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Early Development in East Washington Park
One of the first developments in the East Washington Park Neighborhood was associated with one of the earliest efforts to bring water to Denver and became one of the primary factors in the development of the city.
In 1859, the Capitol Hydraulic Company headed by A.C. Hunt, later governor of the Colorado Territory, received a charter from the Territory of Kansas to divert water from the South Platte River for mechanical, agricultural, mining, and city purposes. Stockholders in the enterprise included such illustrious pioneers as Henry Allen, Richard Sopris, Amos Steck, and William Byers. In 1860, construction began on a ditch, originally known as “the Big Ditch,” on the river about a half-mile above the present site of Littleton. The ditch company abandoned the effort as impracticable and too costly in early 1861.
Four years later, John W. Smith contracted to build the desired ditch for Denver from further up the river for $10,000 plus half of the capital stock of the company. Smith, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1815, was described by Historian Louisa Ward Arps as “one of Denver’s most important earlier business men.” Among his many accomplishments were the building of some of the first mills in the state, erecting the American House hotel in Denver, and serving as president of the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railway. Horses and scrapers, as well as hand labor were used for construction of the ditch. Smith completed the gravity-flow, unlined ditch in May 1867, and it was subsequently granted Priority Right No. 1 on the South Platte.
The completion of the irrigation system enabled dry Brown’s Bluff to be transformed into verdant Capitol Hill. The ditch meandered through the present site of Washington Park, and Smith’s Lake, a natural depression which may have been a buffalo wallow, was used as an associated reservoir from the time of completion of the ditch in 1867 (See Figure 3). Early Denver historian Jerome Smiley reported that the completion of the ditch was “immediately followed by tree-planting and lawn-making in all that there was of the residence districts, and which brought a great and welcome change in the appearance of the town.” This project was the forerunner of Denver’s modern water system.
By 1869, Denver was spending as much as $7,000 per year to purchase water from the ditch for irrigation of its street trees. At that time, the city streets had water flowing on both sides, and citizens were allowed to divert some of the water for their yards. In May 1875 the city, believing that it would be cheaper in the long run to buy the ditch, acquired the structure for $60,000, and it became known as the “City Ditch.” At the same time, the city acquired a ninety-nine-year lease on Smith’s Lake. After Denver purchased the ditch, it was extended to City Park; its total length today is 27.25 miles.
A water commissioner was appointed to supervise the distribution of water along the system, and a number of “water police” assisted with the inspection of nearly 1,100 miles of street laterals. The water police also attempted to prevent children from playing in the laterals, to keep trash from being thrown into the waterways, and to stop anyone from drinking the water, which could spread typhoid fever and other illnesses. Eventually, the smaller ditches were filled in, and only the City Ditch remained. Although most of the ditch is enclosed in an underground conduit today, in Washington Park it still flows uncovered.
An 1882 “Guide Map to the City of Denver” shows the vicinity of the East Washington Park Neighborhood and undeveloped land surrounding Smith’s Lake, with the area east of the lake between Alameda and Kentucky identified as Bohm’s Addition (later resubdivided). The area was platted by George Bohm, whose family settled at the southeast corner of Kentucky and Franklin. The addition was divided into blocks bounded by east-west avenues named Lafayette, Indiana, Bohm, and Lake View, and by north-south streets including Whitsitt, Kettle, Wyatt, Pierce, Belford, Pitkin, Routt, Tippe-Canoe, and Saville. South of Smith’s Lake and the Bohm Addition were large undeveloped tracts of land owned by G.W. and Will Clayton, the J.P. Farmer Estate, G.W. Browning, and C.M. Stebbins. Smith’s Ditch flowed through the neighborhood from south to north, and the Denver and New Orleans Railway tracks ran through the southern edge of the area.
In 1881, the Denver and New Orleans Railway had incorporated in Denver, with the plan of building south from Denver to the Gulf Coast. The incorporators included such prominent businessmen as John Evans, Cyrus W. Fisher, David H. Moffat, George Tritch, and others. The route of the railroad closely followed today’s alignment of Interstate 25 along the southern boundary of East Washington Park.
The first fifty miles of the railroad were constructed and in operation by May 1882, and Pueblo was reached late that year. The Denver and New Orleans went into receivership in 1885, and experienced a number of reorganizations, as the Denver, Texas, and Gulf Railroad (1885), as part of the Union Pacific, Denver, and Gulf (1890), and, finally, as part of the Colorado and Southern Railway (1898).
The railroad apparently did little to stimulate industrial or residential growth in the southern part of East Washington Park. The one industrial facility located near the railroad was Alex Miller’s South Denver Brick Manufacturing Company at E. Mexico Ave. and Vine St. in the southeastern corner of the neighborhood. In 1898, Robinson Brick and Tile purchased the firm and continued to produce brick until Interstate 25 was constructed through the area.
South Denver: Clean and Dry
Before the land encompassed by the East Washington Park Neighborhood was annexed to Denver in 1894, it was a part of the town of South Denver, which was founded as a result of prohibitionist sentiment in the 1880s. In 1886, pioneers James A. Fleming, Avery Gallup, and Rufus Clark planned to create a town known as “South Denver” in an attempt to escape the polluting influences of the big city and the “liquor element” which they feared would tarnish the wholesome qualities of the area in which they held substantial property. The boundaries of South Denver extended from Alameda Avenue to Yale Avenue and from Colorado Boulevard to the South Platte River. Forty men signed a petition to incorporate the town, and the designated land was surveyed and platted.
On 16 June 1886, the supporters of South Denver filed the plat and petitioned for incorporation. A vigorous campaign on both sides of the incorporation issue ensued, with the anti-liquor forces stating that the town would guarantee that no saloons would be established in the area. On 31 July 1886, residents within the town boundaries cast their votes: sixty-five in favor of incorporation and thirty-eight against. The town of South Denver incorporated on 14 August 1886.
Town founder James A. Fleming became the first mayor of South Denver, and its early leaders stayed true to their promise of keeping the area free of undesirable influences. “Bawdy and disorderly houses of ill-fame or assignation” were banned within the town limits, as were such nuisances as gambling, dog fights, vulgar language, vagrants, and loose animals. After successfully defending a challenge to their incorporation, town officials added more ordinances to protect the citizens, including laws against throwing garbage in the street and requiring that industrial operations receive a permit. In 1886, South Denver passed an ordinance which restricted the construction of frame buildings which were then a fire hazard.
