Denver: An Archaeological and Contemporary History

Dean Saitta Department of Anthropology, University of Denver
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Seminar (OLLI), 12 June 2013, Denver

My Interest
The  Denver  Post,  February  7,  2011  

Intercultural Urbanism

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Urban Culture, Space, Architecture, and Design  

h7p://   h7p://    


Historical Perspective

David  R.  Hill  

Denver’s Historical Periods
•  •  •  •  •  “Instant” City: Rail City: Queen City: Planned City: Fragmented City: 1858-1870 1870-1900 1900-1920 (Speer) 1920-1945 (Stapleton) 1945-1990 (Newton; Pena) 1990-Today (Webb and Others)

•  Great City??

Robert  Speer  (1911)  :  “We  can  learn  much   from  European  Ci2es…ci2es  must  be  governed   for  the  good  and  happiness  of  the  masses.”    

Federico  Pena  (1983):  “Imagine  a  Great  City”  

Book Contents •  Frontiers and Boundaries •  Geology and Environment •  Prehistory •  Contact Period •  Historic Archaeology •  Conclusion

Organizing Questions
•  What does archaeology teach us about Denver’s urban development? •  Do we learn anything that adds to or corrects historical knowledge?

Notable Sites
Some interesting “Below Ground” archaeological sites in Greater Denver –  Lamb Spring (mammoth kills, 12,000 years ago) –  Franktown Cave (perishable materials, AD 800-1300) –  Mile Houses (4 Mile and 12 Mile) –  Tremont House –  Rocky Mountain Arsenal


“Above Ground” Sites
•  Civic Center Park (Speer Era) •  Intersecting Street Grids (1868)

Recipes: Paleoindian (Hunting and Gathering)
  •  After killing a bison, … bring the hump with the tender meat close to the cooking fire ... •  cut bite-sized pieces and … skewer the meat … •  Pieces of wild garlic or onion may be threaded between the chunks of bison. •  Chokecherries sweetened with honey make a tasty side dish.

Recipes – Early Ceramic (Farming)
•  Grind maize on a grinding stone until it becomes a fine flour. •  Add water, shape into small balls, and flatten. •  Heat a flat stone and grease it with bison fat. Cook very quickly on the stone. •  Fold the “tortilla” in half and fill with chunks of deer meat that have been boiled in a pot. •  Garnish with wild greens cooked in another pot. •  May be eaten with the fingers.

Yucca  Fiber  Sandal,  Franktown  Cave  

Historical Archaeology of Denver’s Core


Tremont House, 1859-1912


1987 Excavations, Speer Boulevard Realignment

Tremont House site, looking west.

Learning from Tremont
•  Early quality and diversity of artifacts (ceramics, wine, perfume) suggest the accessibility of national and international markets: implicate Denver as an “Instant City” •  Architectural patterns suggests continuous use, rather than abandonment, in the 1880s. •  Food remains (wild game) suggest a shift over time from bison and prairie chicken to rabbits, implying over-exploitation of large game and birds. •  Later artifacts (undecorated, machine-made) indicate changing fortunes: from first class hotel to second-rate boardinghouse.

Archaeology of the Urban Periphery: Rocky Mountain Arsenal

Arsenal History
•  Hunting ground (Cheyenne and Arapahoe) •  Homesteading •  Chemical weapons production (Army) •  Pesticide production (Shell Oil) •  Today: National Wildlife Refuge

Lessons of Arsenal Archaeology
•  Interaction of People, Land, and technology •  Immigration and Ethnic co-residence (German, Scandinavian, British, Italian) •  Human Displacement 1942

Survey,  1994  

Most properties small farms of 20 acres or less; 80% equipped for raising chickens

Women on the Land: -50% of sites with canning jars and lids -18% of properties women owned

Arsenal Landscape: Trees as Artifacts (Windbreaks)

Subsidiary  ditch,  Sand  Creek  Lateral  Canal.   Anchored  the  larger  properSes  of  the  Arsenal.  

Denver’s History: Summary Themes •  Collection of Diverse Lifeways •  Crossroads of Interaction: “Meeting Ground” vs. “Untamed Frontier” (Limerick) •  Locus of Cultural Coexistence   We have always been “Multicultural”; Can we now become Intercultural?

Denver:  A  Contemporary  PerspecSve  

The  Intercultural  City  
•  Welcomes  diversity  (ethnic,  linguisSc,  religious).   •  Views  diversity  as  an  opportunity,  not  a  problem.   •  Adapts  its    services,  insStuSons,  and  governance   structures  to  the  needs  of  diverse  populaSons.   •  Takes  acSons  and  creates  policies  that  encourage   social  mixing,  interacSon,  and  investment.   •  Designs  public  space  to  meet  the  needs  of  a   culturally-­‐diverse  populaSon.  

The  ethnic  diversity  of  American  society  is  increasing.   DiversificaSon  will  be  especially  evident  in  ciSes.  

