Denver Block 074: 14th and Lawrence a Century Ago

— by Kelan Smith

In 2008, as I watched an immense hole being dug for the new Four Seasons Hotel at 14th and Lawrence, evidence of former structures and their foundations were slowly revealed to absolutely no acknowledgment. I had heard of some of the grand structures that were razed between the 1960’s and 1980’s to leave behind a dead and unimpressive surface parking lot — like most of Denver. Now that the block is rising to new heights, I did some research and found photos of the former proud structures and pieced the block back together again.

I currently work in the Hover Building on Lawrence next to the Teatro Hotel. I am amazed these two structures survived as they watched their siblings across the street fall to the ground one by one. Once on this block stood a surprising variety of structures, including a Methodist church — subsequently revamped into the Salvation Army Barracks — a bank, the Chamber of Commerce, a streetcar station and numerous 2-4 story structures now long gone and forgotten. Close by, on 15th and Arapahoe, once stood the gorgeous “Richardsonian” Mining Exchange Building. All that remains is the statue of the miner on the ground in the shadow of the hideous Brooks Tower.

While Block 074 will still remain somewhat incomplete for the near future, with a small surface parking lot on 15th, the new high-rise will help re-energize 14th Street as an entertainment thoroughfare. I will not go deep on my critique of the Four Seasons value-engineered architectural finishes and some of the brutal elevations, simply because it is better than a barren parking lot.

I am well aware that, whether standing or gone, buildings do not love you back. The admiration and regard is a one way street. But that doesn’t stop me from closing my eyes and imagining myself walking around these lost structures to ponder the cycles of a City.

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B50 Note: Historical images are courtesy of The Denver Public Library Western History Collection. Contemporary images are courtesy of the author.

St. John’s Church in the Wilderness

— by Donna Altieri

Driving up 14th Avenue, you pass St. John’s Cathedral. You might have noticed it on your way to the Botanic Gardens, or seen its towers while waiting in line at the Fillmore. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones to have walked around this magnificent church or attended a service inside. St. John’s reflects the history of Denver, the nature of Colorado, the story of the Episcopal Church, and the architectural styles of multiple decades. The highlights of the Bible are carved in wood, blown in glass, and etched in stone. St. John’s has been an integral part of Denver’s history for the last 150 years.

Like some other institutions in Denver, St. John’s Church in the Wilderness, as it was first called, started off holding services in a tavern on Larimer Street between 14th and 15th street. While drinking and shopping in Larimer Square, close your eyes and conjure a service from 1861. The first cathedral church (at 20th and Welton) burned down in 1903; the cornerstone for the present Gothic masterpiece was planted in 1909, and so began dozens of great adventures for St. John’s.

Enter through the front doors and see a real Tiffany Window saved from the 1903 fire, stained glass dedicated to a child who had died. While in the narthex, you can examine a stone from Canterbury Cathedral; I like to pretend I’m on a mini trip into the world of Chaucer. Enter from the east doors and view a stained glass window hanging by chains, three angels playing musical instruments; it’s dark and gloomy color reveals smoke damage from the Welton Street church fire.

The stained glass windows of St. John’s rival the glass of European churches. Take a good look at the first window of the west aisle, “The Entrance of Sin,” a portrait of Eve in the Garden of Eden ready to make her fatal mistake while a “very English” lion stares at her. She started out as a naked blonde beauty, a clone of the Dean’s wife. Unfortunately, the prudish Edwardian congregation soon installed long golden locks and a rose bush obscuring her “loveliness.”

If you ever get to climb the spiral stairs to the choir loft you’ll see a window that World War I brought to Denver. It was finished in London in 1914, moved by boat, train and oxcart up to this north portal. In one corner, a miniature St. John’s in glass is a dollhouse dream, and the inscription “This great window finished and fixed in the year of the great Armageddon of the Apocalypse” – the first year of the Great War – sums up this glass “Last Judgement.”

Here are just a couple more treats from St. John’s: the carvings on the altar choir pews, a real walk in Colorado’s woods, from squirrels to deer to bears, and in St. Martin’s Chapel, often used for Sudanese and Somalian services, there’s an Art Deco altar that showers the church with eclecticism.

Next time those massive front doors are open, and the flags are blowing, treat yourself to a spiritual, beautiful experience.

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B50 Note: Contemporary images are courtesy of the author, historical images are courtesy of the Western History Department of the Denver Public Library. The author wishes to thank David Rote for his enlightening tour and to “Saint John’s Church in the Wilderness” by Robert Irving Woodward for it’s bounty of information. St. John’s Cathedral is currently raising funds to the restoration of the 1938 Kimball organ that has given the Denver community so many great concerts.

Denver’s Great Telescopes (19th and 21st Century)

— by Robert Stencel

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Small telescopes have been part of Denver history since our origins. Witness the fine brass refractor on display in the parlor of the Byers-Evans house downtown. With the rejuvenation of the University of Denver in 1880, a smart young professor arrived in town that same year, beginning a sequence of events that would lead to a classic telescope in Observatory Park, and a futuristic one high atop Mount Evans – both associated with astronomy at the University of Denver.