A “Pocket Map of Denver” produced by Edward Rollandet in 1887 shows that a tract of land south of Smith’s Lake had been subdivided into the Bryn Mawr Subdivision by that date, and that, aside from Bohm’s Addition, parts of which had been sold to large property holders, Reser’s Subdivision at the southeast corner of the neighborhood was the only other platting. Most of the land in the East Washington Park Neighborhood was still divided into large tracts owned by the J.P. Farmer Estate, Carrie E. Bartels (later Mrs. Frank Bailey, the daughter of George Bohm), C.M. Stebbins, S.T. and B.B. Collins, F.A. Keener, W.B. Berger, and S.T. Marix.
After establishing the laws which would govern the clean-living community, South Denver founders turned to completing infrastructure improvements and establishing or attracting other amenities, including a water system, schools, and a streetcar network. Voters approved funds for a water works, which opened in 1887. One of the keys to creating a successful residential development in the late nineteenth century was providing a transportation system which would carry homeowners from their residences into the city where most jobs were concentrated. In 1889, the South Denver Cable Railway Company was incorporated by members of the Denver Tramway Company in order to extend the Tramway’s Broadway cable line through South Denver. The company built four miles of electric road from the end of its cable line south, constructed a small power station in South Denver, and began operating cars along the system on 25 December 1889. The East Washington Park Neighborhood also received its own streetcar service in 1889, when the University Park Railway and Electric Line built through the area. The line was aimed at connecting the suburb of University Park, east of the University of Denver, with the Denver trolley line at East Alameda Avenue and South Broadway. The line was constructed from University Park northward. Within the East Washington Park Neighborhood, the line ran north along South University Boulevard, west along East Virginia Avenue, north on Franklin Street, and west on East Alameda Avenue. The streetcar line stimulated settlement, and, in 1889, the Denver Eye reported that nearly one hundred houses had been built in South Denver.
Creation of Subdivisions
In anticipation of the arrival of streetcar service to South Denver, a spate of residential additions had been created by developers in the East Washington Park Neighborhood in the late 1880s (See Figure 4). Craig’s Subdivision, a small platting west of South Marion Street Parkway and north of Dakota Avenue, was filed by Alexander Craig and William Bayard Craig in May 1888. In December 1888, Thomas Fitzgerald established Fitzgerald’s Subdivision east of Craig’s Subdivision and including the present site of Steele School. That platting was followed by Broadway Heights Second Filing, a large area extending from Franklin east to University and Alameda south to Kentucky, which was filed in January 1889 by George Bohm. In February 1889, Magdalena Bohm platted the tiny Prospect Heights Subdivision at the eastern edge of what would become Washington Park. In March of that year, the substantial Bohm’s Subdivision Second Filing was platted by Richard Cline, Mark W. Moe, and William and Elizabeth Bradley south of Broadway Heights extending to Kentucky Avenue. Joseph Bailey created the Bailey Subdivision in May 1889. John C. Wright, an engineer with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad established the Aberdeen Heights Subdivision in July 1889. At the end of the year, Virginius and E.H. Ellett created Ellett’s Subdivision. Charles Stebbins, one of Denver’s most prominent early businessmen, created the Stebbins Heights Subdivision at the southwest edge of the neighborhood in July 1890. Myrtle Hill Subdivision extended from Williams to University between Tennessee and Mississippi, and became one of the most significant historic subdivisions in the central portion of the East Washington Park Neighborhood. The addition was filed by Carrie E. Bartels in July 1892.
Myrtle Hill, the Bright Suburban Beauty Spot
The high hopes of the real estate developers were not rewarded with much immediate development in the neighborhood, which was referred to as “Myrtle Hill” during its early years. When members of the Lort family moved to Myrtle Hill in search of better health in 1891, they found “such barren desolation as they had never imagined possible.” The Lorts found consolation in the view of Smith’s Lake “in which a section of mountain range lay mirrored,” and in walking on the open prairie. To reach downtown Denver, they took the University Park streetcar. The Lorts found that the Myrtle Hill neighborhood had no churches or schools.
The Lorts lived in a small three-room house at 725 South High Street in 1891. They reported that the 900 block of High was occupied by Frank A. Bailey’s enclosed alfalfa field and nursery. His wife, real estate developer Carrie Bailey, was born in Denver in 1869 and attended city schools. Lydia Terrell Lort recalled that “Mr. and Mrs. Bailey were the substantial citizens of Myrtle Hill. Mrs. Bailey’s father, Mr. Bohm, had homesteaded the section and Mr. Bailey from his office at the corner of Fifteenth and Arapahoe streets in Denver was promoting a real estate boom.” F.A. Bailey & Co. advertised lots in Myrtle Hill at from $200 to $250 each. Frank Bailey, who also represented real estate interests in the University Park area, used his influence as an elected representative in South Denver to promote development of a park and to acquire streetcar service for the area. The Myrtle Hill subdivision was boosted as a “bright suburban beauty spot” and “a sparkling gem in a brilliant setting.” Attractive features of the neighborhood described by its promoters included its views of the mountains, its nearness to Denver, and its excellent transportation. One article touting the area concluded, “With its handsome residences, its beautiful streets, its University Avenue frontage, and its nearness to Smith’s Lake, Myrtle Hill is peerless as a home or investment.”
Although the neighborhood did not experience a real estate boom like those which had marked Denver neighborhoods such as Curtis Park and Capitol Hill, it received attention as a desirable residential area and began to grow slowly but steadily. South Denver also grew at a slow rate. In 1891, town residents passed a bond issue to purchase the mansion of James Fleming for use as a town hall, library, and jail. Town leaders were proud of their community, but recognized the difficulty of maintaining services for such a large area with such a small population. Despite notable improvements, officials believed that booming Denver would eventually annex South Denver, and they had opposed a request by citizens living on South Broadway for a post office in 1890.
The town of South Denver wanted to establish an urban park, and considered several locations within its boundaries, including the area of Smith’s Lake. Town officials negotiated with Smith’s daughter, Mrs. Henry M. Porter, who wanted more than the community could afford for the property; in addition, the city of Denver already had a lease on the lake. In their efforts to secure a park, the town hoped that Charles Stebbins, who owned a piece of land which faced the mountains and had the ditch flowing through it, would donate his property. Stebbins did authorize the sale of four blocks of less valuable land for the purpose, but the town felt the site was not as suitable. By the 1890s, the lake was considered somewhat of a nuisance as it attracted “gay young men who insisted on showing their anatomy in the waters….” The Denver Republican reported that so many boys were utilizing the lake in this manner that “ladies refuse to go on the elegant and beautiful drive in that vicinity.”
