gives us identity and sense of place. But if we allow it to stagnate, it will decay and die, only to be replaced at a much greater social cost later.

  4. Chris says:

    It’s interesting how Auraria was part of the downtown landscape. Now there’s a hard barrier of Speer and green areas between the campus and downtown. But in the picture, buildings go right up to the creek and there’s no major road creating a line. If they hadn’t built the campus, Auraria would probably another interesting downtown neighborhood. The viaducts are interesting too in how they show that the main priority was getting cars around. And there are a lot of parking lots and rail lines.

    I wonder how hard it would be to get one of the new helicopters to take a pic from the same point today?

  5. Jeffrey says:

    My first impression from the aerial is that I’m surprised at the number of parking lots and the somewhat light density in Auraria neighborhood. How did it feel at street level? Had scraping been occurring here for awhile? It seems all the stories the you would hear on historic tours of this area gave it more of a feeling of Baker, but at least in 1973 it seems much more open. That’s not at all to minimize the business and residents displaced, it’s just an interesting difference in perception I had since the campus has been here longer than I have.

    Also, interesting point that Ralph makes. The 1961 photos kind of left me in a funk that morning at the loss of some of those gems, but maybe some (and I am definitely in the some camp) of that did have to occur. We can bash out heads over the lack of foresight at the loss of those older buildings and why couldn’t they have been renovated during that boom. However, back then there was still a sense that newer is always better and that is what drew people/companies here. So, maybe there was a measure of foresight involved in that now less popular perspective. Unfortunately that cycle busted so we were stuck with a lot of empty lots. I guess I’d still prefer that more had been kept, but I can also recognize that might be an idealized path in it’s own right and the other extreme is that we might have less now. Overall Denver seemed to land somewhere in the middle of the mid century urban renewal cycle. We even ended up with a few things from that time that we view as core to the city now – 16th street, Writer Square, etc. to have passionate debate on. We lost some great things, but not it all and for a boom/bust city last century that’s actually a pretty good outcome. That’s my state of mind today and I’m free to change after 1985′s post! :0)

  6. Chris says:

    Very cool idea, thanks!

    At Auraria & Speer, I think they’re going to put a new building for the Hotel & Tourism school to replace the existing parking lot. Man…I can’t wait for that void between Union Station and CPV to be filled in. It’s jarring to be walking around a city and suddenly come across a big empty field…

    • Brendan says:

      Can’t wait for this to be developed as well – Amazing how different the intersection of Auraria Parkway and Speer looks in this photo.

  7. ScottG says:

    Great picture.

    It’s always strange to think that back in 1973 Brooks Tower was the tallest skyscraper in Denver.

  8. Larry McGill says:

    I was one of the first hired by The Metropolitan State College of Denver in 1966. We “ran” all over downtown Denver to teach, and the students to learn. Thus, the name Roadrunners. This photo was taken just as the construction of Auraria Campus was to begin. We moved on to campus for the Fall Quarter, yes I said Quarter, in 1976. Great care was taken to preserve the historic buildings and 9th St. Park had to be totally brought up to code to preserve those old houses. The properties that were scaped were very distressed.

    Larry McGill
    35 years The Department of Human Performance, Sport and Leisure Studies Systems.
    The Metropolitan State College of Denver

  9. Scott says:

    We kind of blew it with the Auraria campus, didn’t we? That really could have been a much better integrated, urban college. Instead we got a very sprawled out suburban style campus that bookends the city. Along with the Pepsi Center / Elitch’s parking desert, it completely prevents the urban core from ever expanding west. Having the college interspersed in all the empty lots on the northeast side of downtown, and not on a contiguous campus, seems like it would have made more sense. That also would have put it in closer proximity to affordable student housing around Uptown and even Capitol Hill.

  10. FrancoRey says:

    Thanks, Ken. Great find!

    What, may I ask, is the taller building in the southeast corner of 20th and Larimer? It looks to be about 8 stories and not to shabby looking. Obviously it’s not there anymore which is too bad since now I think it’s a parking garage, but anyone have info? One that may have been nice to save…

  11. Derek says:

    Well for one thing many cities in other countries have large numbers of historic buildings. London, Paris. Closer to home , cities like New York and Philly do as well. But they don’t get paased by. They’re Destinations. As for Detroit, That city has alot more problems than just a bunch of old buildings. Too dependant on one industry, fleeing population. Who knows when that tailspin will level off.
    It’s not just about old buidings though. I agree fully that you have to modernize and grow, and it’s not possible to do that while keeping every single thing that’s old just because it’s old. And while I appreciate what pieces of history Denver did manage to hang on to, an inordinate number of them are similar shoebox type buidings, like in the 1973 photo. It’s true you can’t keep everything as a city moves into the future but the ones that really hurt are the ones like the Tabor Opera House and the Mining and Exchange Buiding and a few other beauties that have faded into history. You know, the signifigant ones! I guess I just wish I could see them outside a photograph.

  12. MarkB says:

    People like to bash Federico Pena and his campaign slogan “Imagine a Great City,” but he did imagine, and he delivered. His leadership in replacing the old, ugly (UGLY) viaducts with the current mix of at-grade, below grade, etc. roadways allowed the entire western side of downtown to come to life.

    One aspect to the tearing down of Auraria that none of the other comments mention: this was a largely working class Hispanic neighborhood–those residents didn’t ask for their neighborhood to be erased, and did not get to vote on it.

  13. Julio says:

    I know I am at this conversation a bit late, but a big reason why Auraria looks a bit sparse is because of the massively destructive South Platte Flood of 1968. Look at the 1961 photo toward Auraria and it is a lot denser. When the flood in the summer of 1968 happened it really wiped out huge sections of downtown, especially Auraria and the Central Platte Valley.

    That was one of the reasons why they redeveloped it anyway, was because they suddenly had all this land available. And the 1968 flood led to ambitious flood control plans on the South Platte so that the land wouldn’t be as susceptible to flooding in the future, really opening up the entire Central Platte Valley to the development we have seen recently.