In Observatory Park, at the heart of the University of Denver’s historic Chamberlin Observatory lies the telescope, a 20-inch aperture Clark-Saegmuller refractor. The telescope first saw light in July of 1894, and is still used by scientists, students and visitors today. It is the fifth largest of its kind in the United States. The observatory is named after its patron, Humphrey B. Chamberlin, who pledged $50,000 in 1888 to see it built and equipped. Professor Herbert A. Howe, the astronomer at the University of Denver since 1880, was responsible for overall design and instrument specification. Alvan Clark and Sons of Cambridge, Mass., the foremost opticians of the day, crafted the lenses for the telescope. When it was made, the primary lens was priced at $11,000. Today, it is considered priceless. The mechanical mounting for the telescope was built by George N. Saegmuller, who owned and operated Fauth and Company in Washington DC.

Humphrey Chamberlin was active in the Denver real estate business at the time, so Saegmuller and Clark both accepted land holdings as part of their payment. However, when the great Silver Panic of 1893 caused the bottom to drop out of the landowning business, Mr. Chamberlin went bankrupt and the properties offered to Saegmuller and Clark rapidly declined in value. Professor Howe paid Clark with his own cash and compensated Saegmuller by delaying delivery of his finished telescope for a time, personally assisting with its display at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. The telescope components and lenses were finally shipped to Denver by June 1894. Howe was concerned for the safety of the 150-pound lenses, so he personally transported it from Chicago to Denver in a private train car.

Howe performed final assembly of the telescope at Chamberlin Observatory, in addition to his duties as Dean and professor at DU. The University assisted as much as it could in paying Clark and Saegmuller, but Howe had to pay some of the fees out of his own pocket. Trial observations began in July of 1894, with “first light” on the 14th. This initial use of the telescope by Howe included observations of stars in the famed cluster M13 in Hercules and Earth’s moon. The first public use of the telescope occurred on August 1st of the same year, when Howe entertained the Swedish Methodist Christian Endeavor Society with a look at Saturn. The telescope began its professional use in late fall. Observations of Mercury’s passage across the face of the Sun (called a transit) were recorded on November 10th and 11th. These observations were the first published results from the Chamberlin Observatory, printed in the Astronomical Journal in the spring of 1895.

B50 Note: Dr. Robert Stencel is Professor of Astronomy at the University of Denver, where he splits his time between the Chamberlin Observatory in Denver and the Meyer-Womble Observatory, located atop 14,268 ft Mt. Evans. The university still offers astronomy classes and frequent public access. For information call the hotline at 303-871-5172 or visit Professor Stencel’s website. All photos are courtesy of the University of Denver Archives.

Three Short Stories about my Irish Family

— by Dennis Gallagher

Story One: William J. Gallagher, Sr.

My grandfather, William J. Gallagher, Sr., in the cab of the old 303 engine on the Rio Grande Railroad (circa 1950).
My grandfather, William J. Gallagher, Sr., in the cab of the old 303 engine on the Rio Grande Railroad (circa 1950).

My Grandfather, William Gallagher, came to America from his native Ireland in the early 1900’s. He was born in William Butler Yeats’s country, County Sligo. When he arrived on the eastcoast, he saw a lot of signs up at work places, “No Irish Need Apply.”

But he heard a rumor that in Colorado, Railroads would hire even Irish lads willing to work.

So he came here to Colorado, got to Denver and took the test for the Moffat Railroad, the old Denver and Salt Lake, later bought by the Rio Grande line which still goes through the tunnel to Winer Park. He got a 100% on the exam for engineer. Those hiring at the railroad said, “That Irishman must have cheated. He’ll have to take the test again. And this time we’ll watch him.”

So my grandfather took the test again, and they watched him, and Gallagher got 100% again. This time they said, “well maybe we need this guy afterall.”

Now because of this experience, my grandfather always lectured me: “Dennis, you have to be twice as good as the Anglo-Saxons. You have to work twice as hard as the Anglo Saxons. They will never accept you, and you have to fight for every chance offered you by this great country.” His story , his experience, his initial workplace slight, made us sensitive to the needs of others in our society who were different and not accepted by those in power.

He worked for quite a few years for the Moffat and then many years for the Rio Grande. And I thank him for this important life’s lesson. I think of him when I pass the old Moffat Station, abandoned, but still there, north on 15th Street just west of the rail tressle as you head toward My Brother’s Bar, I say an ‘Ave” for him.

Story Two: William J. Gallagher, Jr.