Early Institutions and Residents of East Washington Park
Although South Denver would have to wait for its park, Myrtle Hill-area residents did make progress in establishing important institutions during the early 1890s. In 1892, Rev. John Collins, missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church, met with a small group of Myrtle Hill homeowners at the Bailey house to consider starting a church. Those gathered determined that there was not yet enough support for such an undertaking. However, in February 1893, Ellen and Hattie Lort started a Sunday School for neighborhood children in their home. The Lort Sisters used packing boxes left from their move to Colorado and boards to create seating for twenty children and fifteen adults.
The success of the Sunday School encouraged those interested in a church to begin planning for a building, which would be the first public structure in the community. Mr. and Mrs. Bailey donated five lots at the corner of South High Street and Tennessee Avenue, and W.M. Park and H.T. Shipley volunteered to construct the edifice utilizing one of several plans for churches Rev. Collins had on hand. Denver University Chancellor William F. McDowell led the dedication services for the Myrtle Hill Methodist Church on 3 September 1893. The church served people from several denominations during its early years. The building was completed on the eve of a nationwide depression, the Panic of 1893, and the congregation went into the economic downturn with a debt which was not paid off until 1898. One of the popular fundraising activities during the first years of the church was to charter a streetcar and make a group trip, singing songs along the way.
The second public building in the neighborhood was also completed in 1893, just weeks after the church. Myrtle Hill School was built on two lots donated by Mrs. Carrie E. Bailey at the southwest corner of Tennessee Avenue and Race Street. The first school building was a $3,396 two-room structure, with one room in operation at the beginning of the school year. The school accommodated pupils in grades one through four at first, and older children were sent to the nine-room Lincoln School which had been built at Exposition and South Pearl in 1891. Parents of school children warned their offspring not to play at Smith’s Lake on their long walk to Lincoln School, but accidents did happen. Ice on the lake in the winter tempted two members of the Chittenden family, who fell through the surface and were rescued by other children. No kindergarten was offered for neighborhood children until the Lort Sisters opened a private kindergarten in their home. To transport the young students to their house, the Lorts purchased a milk wagon and white horse from a local dairyman. The Lort brothers, Tom and Frank, built seats on the inside of the wagon for the children. The Lorts expanded their house to accommodate children from throughout South Denver.
Among the notable neighbors the Lort family mentioned in a book about the Myrtle Hill area was Virginius Ellett, who operated orchards and a greenhouse and grew cantaloupes on his garden tract at Race and Exposition. William P. Stephens, who lived in the 700 block of South Williams Street, was a city policeman and also operated the town dog pound on his property. Children on their way to school checked on the animals Stephens was housing. The Edmund Siebers family also lived on South Williams, and Mr. Siebers was known throughout the neighborhood for calling his children home at the end of the day by playing his horn. The Sorensen and Johnson families delivered milk to homes in the neighborhood. Local resident George McMeen became first teacher of the upper grades at Myrtle Hill School. The William Reed family established the first grocery store in the area. The Lorts stated that, “with few exceptions, the residents of Myrtle Hill lived on very limited incomes.”
The future of South Denver became more tenuous during the Panic of 1893. The prosperity of the late 1880s and early 1890s was erased, and real estate development in the East Washington Park Neighborhood ceased. The depression resulted in economic collapse and widespread unemployment throughout Colorado, and just maintaining gains of the previous years became difficult. Falling on hard times, the town turned to its willing neighbor to the north for salvation, and on 7 February 1894, South Denver became a part of the city of Denver, which also assumed the smaller community’s substantial debt.
From Bare Land to the Showplace of the City: The Development of Washington Park
In the same year that South Denver became part of the larger city, former territorial governor and Denver Tramway founder John Evans and his son proposed that Denver establish a comprehensive park and boulevard system. The plan was influenced by the Chicago Columbian Exposition which introduced the City Beautiful movement to the country in 1893. Edward Rollandet is believed to have developed the Denver plan, which featured a series of parks connected by parkways throughout the city. Although the first plan was defeated, supporters of the idea, many of them members of women’s clubs, carried the parks and parkways concept forward as part of city beautification efforts. Residents of southeast Denver hoped for a large central park, and Park Commissioner Henry Young, who lived in the area, kept the issue alive, as did leaders such as Frank Bailey, who served as a Denver alderman. In 1897, definite steps toward the creation of the long-anticipated park were taken by Mayor Thomas S. McMurray, who instructed the city attorney to begin condemnation proceedings for land south of Smith’s Lake. The Denver Times remarked that “the [park] board some time ago selected the site of Smith’s Lake and the land immediately adjoining it, recognizing in this property the best park site on the south side.” Not everyone approved with the chosen location for the new park. One citizen noted that it was “too much on one side of the residence portion,” that it was not connected with a prominent street, and that it would be hard to find. The Denver Eye hoped that another site would be selected, and described the Smith’s Lake acreage unattractively as “…thirty acres of bare land, lying above the city ditch, with no tree or even shrub upon it….”
The city was not deterred by such criticism, and the park commission finally acquired the desired tract of land comprising a total of forty acres, followed by additional purchases in subsequent years. After considering names such as Broadview, Sylvan, Ramona, and Ouray, the commission selected the designation “Washington” for the new park in honor of the country’s first president. To design the new park the city selected landscape architect Reinhart Schuetze, who had worked on Denver’s Platt Park. Schuetze was assisted by John B. Lang, who served as the park’s first superintendent. The Lang family moved into the Whitehead farmhouse on the property (which still stands) in 1898. John B. Lang was born in 1861 in Germany and educated there in landscape, greenhouse, and nursery culture. When the Denver Department of Public Works was established in 1892, Lang began working for the city. For his ten-hours of work each day he received a salary of $50 per month, supervising workers who were paid $40 per month.
Work on the park commenced in the winter of 1898-1899 with teams of horses pulling scrapers. Schuetze adopted the English landscape style for Washington Park, with focal points including a large meadow, the lake, and formal floral gardens which were to become the largest gardens of any park in the system. John Lang drove his horse and wagon to the mountains to obtain evergreen trees for the site, as well as chokecherry and currant bushes to plant along Franklin and Kentucky. Also planted were maple, red oak, horse chestnut, Kentucky coffee, and golden raisin saplings. Many of the trees were obtained from Highland Park in North Denver, which had previously been a nursery. By 1900, Washington Park had been graded, partially piped for water, planted, and enclosed with a wire fence. In December 1900, the Denver Times noted that “this is a desirable piece of ground and its improvement is comparatively easy and inexpensive.” As the work progressed, Reinhart Schuetze often appeared in the park on his bicycle, checking on the development. Superintendent Lang’s son, Joe, recalled that Schuetze would carry his lunch of walnuts in his pockets and sit on a bench in the park and crack them open as he watched the workers transform the landscape. John Lang directed the landscaping efforts, including the planting of trees, grass, and flowers; the construction of a children’s playground; and the creation of a Lover’s Lane at Kentucky between Franklin and Humboldt.
