Allen True and the Denver Courts of Justice

— By Victoria Tupper Kirby

Frontier Trial, by Allen Tupper True. Photo credit: Marcia Ward, Imagemaker; courtesy of Victoria Tupper Kirby
Frontier Trial, by Allen Tupper True. Photo credit: Marcia Ward, Imagemaker; courtesy of Victoria Tupper Kirby

As early as the 1920s, there were plans to have Denver muralist Allen Tupper True decorate the courts in the City and County Building in Denver. Five judges of the District Court signed an affidavit dated September 14, 1920, that approved the services of True to “assume charge of and furnish the appropriate decorations for the new Criminal Court Building, including the two court rooms therein contained.”

In 1931, there is a record of his proposal for six murals there for which he was to be paid $15,000. There was controversy about the number of murals and payment, which seems to have slowed up the project.

According to the April 9, 1949, edition of the Rocky Mountain News, the judges of the district were again to consider a request, this time by “of a group of civic leaders” for True to paint murals in offices of the court clerks.

In the April 13, 1949, issue of the Denver Post, Richard Dudman reported, “An intramural controversy was brewing Wednesday in the Denver city hall. Quick reaction came from three sources to the awarding of $6,000 commission Tuesday to Allen T. True, Denver artist, to paint two murals in the offices of the clerks of the Denver district and county clerks.” The article reported that one judge wanted to approve the mural before it was installed. The chairman of the Denver art commission said his commission must approve them and an artist complained that there was no open competition. Dudman speculated that a “taxpayer’s suit” might arise.

In an article in the Rocky Mountain Herald dated April 23, 1949, Colorado’s Poet Laureate Thomas Ferril wrote, “I think it is shameful, this petty little rumpus somebody has churned up as to whether Allen True should paint courtroom murals in the City and County building. Denver has a genius for cultural cat-and-dog fights. Allen True is a distinguished American artist. It’s all wrong.”

An agreement finally was signed June 10, 1949, “by and between the District Judges sitting in and for the Second Judicial District of the State of Colorado, parties to the first part, and ALLEN TRUE, of the City and County of Denver, Colorado . . . to paint a mural decoration [Miner’s Court and Frontier Trial] approximately eight feet four inches by twelve feet” in the rooms occupied by the Clerk of the District Court and the Clerk of the County Court “for a total sum of $6,000.” The contact mentioned that the two sketches had been approved by the mayor, the Municipal Art Commission, and the Honorable C.E. Kettering, judge of the County Court of Denver.

Oh, how slowly the gears of government grind.

True began work on the two murals at his Raleigh Street studio in Denver.

After the contract was signed and the bickering at an end, the following article appeared in the Denver Post: “Workmen will begin Monday to prepare the walls in the offices of the clerks of the District and County Courts to receive murals painted by Allen T. True, Denver artist. Mr. True was commissioned to paint a mural for the District Court and another for the County Court of scenes depicting early Colorado justice.

The first will be hung in County Court. It is a mural of the old circuit rider, a frontier judge who rode on horseback dispensing justice in various towns in the circuit. The County Court mural will show the circuit rider holding court in a barn. The one which will hang in the District Court is called Miner’s Court and [will] show court being held beside a sluice box. . . . Mr. True will receive $6,000 for his work.”

Commenting on these murals, Lee Casey, a columnist for the Rocky Mountain News, wrote on July 7, 1950, “These murals, as Mr. True paints them, will add dignity to our courts, and everyone knows that some of our courts need just that addition. They also will remind us of the early days of our jurisprudence, when weighty determinations were declared beneath the light of a coal oil lamp. . . . We need to respect our courts, if we are able to do so, and, before we respect, we must understand them. Mr. True’s murals will help towards achieving those ends. The two murals each measured eight by twelve feet.”

Miners Court, by Allen Tupper True. Photo credit: Marcia Ward, Imagemaker; courtesy of Victoria Tupper Kirby
Miners Court, by Allen Tupper True. Photo credit: Marcia Ward, Imagemaker; courtesy of Victoria Tupper Kirby

B50 Note: Victoria Tupper Kirby is the granddaughter of Allen Tupper True and co-author with her mother and True’s daughter Jere True of the biography Allen Tupper True: An American Artist (available at Tattered Cover bookstores and on

Colorado Artist Allen Tupper True (1881-1955) was a prolific painter, muralist, and illustrator whose work graces many buildings and monuments nationwide, including the state capitols of Colorado, Missouri, and Wyoming, as well as murals for the Civic Center and the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company Building in Denver. Other True murals can be seen in the Brown Palace Hotel, Denver Civic Center Park, and the Colorado National Bank. He also designed the decoration and color schemes for the Boulder Dam power plant, Grand Coulee Dam, and the Shasta Dam, among others. His work is currently the subject of a wide ranging retrospective, Allen True’s West, presented by the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado Historical Society, and the Denver Public Library.

Sunday, February 26, 1950

—by Mary Lou Egan

The Grant Smelter Smokestack in Globeville

The story and photos occupied several pages of both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. KOA Radio carried the broadcast live and a score of airplanes flew overhead. An estimated 100,000 people gathered near the site while an additional 250,000 watched the event from rooftoops and ridges all over the city. The occasion was the demolition of the Grant Smelter smokestack, a 350-foot remnant of Denver’s glory days of mining and smelting.

The giant chimney had been built in 1892 as part of an expansion of the Omaha and Grant, Denver’s largest smelter. It was the tallest structure in the region and a symbol of a time when smelting was the city’s largest industry.

