Denver did it right! While other cities were converting their downtown train stations into shopping malls, this city redid its main station that opened in 1881 to include stops by Amtrak’s California Zephyr on its way to San Francisco. Passengers can board it or a bus to Boulder every 15 minutes until 6:30 pm, or arrive in the city’s core from distant Denver International airport for $9, or wait for the 16th Street shuttle outside, or…. The shuttle is at the end of a worthwhile urban walk in a city close to countless Rocky Mountain hiking trails.
Ruth and I took this urban walk and judges it 5 Compass despite some not unexpected city grit. Denver cleverly turned its 16th Street into a 1.25-mile pedestrian mall beginning in 1982 with Union Station at one end and Colfax Avenue at the other. Across Colfax is City Center Park and beyond that are several attractions like the Denver Art Museum and some reasonably priced parking.
This 16th Street stroll was updated to include details by noted architect I. M. Pei. Among his designs is the Louvre’s pyramid. We saw more than 40 places to eat and drink on our morning walk including Rock Bottom, one our this nation’s first brew pubs, and a few Starbucks.
Civic Center Park should be included in this urban hiking experience. Just down the street from it is Colorado’s capitol building. In CCP are gardens, a Greek-style outdoor theater, an old fountain, sculptures like Alex Proctor’s Broncho Buster, etc. By the time walkers get near Glenarm Place they’ll be seeing the Art Deco Paramount Theater. Inside it is a Wurlitzer organ and all forms of contemporary entertainment.
Yet to be seen by us were a 3-block-long urban park called Skyline, lots of old and new skyscrapers, inevitable street people digging in trash cans, the downtown location for this city’s once fabulous independent book store called The Tattered Cover. Shrunk from several floors in Cherry Creek to one 16,000-square-feet level operation, it has lost some appeal but is still browse-worthy.
There was yet more to enjoy as we approached Union Station including lots of trees and flowers, unobtrusive Pei details, urban wall art that we used to call graffiti, etc. There were many upscale hotels around whose names included words like grand and ritz. They were not, however, especially obvious on 16th Street.
What was obvious near the end was the importance of Union Station. In 1880 there were 7 railroad companies in this isolated, landlocked city. During World War II 80 trains a day full of passengers, many of them in the military, came through here. In Denver’s terminal today were lots of tourists, flower vendors, people on cell phones, etc. One sign noted about Union Station, “It has truly reclaimed its status as the centerpiece of Denver’s 21st-century transportation system….” This is true and just outside was a stop for the free MallRide shuttle that took us back to where we started.