During the first years after Washington Park was created, the open space did not receive much use because the adjacent neighborhood was still sparsely populated, and the site was difficult to access from other parts of the city. Each year, a few more houses were built near the park, and the neighborhood began to be known as Washington Park. This name was reinforced by new subdivisions which were created. Although work on the park was underway, the city was also involved in landscaping its other new parks and progress in the southern area seemed slow. In 1902, the Denver Times cited the city’s purchase of thirty-five additional acres of land between Smith’s Lake and Washington Park as a “good move.” The newspaper noted that
Washington park is not now a thing of beauty; indeed, it is an embryo park rather than one that shows any substantial improvement…In no section of the city has the growth been so great in the last few years as on the South side. There has been a greater proportion of costly homes built elsewhere and much more money has been spent in individual residences. But that section is growing to be peculiarly a home owners’ section, where people put up as good homes as they can afford and then year by year beautify them with the most painstaking care. No section makes a greater showing of thrift and home pride…Washington park, with its lake and sloping western side, is likely to become one of the show places of the city, to the intense gratification of South side residents, who have so far received altogether too little encouragement from the public funds for the heavy outlay which they have made as individual property owners.
After the city acquired the land for Washington Park and the site began to take shape, residential development increased in the area. Several new subdivisions used their proximity to the park as a selling point. Twentieth century subdivisions in the East Washington Park Neighborhood included the Washington Park Addition, created by the Myrtle Hill Land Improvement Company, with lawyer Erastus W. Smith, president, in 1901. Washington Park Addition included an area between Race and University from Mississippi south to Florida, and its creation cemented the name Washington Park to the neighborhood. Realtor Frank B. Davis’s tiny Davis Subdivision was established bordering the park in 1902. The small Myrtle Hill First Addition was platted by Carrie E. Bailey and Frederick T. Smith in 1903, one block from the park between Kentucky and Tennessee.
By 1901, streetcar coverage in East Washington Park had undergone changes. A line entered the neighborhood along Alameda (Route 22) and turned south on Franklin to Virginia, where the line split. One branch went south on Franklin Street, east on Kentucky Avenue, and south on Gaylord Street to about Louisiana Avenue. The route featured brand new air-brake cars labeled “WASH PARK,” which caused a sensation in the neighborhood. School children laid pins on the streetcar tracks to create souvenirs at the inaugural run of the cars, with pins provided by Mrs. Bailey. The other branch extended east on Virginia and south on University Boulevard to about Mississippi Avenue. The line no longer extended south to University Park. The neighborhood was also connected by another line which ran southward along Downing Street to Alameda Avenue.
Forty acres were added to the park on the south side in 1904, including eight blocks of what had been Stebbins Heights. The park commission felt the land was needed to “fill out” the park. At the time of purchase, it was reported that the blocks were not improved, but that “there has been a building boom in that direction, particularly for small dwellings costing from $1,000 to $2,000, and it was thought advisable that the park and all about it would be pleasant to the eye.”
Denver Mayor Robert Speer wholeheartedly adopted the City Beautiful philosophy and is generally credited as the leader who brought Denver’s park and parkway system into being. Speer, elected in 1904, recognized the relationship between land values and public improvements. City planner Charles M. Robinson developed a park plan for Mayor Speer which urged the connection of Speer Boulevard (then known as Cherry Creek Boulevard) with the city’s major parks, including Washington. Nationally-recognized designer of parks and parkways George E. Kessler also contributed to the plan, suggesting that land along the City Ditch’s right-of-way become the Marion and Downing street parkways (Figure 5). By the end of Speer’s second term in office in 1912, the park and parkway system had grown to include the entire city, with Washington Park as the southernmost park.
By 1906, Washington Park was experiencing problems obtaining enough water to support its recent landscape improvements, and the superintendent decided to use Smith’s Lake to water the lawns and trees of the park. A pump house with a used gasoline engine and pump was built, and it began to force lake water through hoses to keep the lawns green. To enhance the park, a second lake south of Smith’s Lake was built in that year, named Grasmere, and surrounded with willows. Adam Kohankie, a long-time resident of South Denver, succeeded John Lang as superintent
By 1906, Washington Park was experiencing problems obtaining enough water to support its recent landscape improvements, and the superintendent decided to use Smith’s Lake to water the lawns and trees of the park. A pump house with a used gasoline engine and pump was built, and it began to force lake water through hoses to keep the lawns green. To enhance the park, a second lake south of Smith’s Lake was built in that year, named Grasmere, and surrounded with willows. Adam Kohankie, a long-time resident of South Denver, succeeded John Lang as superintendent of Washington Park the following year, and John Lang and his family moved to City Park to supervise improvements there. A bathing beach, a bathhouse, a pavilion/boat house, a lily pond, a rock garden near Franklin and Virginia, and tennis courts were completed during Kohankie’s tenure, which lasted until his retirement in 1936.
A new school site in the Washington Park Addition at South Race and Mississippi was selected in 1906 and a five-room building for local pupils was erected. The earlier school was demolished the following year. The school retained the name Myrtle Hill until 1922 because Denver had a Washington School at Eleventh and Lawrence streets. Eight classrooms and a gymnasium were added to the school in 1922, and in 1927 seven addition classrooms and an auditorium were built. Architect for the addition was Harry J. Manning, who also designed Fairmont Elementary School, Bethesda Sanatorium, and Cathedral High School.
Never Prettier: City Beautiful Construction in Washington Park
In 1911, the city’s first bathing beach, complete with sand and a bathhouse, opened at the north shore of Smith’s Lake, symbolizing the Denver’s early commitment to recreational opportunities for its citizens (See Figure 6). Only the men’s half of the bathhouse was ready for the opening day; women had to wait for the completion of their section of the building (the east wing) the following year, and made do with a tent for a dressing room. The concrete bathhouse, described as “Mission style” in early articles, and as a combination of Prairie and Craftsman style details by later observers, had a broad facade, with widely overhanging eaves and a small recessed entrance porch on the north. C.J. Dunn, who would also work on South High School, was the builder of the bathhouse. The dual purpose waiting room of the bathhouse included fireplaces at each end, and was intended to be used in winter as a rest and recreation place for skaters who frequented the lake. The men’s locker room was designed so it could also be used as an assembly room, with capacity for three hundred people.