My father, William J Gallagher, Jr., and I in front of old Engine Company #7 at West 36th and Tejon St (circa 1975)
My father, William J Gallagher, Jr., and I in front of old Engine Company #7 at West 36th and Tejon St (circa 1975)

My father, William Gallagher, Jr., was the fourth firefighter hired in the late 30’s in a year when Denver only hired four firefighters. He was assigned to the old Barnum Neighborhood station. It was located about 7th and Knox Court. The officer in charge showed him his bed and his locker. After lunch another firefighter came up to him and told him, “Gallagher, you Irish Catholics on that side of the fire truck and we Kluxers on this side of the fire truck. Don’t come over to this side.”

During the mid-20’s Denver city government and agencies were ruled by the KKK. My dad could not believe it, that there were still Kluxers on the fire department….with enough anti-Irish Catholic residuality to be dumb enough to talk about it with folks.

After work my father met the Klansman on the way to his car in the parking lot. He engaged the Kluxer in a mopping up action for which he would most likely have been fired for today. But he told me that that guy never mentioned religion or the Klan again. A civil detente reigned after that in the Barnum firehouse.

Story Three: Nellie Flaherty

My beautiful mother, Nellie Flaherty, and I (in elephant pants) on the porch of 2825 Hooker in North Denver (circa 1944).
My beautiful mother, Nellie Flaherty, and I (in elephant pants) on porch of 2825 Hooker in North Denver (circa 1944).

My mother, Nellie Flaherty, loved music and the theatre. She had a friend who worked as the hat checker at the old Denver Auditorium Theatre, now the Ellie Caulkins. During the mid-20’s when our city was ruled by the Ku Klux Klan, she often helped her friend, Patricia Delaney, and checked coats and hats at the city auditorium. At that time John Galen Locke, Grand Dragon of the KKK, came to the auditorium, the crowd would all rise and sing “God Bless America,” as he took his seat in the Mayor’s Box.

My mom told me that Pat Delaney would laugh heartily and then say : “Nellie Flaherty, you hide here among these fur coats. We don’t want those Kluxers to see a fine Irish Catholic girl here in the check room.” The girls showed lots of chutzpah by laughing behind the backs of the Kluxers.

B50 Note: Dennis Gallagher is currently the Denver City Auditor, and is a former City Councilperson, State Senator, and State Representative. He is also Professor Emeritus from Regis University and well-known in the local community as a historian, storyteller, and man about town.

Celebrity Sports Center, 1960–1994

Celebrity Sports Center
Celebrity Sports Center, looking north on Colorado Boulevard

B50 Note: Everything you ever wanted to know about Celebrity Sports Center. No, really. This article was originally published in Colorado Heritage magazine in Autumn 2007. Reprinted with permission of the Author. Images courtesy of celebrity.bt76.com

Spares and Splashes: Walt Disney’s Celebrity Sports Center

— by David Forsyth

Once, when speaking about the entertainment empire he had built, Walt Disney said, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.” Over the forty years that Disney oversaw his creations, they expanded from simple cartoons to enormously popular movies and theme parks. Although his enterprises were huge successes, Disney never let that success slow him down because, as he said once, “I can never stand still. I must explore and experiment.” That desire for exploration, with the financial backing of the mouse, brought Disney to Colorado on several occasions, and it led him to launch one of his company’s major experiments in Denver.

The Celebrity Sign at Night
The Celebrity Sign at Night
By the late 1950s the Denver area was one of the fastest growing in the United States, and something both new and old residents needed was entertainment. There were plenty of options. For those seeking fast rides and other thrills there were Lakeside Amusement Park and the old Elitch Gardens. Those more interested in sports had swimming, golf, the Denver Bears baseball team, and college sports teams, among many other choices. But the one problem plaguing these forms of entertainment was that, to varying extents, foul weather could hamper one’s enjoyment of them.

When Lakeside opened in 1908, the Denver Republican praised the summer resort as a welcome addition to Denver’s recreation needs. Nature, the Republican wrote on May 24, 1908, had done a good job of supplying Denver with winter amusements, but the city had never had “an open air playground in keeping with the demands of its cosmopolitan and thoroughly discriminating population.” By 1959 the exact opposite attitude seemed true—Denver was sorely in need of amusement options for the winter, or at least options that were impervious to bad weather. In late 1959 a group of investors joined forces on a project that could offer hours of amusement regardless of the weather while also improving the lives of the area’s young people—a priority for one of the investors.

On November 15, 1959, The Denver Post announced that a “huge play center” was in the works for southeast Denver. According to the Post, the center was to include an eighty-lane bowling alley, a massive indoor swimming pool, restaurants, a lounge, and a health salon. The center would be owned and operated by Celebrity Bowling, Inc., a recently formed corporation based in Los Angeles.

While none of these activities were especially original, what was unique about the future Celebrity Sports Center was its ownership. The facility took its name from the fact that it was owned by a number of Hollywood celebrities, among them Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Spike Jones, Art Linkletter, and John Payne. And there was one other major investor, whom visitors sometimes encountered at the site once construction got under way—Walt Disney.

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