A year after the completion of the stack, the nation experienced a depression that hit mining and smelting hard. Changes in technology, the depletion of rich ores and labor unrest brought the halcyon days of smelting to an end. The Omaha and Grant Smelter closed in 1903 and was gradually dismantled, until only the enormous smokestack remained. Neighborhood children used the stack as their private playground, riding their bicycles in and out, and daring each other to climb its steep walls. Retired fireman Ed Westerkamp was one of those kids. “We used to play around that old Grant Smelter stack.

There were a couple of ponds there and hills we could ride our bikes up and down.”
Various economic proposals for the giant chimney were made over the years, including its use as an incinerator for the city’s refuse. There were arguments for its preservation as well as for its demolition, but, in the end, issues of safety and economics won the day.

Sunday, February 26, 1950, was the day selected for the demolition. Officials and spectators began arriving at the site at 9 am and listened to speeches as preparations were finalized. The Denver Post eulogized the stack, “From its mighty mouth. . .spewed the smoke from rich ores that flowed through its smelter by the millions of tons.” Mayor Quigg Newton added, “I think we’re all sorry to see the stack go, but it was one of those things that had to be done.”

The crowd remained patient through delay after delay. Finally, at 5:00pm, Fred “Tombstone” Backus, a veteran powder man, turned over the detonator to Thomas Campbell, Manager of Improvements.

A second later a series of five blasts, each two seconds apart, exploded in the base of the 7,000-ton tower. This was the moment when the stack was expected to fall westward into a dump area. Nothing. It took three more blasts and “a million bricks crashed to earth and a blinding cloud of cement and dust enveloped the officials and spectators.” Half of the tower remained standing. Seventeen minutes later, as people were examining the damage, there was a rumble and another section suddenly collapsed. It would take more dynamite on the following day to finish the job.

Grant Smelter Smokestack Falling

Denver was pleased with itself for shedding its frontier image. The city was growing, with a modern interstate highway and sleek new buildings changing the downtown skyline. The city’s newest addition, completed and dedicated in 1952, would be the Denver Coliseum, replacing the smelter stack, a crumbling symbol of Denver’s industrial past.

Denver Coliseum

B50 Note: Mary Lou Egan is a professional graphic designer and watercolor artist who also enjoys history and preservation, and writes and maintains the Globevillestory blog. Photos of stack courtesy of Janet Wagner. Photo of coliseum courtesy of Ian Denny.

The Barnes Dance

Henry A. Barnes, Denver’s First Traffic Engineer
—Compiled and Illustrated by Matt Holman*

B50 note: Henry Barnes implemented Denver’s system to allow pedestrians to co-exist with vehicles; first introduced in Denver in the late 40’s, it is still in use today.

Red Light! Green Light!

“You can’t be a nice guy and solve traffic.”
-Henry A. Barnes

Henry Barnes, illustration by Matt Holman
Henry Barnes, illustration by Matt Holman

In 1947, Denver Mayor Quigg Newton hired the city’s first professional traffic engineer, Henry A. Barnes. Or so it seemed.

Barnes had been working in Flint, Michigan when Newton hired him over the phone and confirmed his appointment by telegram. Barnes flew to Denver, leaving his family behind while he found housing and awaited his first month’s pay. When he landed, no one met him at the airport.

Perplexed, he made his way to the Mayor’s office. He was temporarily relieved when he received a hearty greeting from Mayor Newton. Eager to start his new job, Barnes assured Newton that he would do his best for Denver. “Now, if you’ll tell me where my office is,” he said. There was just one problem, the Mayor explained.

The mayor had been hiring experts from around the Country to help Denver grow to be a major city. “Things went pretty well for a while,” Newton told Barnes, “but now the City Council is beginning to get its back up. They claim I’m putting too many ‘foreigners’ on the payroll.”

Barnes was told he couldn’t “exist officially“ until the Mayor had smoothed the ruffled feathers. Barnes, without money and a job, announced his plan to return to Michigan. That, coupled with an imminent Denver Post story about how badly the city had treated him, encouraged the Mayor, who welcomed Barnes in and was officially introduced as Denver’s first Traffic Engineer.

The Barnes Dance

Barnes is best known for the “Barnes Dance”, a simple idea where traffic is stopped in all directions at an intersection so pedestrians can cross. Continue reading “The Barnes Dance”

Denver traffic, 1959

A Cloverleaf on the Valley Highway in 1959
A Cloverleaf on the Valley Highway in 1959

The Story of Denver traffic—100,000 cars in 1945 and 200,000-plus today

In Denver in the early Twentieth Century water wagons to keep down the dust were an institution. In the 1930’s road oil was sprayed on many streets to keep down the dust and thus eliminate the water wagons. By the start of World War II Denver had a fairly good street system, adequate for the traffic, and attractive in its tree-lined setting.

The wartime and post-war boom unhinged a lot of things in Denver, but streets most of all. The road oil streets flew to pieces. There hadn’t been much for the oil to mix with—they were almost useless against heavy traffic.

But this was just one part of the problem. One-way street systems had to be installed on a wholesale basis, traffic control systems had to be revised, new routings became essential and planning, in general, had to leap ahead by years.

Mayor Quigg Newton, whose regime coincided with these early days of stirring growth, led the fight for another phase: the Valley Highway. This great system, knifing across the city southeast to northwest, was completed in late 1958. It has brought the Twentieth Century to Denver more than any other public work. Motorists can speed across the city in about one-half hour, or go to work downtown from a suburban residence in 20 minutes.

Denver citizenry was at first shocked by the swiftly changing traffic surgery brought on by growth, things like the “anyway-walk” system to allow pedestrians full use of each intersection during their own phase of the stop light.

But no one has questioned the need for all this. It’s been startling: 100,000 cars in Denver in 1945—205,000 in 1959. And this doesn’t even count the mushrooming suburbs.

Note: Text and image from “This is Colorado – a special centennial magazine section of the Denver Post, June 21st, 1959”