Two hundred swimmers descended on the free facility on opening day. Unfortunately, the park was unprepared for such a crowd, and had only 180 bathing suits available for swimmers (including a regulation women’s costume with knee skirt and cap sleeves). Eventually someone suggested that rompers and overalls were also appropriate dress for swimming in the lake, and on the first day “there was the greatest conglomeration of bathing costumes that was ever seen at any beach.” It was reported that the beach was “an absolutely safe place for children, with or without their parents,” as several men in boats were stationed to prevent swimmers from going out too far. Although everything needed by bathers was provided at no charge initially, park workers found that some guests used more than their “fare share” and a minimal fee was instituted for items such as suits, lockers, soap, and towels. The bathing beach was found to be the most popular and least expensive facility to maintain in the park system, and a similar beach was established at Berkeley Park due to the high demand. Between the two sites, reportedly more than 100,000 bathers per month were accommodated.
The day the beach opened, the park was described as “never prettier.”
There are seventy-five acres of grass. Not a dandelion perks up its saucy yellow head to mar it. Mr. Kohankie even offers a reward for one, and there are also no ‘Keep off the grass’ signs. The vast green spread is for the use of the visitors and they enjoy it.
In 1913, noted Denver architect J.J.B. Benedict designed an Eclectic style pavilion and boat house south of the lake, balancing the bathhouse on the opposite shore. The upper level of the building was intended as a gathering place and picnic pavilion and was open on all sides with scenic views of Long’s Peak. The lower story was a boat house and ticket office for boat rentals, included storage space and a concession stand, and also served as a warming house for ice skaters in the winter. The pavilion’s capacity of five hundred people made it a gathering place for public activities through the years.
Growth of Population in East Washington Park Brings Further Development
As the park became a place of beauty, developers proceeded with offering residential areas near its borders. Lawyer Joseph Sterling’s subdivision, Sterling’s Parkfront Home, was filed in June 1906. Washington Park Place, established by the Park Place Land Company, with real estate developer Frank B. Davis as president, was located across from the park south of Mississippi and north of the present site of South High School in June 1907. In September of that year, Edwin J. Warner filed the Shackleton Place Subdivision in the northern part of the neighborhood north of Alameda between Marion Street and Race. Carrie E. Bailey completed another subdivision in 1908, the Washington Park View, which extended from Williams to University just north of her Myrtle Hill development. Fred W. Feldwisch filed a subdivision in the same year, the Buckeye Addition, between the present ground of South High and University and between Florida and Iowa. In 1911, the Washington Park Square Subdivision was established by Edmund L. Rogers, Margaret Harrison, and Richard H. Waycott one block away from the park between Tennessee and Mississippi. In 1922, the Denver Cheyenne Realty Company, with E.A. Colburn as president, created Colburn’s Subdivision. Frank and Clarence Bailey were among the platters of the Washington Park Front Subdivision in 1926.
Growth of population in the neighborhood resulted in the erection of the Robert W. Steele Elementary School, designed by David W. Dryden, at 320 South Marion Street Parkway in 1913. Dryden was the prolific architect for twenty-three Denver public schools, including North High and Lincoln School. The building was named after Colorado Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Steele, and opened with 223 pupils taught by six teachers. The school soon became overcrowded. In 1929, Merrill and Burnham Hoyt, also architects for Lake Junior High, designed a new addition for the building which included seven classrooms, a library, an auditorium, a gymnasium, and a kindergarten. The Hoyts completely redesigned the building, adding the remarkable ornamental tile to the exterior. A new kindergarten room was decorated with a mural by artist Allen True.
The little church started by the Lort Sisters became the Washington Park Methodist Episcopal Church in 1912, but was popularly known then and subsequently as Washington Park Community Church. In the fall of 1916, the congregation began a campaign for a new building, and John Evans II, grandson of the territorial governor, donated six lots at the northwest corner of South Race and Arizona for the site of a new building. The prominent architectural firm of Willis Marean and Albert Norton designed the building. Work began on the new structure in 1917, and Denver University Chancellor Henry A. Buchtel laid the cornerstone. The building was dedicated on 5 January 1919, with Bishop Francis J. McConnell preaching the first sermon (See Figure 7). The church was one of the architectural gems of the East Washington Park Neighborhood, and included a beautiful courtyard and covered walkway reminiscent of a medieval cloister.
With the completion of the new building, the church experienced a surge in membership and programs. The Sunday School became a larger church school. In 1918, a parsonage at 1312 South Gaylord had been acquired. The church was a focal point of community social activity, and even housed a branch of the Denver Public Library for a time. Weekly youth activities were offered, and organizations such as the Masonic and Eastern Star Lodges, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls, the Washington Park Woman’s Club, the DAR, Al Anon, the YMCA, and the Younger Generation Players met at the church. Another popular event hosted by the congregation was the showing of movies for neighborhood children on Saturday nights; before the area had a movie theater, the church showed silent films. During the first thirty years of the church, almost all the maintenance and staffing of the building was done by volunteers.
The Prosperous 1920s in East Washington Park
Real estate development in East Washington Park boomed in the 1920s, reaching its highest point and resulting in the construction of the largest number of houses in the neighborhood’s history. Several substantial residences were built facing the park during the 1920s and 1930s. With the area’s subdivisions established, the maturing park landscape providing a beautiful amenity, and with the transportation system in place, homebuilders constructed row after row of solid brick residences for middle class buyers (See Cover Illustration). Popular Bungalow style homes suited the income of residents and the lot sizes of the neighborhood. As the population of the area increased, schools, churches, and businesses expanded and built new facilities designed to ornament the built environment.
The population of East Washington Park experienced great growth during the 1920s. The larger election district in which the neighborhood was located grew from 7,706 in 1920 to 13,532 in 1930, a 75.6 percent increase. By 1930, the occupational character of the area was overwhelmingly white collar in nature, with blue collar jobs outnumbered by about two-and-a-half to one (61 percent to 23 percent). Large white collar occupational categories included managers, supervisors, proprietors, and foremen, salesmen, professionals, and office support personnel (clerks, secretaries, and stenographers). Blue collar occupations were scattered among a wide variety of occupations, including manufacturing jobs with such firms as Hendrie and Bolthoff Manufacturing and Supply, the Ford Motor Co., Gates Rubber Co., and Public Service Co. Other blue collar jobs involved construction trades (contractors, brickmasons, painters, builders) and miscellaneous jobs, such as railroad switchman, printers, custodians, drivers, mechanics, and blacksmiths. About 16 percent of residents, including widows and retired persons, among others, did not list an occupation in 1930.
