Giving Preservation a History: Histories of Historic Preservation in the United States

By Max Page; Randall Mason | Go to book overview

10

MAKING HISTORY

Historic Preservation and Civic Identity in Denver

Judy Mattivi Morley

Dean was the son of a wino, one of the most tottering bums of Larimer Street, and Dean had in fact been brought up generally on Larimer Street and thereabouts…. He used to beg in front of Larimer alleys and sneak the money back to his father, who waited among the broken bottles with an old buddy.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road1

Standing in Denver's Larimer Square today, a visitor would hardly recognize the world of Dean Moriarty, described by Jack Kerouac in On the Road. Larimer Street, once one of Denver's seediest districts, now boasts fancy boutiques, upscale restaurants, and plazas with park benches and lighted trees. The bums and winos disappeared in the 1970s when historic preservation transformed Larimer Street into "Larimer Square." Twenty years after Larimer Square's transition, historic preservation turned the rest of Denver's skid row, called lower downtown, into one of the city's most desirable neighborhoods and home to Denver's largest entertainment district. The story of the preservation of these two districts exemplifies trends in city planning and historic preservation typical of post-World War II western cities.

After World War II, the West was the most urban region in the nation, containing more than half of the United States' fastest-growing cities between 1950 and 1980. 2 The war transformed the West from a region dependent on eastern capital to the center of an urban-based, global economy. As western cities grew, they became more architecturally and culturally similar to the East. 3 Western tourism also increased after World War II, and postwar travelers expected to find the "Wild West" of popular culture. 4 In this era of overwhelming

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