The East Washington Park Neighborhood continued to be well-served by streetcars throughout the 1920s. Route 29 entered the neighborhood from the north along Downing Street, turned east on Alameda Avenue, south on Franklin Street, east on Kentucky Avenue, and south along Gaylord Street, passing through the commercial area there. Route 58 entered the area along Ohio Avenue at Downing Street, proceeded south along Downing, and then east on Louisiana Avenue, where it joined Route 29 at Gaylord Street. The branch along East Virginia Avenue and South University Boulevard no longer existed at this time. The growing popularity of the automobile resulted in the construction of a brick gas station on a corner of South Gaylord by Arthur Miller in 1924.
In 1924, a fire station for Engine Company No. 21 was built at 1540 East Virginia, designed in what was described as a “semi-bungalow style.” During the 1920s, stations erected in residential areas utilized domestic architectural themes so that the buildings blended in with the local houses. Located at the northeast corner of Washington Park, the brick station had a roof of intersecting gables clad with clay tile and with overhanging eaves, exposed rafters, and decorative braces. The gable faces were clad with stucco, and the windows were three-over-three-light double-hung sash. The building had a two-story section with office and living quarters and a one-story bay with garage doors on the front. The station served the community until 1974, when a new building was erected at the same location.
The 1920s were the golden age of movie theaters, and, in 1925, East Washington Park received its own motion picture palace. The Washington Park D & R Theater at 1028 South Gaylord Street was built by Carl Adler, who also operated the South Gaylord Home Bakery. Before the building was erected silent pictures had been occasionally projected at the Washington Park United Methodist Church. Dick Dickson and Rick Ricketson (D & R) of Western Enterprises, who operated more than a dozen movie theaters throughout Colorado, including the Isis and Rialto on Curtis Street in downtown Denver, convinced Adler to build a theater which they would manage. The South Denver Bank provided financing for the project. The basement of the building was excavated with teams of horses pulling slips and plows and by men digging with shovels. Charles Gates designed the $8,000 brick building and M.T. Lowell served as contractor.
On opening night of the theater, 12 August 1925, two Shetland ponies were given away as a promotional event. The first night program included a musical presentation, All Alone At Last; a Pathe comedy, The First Hundred Years; and the feature film, Raymond Griffith in The Night Club. An orchestra in the pit in front of the screen provided accompaniment for the silent films. Showing its South Denver roots, the theater stated that its policy would be to show special programs selected for children and the entire family on Friday nights. The pictures were to have not only entertainment value, but educational and inspirational merit. The Washington Park R & D viewed itself as symbolizing “a new ideal in entertainment,” a community theater which was up-to-date in every detail.
A business district flourished along South Gaylord Street by the early 1920s. Chrysler and Son were among the first to establish a business in the area, erecting a brick store at 1075-1083 South Gaylord Street in 1915. Building permits indicate that several existing residences were turned into commercial buildings along the street. Historian Phil Goodstein comments that the commercial area “was mostly a product of the 1920s when streetcar #5 terminated there and attracted shoppers on their way to and from work.”
The 1000 block of South Gaylord Street was zoned Business-Retail when the city was first zoned in 1925. As the surrounding neighborhood added houses and population during the decade of the 1920s, commercial uses on South Gaylord between Kentucky and Mississippi avenues also expanded. The area was historically and remains the neighborhood’s largest area of business activity. An examination of the 1930 Householder Directory shows that by that date the block included a wide variety of businesses, as well as a number of residences. Some residences had been converted to business uses through the construction of storefront additions to their fronts (See Figure 8).
The block featured no fewer than four grocery stores: the Chrysler Grocery Co., Safeway, Piggly Wiggly, and Harry D. Manly’s store. Several specialty food stores also operated, including three meat markets, two confectioneries, two bakeries, and two creameries. There was also a restaurant run by Samuel and Nellie Stonish and a coffee store operated by Edward M. and Mabelle Blake. Two drugstores were located on the block in 1930, those of Leo I. Charney and Ullery and Drinkwater. Other retail outlets included the hardware store of Alexander A. Burke, two businesses dealing in radios, Otto A. Walter’s dry goods store, a novelty works (William G. and Irene Tracy, proprietors), and the Bi-Low Stores.
A number of service businesses were housed on South Gaylord Street by 1930. The block featured three clothes cleaners, two beauty parlors, two barbers (Rufus W. Bradshaw and Charles U. Sharp), two plumbers, a sheet metal worker, and William F. Rinker’s shoe repair shop. The southwest corner of Gaylord and East Tennessee Avenue was the home of Arthur G. Miller’s filling station and Irving S. Gooch’s auto repair business. Further south on Gaylord was a garage run by Frederick E. Bunnell.
Three professionals had offices on South Gaylord Street in 1930: physicians Lawrence M. Gwinn and Cloyd W. Workman and dentist George H. Jackson. The Washington Park Theater was located near the middle of the east side of the block. The Washington Park Press was situated on the west side of the street. Seven residences were listed in the 1100 block in the 1930 directory.
In the initial zoning of Denver in 1925, most of East Washington Park was categorized as residential. The portion lying south of East Exposition Avenue was classified as Residential A (a single-family area), while that lying north was Residential B (two-family and apartments), as well as a small area at the southeastern tip of the neighborhood. Small areas of Business A zoning were found along South Gaylord Street between Tennessee and Mississippi avenues and Arkansas and Florida avenues, on Vine Street between Dakota and Virginia avenues, at the intersection of Downing and Alameda, and along University Boulevard between Exposition and Ohio. A triangular area of Commercial A zoning was located along the Colorado and Southern Railway tracks on the southern edge of the neighborhood.
By the late 1930s, some changes in zoning had occurred. The amount of Residential B zoning had been reduced in the northern portion of the neighborhood (See Figure 9). It was replaced with Residential A zoning in the northeastern part of the neighborhood. The Business area on S. Gaylord St. between Arkansas and Florida had decreased in size and been shifted south to embrace the intersection of Gaylord and Florida. The Residential B zoning in the southeastern corner had expanded to include what had been Commercial zoning along the railroad tracks.
The City Beautiful Concept and Denver Public Schools
During the 1920s, Denver Public Schools began a major expansion and improvement program. Included in the construction were large additions to both the Myrtle Hill/Washington Park School and to the Steele School to accommodate growing numbers of school age children in the neighborhood. The school board, in cooperation with the planning commission, endeavored to commission buildings which would “contribute to the lasting beauty of Denver.” The new schools of this period were designed by significant architects, the construction was first class, and the buildings were sited so as to ornament the neighborhood. In 1922, Denver Public Schools announced that it had acquired eight blocks of land just southeast of Washington Park for the site of a new high school, at East Louisiana Avenue and South Williams Street. The Rocky Mountain News stated that “the site is considered one of the most beautiful in the southern part of the city.” As was the general policy of the school system, the site was ample enough for the school building and for playing fields. At the time of the purchase, members of the school board expressed the hope that a large stadium for use by all the high schools could be erected on the land. The City Ditch ran diagonally through the site, and a boulevard was planned to connect the southeastern corner of the park with South University Boulevard. South High has been described as “the institution which has brought the people of South Denver together.”
The $1,252,000 South High School was dedicated on 25 March 1926 with a morning ceremony for students and an evening program for parents, members of the school board, and other school officials (See Figure 10). Denver architects William E. and Arthur A. Fisher, who also designed Morey Junior High and several important business blocks in Denver and headed one of the largest architectural firms in the Rocky Mountain region, designed the new Italian Renaissance style high school. The school board asserted that each new school of the era should have window space equal to 20 percent of its floor space, thus providing excellent views, sunshine, and fresh air. One of the most remarkable features of the building was a tall tower which dominated the skyline above the neighborhood. The exterior featured elaborate brickwork, the main entrance was arcaded, and sculptor Robert Garrison designed a series of terra cotta creatures and friezes to ornament the exterior. In 1935, a two-part mural by Allen True was installed. Historians Thomas J. Noel and Barbara Norgren described South High as “perhaps the most artistically intriguing of all the public schools, with an exuberant exterior combination of art and architecture.” The city publication, Municipal Facts, boasted of the excellence of the school in relation to its landscape in 1930: “South High School…whose arches and arcades, rambling wings and tiled roof arouse living pictures of those medieval days of Italy when Roman and Gothic civilizations combined to create the beauty of Romanesque architecture.”
One of the neighborhood’s best known enterprises, the $2 million Park Lane Hotel, opened on 16 June 1928 on Marion Street Parkway between Washington Park and Dakota Street. Paul W. Stein, a Chicago architect, who designed the Lake Shore Hotel in that city, drew plans for the building for Philip Zang, of the Zang Brewery family. After the building was completed, Stein served as president and managing director of the Park Lane. The twelve-story apartment hotel encompassed 225 rooms, as well as other facilities, and was known as the “darling of Denver’s high society.” A “Ladies Lounge” where bridge parties, teas, socials, and musicals were held was included in the building, as well as a banquet hall large enough for serving seventy-five people. The hotel’s advertising slogan was “Host of a Thousand Welcomes.”
Preservation and Change: The 1930s and 1940s in East Washington Park
When Denver journalist and writer Eugene Field’s house on West Colfax Avenue was threatened with demolition to make way for a gas station in the 1920s, Mrs. Margaret “Molly” Brown raised money to purchase the house and move it to a site where it was opened as the Eugene Field Memorial Home. Mrs. Brown later presented the house to the city with the stipulation that it be moved to a city park and continued as a memorial. In 1930, the house was moved to the eastern edge of Washington Park, in what was one of the earliest preservation efforts in the city. The building served as Denver’s smallest branch library until 1970. A marble statue inspired by Eugene Field’s lullaby “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” and created by Mabel Landrum Torrey of Sterling, Colorado, had been commissioned by Mayor Speer in 1918. The statue was placed in Washington Park, and was later moved adjacent to the Field House.
Washington Park’s swimming beach continued to be a popular attraction, never more than during the economic doldrums of the 1930s. The entirely white population which frequented the beach reflected racial segregation which was the status quo in Denver during the era. In 1913, citizens of Japanese descent had been barred from the beach. Denver’s African Americans attempted to integrate Washington Park’s bathing beach in August 1932, resulting in headlines which read, “Police Battle Race Rioters at Washington Park, Arrest 17.” According to reports, 150 blacks, tired of not being able to use the beach, arrived at the park with plans to enter the water. The Denver Post reported that the blacks were driven to the site by “white Communistic sympathizers” who had alerted the police that the group would arrive at the park to go swimming. Parks Manager Walter Lowry and Police Chief Albert Clark urged the protestors to leave before trouble occurred. Safety Manager Carl Milliken warned,
It is true there is no law to keep you citizens from using this beach, but you have never attempted this before, and you know you are not doing this for any reason in the world except to bring about trouble. I warn you I will not stand for rioting and I also give you fair warning that if you do go into the lake you will be acting at your own peril.
The protestors responded that they were citizens and deserved police protection for a legal activity.
After the African-Americans had been in the water a few minutes, more than two hundred white bathers who had left the water armed themselves with clubs and stones and advanced menacingly. The bathers fled toward the trucks they had arrived in, followed by a mob shouting epithets. As a white member of the retreating group urged the blacks to take a stand and proclaimed the event a “great moral victory,” the air filled with rocks, and fighting ensued. The protestors attempted to leave, but two of the trucks they had arrived in stalled, and their occupants jumped to the ground, fleeing in panic. Members of the white crowd shouted, “Kill the Communists–kill them!” The riot raged for more than half an hour, and spread for ten blocks along the east side of the park. People in houses for blocks around the park left their homes to observe or take part in the riot. The police rushed in to break up the melee and arrested seventeen, including ten African-Americans and seven whites who had encouraged the blacks to assert their rights. That night, heavily armed police patrolled Five Points, prepared to quell any new outbreak of violence. The following day, the Denver Post judged that the incident resulted from the “evil influences of Communism” and called the protest “a ludicrous bathing demonstration.” Mayor George D. Begole stated, “The Negroes of Denver, who have always been quiet, peace loving and peace abiding citizens, have been the victims of vicious Communist propaganda.”
In the 1930s, some construction continued in East Washington Park despite the economic crisis. Several houses were completed, including the landmark Weckbaugh French country estate at 1701 E. Cedar Avenue, completed in 1933 at the northern edge of the neighborhood. One of the major undertakings of the period was architect Burnham Hoyt’s remodeling of the interior of the Park Lane Hotel, which included a new banquet hall with capacity for one hundred people on the second floor, as well as a beauty shop. Also featured was a “Marine Deck” which overlooked Washington Park and provided views of the Rocky Mountains through a rooftop telescope.
In 1942, New York hotel operator, David Phillips, acquired the Park Lane Hotel for $1 million after foreclosure proceedings on the hotel had been initiated. In 1948, Kansas City real estate investor B.F. Weinberg, who also owned the Vail Hotel in Pueblo, purchased the property, which included the hotel and twelve residence cottages. At this time, the second floor was remodeled to house the studio of radio station KTLN, which also had tendered an application for Denver’s first television station to be located in the hotel. In addition, an elaborate rooftop garden was built, together with a dining room, ballroom, and cocktail lounge. The new space was called “Top of the Park.” The Top of the Park was considered “the place in Denver” for a time, and was known for its excellent food and fine entertainment which was broadcast on the radio. Stars such as George Gobel, Liberace, Betty Clooney, and Sheckey Greene worked the room. The Monitor stated that
Denver citizens and visitors now are provided with a new scenic thrill–a 200-mile panorama of mountains and city skylines as viewed from the half-million-dollar dining room and cocktail lounge. And while pleasure-seekers peek out picture frame windows at the unparalleled view, they have the distinction of wining and dining at the highest altitude of any lounge in America.
Postwar Development in East Washington Park
Following World War II, the neighborhood continued to attract middle class families, as well as institutions and businesses which played an important role in the life of the community.
In March 1950, the Washington Park United Methodist Church began construction of a new Educational Building at a cost of $165,000. The building was consecrated during a week-long festival in 1951. The new building solved the problem of accommodating seven hundred Sunday School children. The church, which achieved its largest membership during the late 1950s and early 1960s, helped finance a church in Northglenn and assisted a Japanese Church in Denver in building a new home, as well as congregations in other countries.
After B.F. Weinberg sold the Park Lane Hotel in 1955, the facility fell into receivership, and he bought it back at auction for $300,000. In 1962, Weinberg sold the property to investors who planned to build four apartment towers north and south of the Park Lane. The apartments in the building were rehabilitated floor by floor and the Top of the Park and the lobby were redesigned. Weinberg again acquired the hotel which was for sale due to unpaid taxes in 1965, and sold it to Denver developers H.W. Hewson and Douglas W. Bell. The building was scheduled for demolition, and the Denver Fire Department was allowed to set fires and train firefighters in the building in 1966 before Kerdy Wrecking Company tore the hotel down. Four highrise apartment/condominiums were built on the site in the early 1970s.
By the 1950s, the swim beach at Washington Park was plagued with problems. In 1952, swimming was delayed because of low water levels, while in 1955 swimming was banned for a while due to pollution. In June 1957, the beach was closed as a result of the high costs of chlorination. At that date, the visibility in the lake was so poor that lifeguards were unable to see bathers one foot below the surface. The money which would have been spent on chlorination was used to build new pools in several parts of Denver.
City Ditch, in addition to presenting a pleasing appearance and watering the park, was used for various recreational activities in the postwar years. Huck Finn Day, sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Rocky Mountain News, and a fishing derby sponsored by the Denver Post were two popular activities which annually drew thousands of people to the park in the 1970s.
As at other city parks, recreational activities at Washington Park changed over time. In this way, the park and the adjacent neighborhood experienced and reflected changes within the larger populace of the city. In July 1967, a “Love-in” at the park attracted the attention of local newspapers. The Denver Post reported that “Denver’s first big hippie ‘happening’ rocked Washington Park…as several thousand young people turned out for a ‘Love America Rally’ that lasted 10 1/2 hours.” Citizens aged four months to ninety-four years attended the event south of Smith’s Lake sponsored by the Great American Tea and Cement Company of Denver, described as “a colony of working hippie artists.” The attendees were invited to “Just ‘be’ and you’re in. Come as you are, or come as you aren’t. Smile, maybe or frown. Deal out love.” The crowd, which included “hippies,” elderly couples, little children, and long haired girls, was mostly barefoot. “Ear-shattering music” was provided by several local groups, and some couples danced in the water of the ditch or swam in the lake. Members of an organization from San Francisco, the Family Dog, moved through the crowd to “observe and speculate.” Organizer Bob Gately described the event as “a very peaceful thing…a love-in. This is really a be-in…a love America be-in.”
In 1967, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for St. John’s Lutheran Church at 750 Franklin Street. St. John’s Lutheran School already occupied part of the site where the new church, fellowship hall-gymnasium, and administration building were erected. The congregation had been organized by a missionary from Omaha who came to Denver in 1872 with $50 in his pocket for gathering the local Lutherans. The St. John’s congregation was established in 1879 and a church was built at West Third Avenue and Acoma Street in 1912. The congregation had a reputation for being innovative. The school had moved to the Franklin site in 1958. The church was completed in 1968 at a cost of $1 million.
During the tumultuous 1970s the park was in the news again. A new recreation center was erected at Washington Park in 1971 which housed a gymnasium, an indoor pool, an exercise room, and other facilities. During the previous summer, about one hundred Denver policemen with riot sticks and tear gas marched through the south portion of the park clearing out visitors. The incident began when a police patrolman was threatened by a crowd of youths described as “hippies,” who shouted “Kill the hog. Get the pig.” When several police cars rushed to the scene, the youths began to turn over trash cans and shout obscenities. The assembled officers then prepared to clear the park with the assistance of the police helicopter, which flooded the area with a brilliant light. The officers walked through swinging their clubs and banging them against cars that didn’t move away. Tennis and horseshoe games at both ends of the lake continued as the south area was evacuated.
As historians Thomas Noel and Stephen Leonard observed, “Washington Park, once the domain of automobiles, toddlers, and flower lovers, was by the late 1980s carpeted with cyclists, joggers, and volleyball enthusiasts.” In 1983, residents of East Washington Park demonstrated their concern for preservation of their neighborhood when they encouraged the Denver City Council to approve an ordinance protecting the mountain views from the park. The city planning office objected to the ordinance, stating that tall buildings would not harm a view already obscured by tree foliage. Residents countered that the city’s second-largest park deserved as much protection as smaller community parks, and the council agreed.
As Denver began to recover from the energy and construction-related recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s, East Washington Park was increasingly viewed as one of the most desirable inner city residential areas. Heavy development pressure mounted in the neighborhood, as small historic houses were expanded by “pop tops” or scraped off altogether. In 1999, residents of East Washington Park, drawn together by their concern for maintaining the historic character of the area, founded Progress and Preservation … Together, a group which believes that both progress and preservation are possible in one of the city’s most significant historic neighborhoods.
Please note, there are footnotes crediting the sources for the above in the printed version.