New  Urbanism  

Denver  is  na8onally    known  for   implemen8ng  “New  Urbanist”  approaches   to  imagining,  and  regenera8ng,  the  city.     New  Urbanism  advocates  the  restructuring   of  public  policy  and  development  pracSces   to  support  the  following  principles:       •  neighborhoods  should  be  diverse  in  use   and  popula8on;   •  communiSes  should  be  designed  for  the   pedestrian  and  public  transit  as  well  as   the  car;  i.e.,  dedicated  to  smart  growth;   •  ciSes  and  towns  should  be  shaped  by   physically  defined  and  universally   accessible  public  spaces  and   community  ins8tu8ons;     •  urban  places  should  be  framed  by   architecture  and  landscape  design  that   celebrate  local  history,  climate,   ecology,  and  building  prac8ce.  

Cri8cs  of  New  Urbanism  Ques8on  its   “Newness.”      

  Much  of  what  it  recommends  overlaps  with   European  “Old  Urbanism.”  

“…what  is  claimed  as  “new”   within  New  Urbanism  is  in   reality  “old.”    What  is  being   advocated  is,  in  reality,   everyday  barrio  life.”      -­‐David  Diaz,  2005.  

Is  New  Urbanism  good  for  Denver,   or  do  we  need  to  embrace  another   approach?  

Prac8cing  New  Urbanism:       Three  Denver  “Regenera8on”  Schemes  
All  seek  to   reconnect   relaSvely  big   spaces  to  the   established  street   grid,  and  to   regenerate  those   spaces  in   conformance  with   New  Urbanist   design  principles.    

#1.  Stapleton    Airport  

These  images  exemplify  Stapleton’s   redevelopment  as  a  mixed  use,  architecturally-­‐ variable,  “green”  community.  

Crescent  Logs   (top  right)  and   29th  Avenue,   Denver    

Stapleton  also  displays  a   touch  of  what  Spiro  Kostof   calls  “The  Grand  Manner”:  a   set  of  baroque  planning   principles  that  emphasize   geometric  order  and  formal   vistas.  
Park  Crescent,  London  

#2.  Elitch  Gardens     Amusement  Park  


Ager:  “Highlands  Garden  Village”  

Highlands  Garden  Village  

“Pitched  Roof  and  Front  Porch”  AestheSc  

Preserved  Carousel     Preserved  Theatre  

#3.  Villa  Italia  Mall     (1965-­‐2001).  At  its   opening  it  was  the   largest  suburban   mall  west  of  Chicago.  

The  Villa  Italia  site  today.       Known  as  Belmar,  it’s  intended   to  provide  a  new  downtown  for   suburban  Lakewood.  Its   surrounding  community  is   largely  Hispanic  in  ethnic   composiSon.  


Belmar’s  Neo-­‐Modern  or  “American  MercanSle”   AestheSc   Plaza     Alley     Housing  

“Block  7”  ArSst  Galleries  

Denver’s  New  Urbanism  has  mixed  appeal  for  a  diverse  group  of   interna8onal  “Millennials”  (American,  English,  Italian,  Czech,  African)        -­‐European  students  overwhelmingly  preferred  Highlands  Garden  Village.    -­‐American  students  narrowly  preferred  Belmar.     These  preferences  suggest  that  New  Urbanism  is  on  the  right  track  in  terms  of   appealing  to  at  least  Western  Anglo  and  Con2nental  intercultural  tastes  and   values.     However,  a[rac8ng  and  mixing  ethnic  groups  is  another  ma[er  altogether.   The  built  form  of  Denver’s  New  Urban  developments,  their  retail   establishments  and  adver8sing,  their  housing  prices,  and  their  lack  of   integra8on  with  surrounding  neighborhoods  s8ll  signal–  to  all  students— white  upper/middle  class  homogeneity  and  exclusivity.        -­‐my  one  Hispanic  student  reluctantly  threw  in  with  Belmar.    My  one   African  (Liberia)  student  hated  all  three  New  Urban  developments  equally.  


These  results  raise  the  ques8on  of  whether  New   Urbanism  can  succeed  in  accomplishing,  at  the  same   8me,  its  diversity  and  civic  engagement  (community-­‐ building)  goals.      

One  student  ques8oned  whether  New  Urbanism  is   capable  of  producing  an  intercultural  city  at  all.  As   she  put  it,  perhaps  an  intercultural  city  already  exists   in  the  urban  fabric  and  just  needs  some  poking  and   prodding—using  other  varie8es  of  urbanism  as  a   guide—to  draw  it  out.  


Minimally,  there  was  a  fairly  good  consensus   that  architects  and  planners  interested  in   intercultural  city-­‐building  must  either   structure  space  so  that  different  cultures   might  see  and  use  it  in  a  variety  of  ways,  or   create  more  open-­‐ended  spaces  to  which  a   diversity  of  people  can  adapt.  

Cinderella  City  Mall     1968-­‐1999  

Why  students  like  CityCenter  Englewood     •  outdoor  sculpture,  public  library  and  art  museum.   •  greater  residenSal  affordability.       •  Light  Rail  transit  connecSvity  (Belmar’s  eight  connecSng  bus  lines  did  very  li7le  for  them).  In  this  respect   my  students  disagreed  with  Alan  Ehrenhalt’s  assessment  that  CityCenter  Englewood  “turns  its  back  on  the   light  rail  staSon  and  on  transit  oriented  development  in  general.”   •  greater  opportunity  for  encountering  ethnic  diversity  at  CityCenter  Englewood,  which  some  students   explicitly  linked  to  the  nearby  presence  of  value  shopping  retail  outlets  like  Walmart.  Walmart  is   apparently  not  an  issue  for  these  students  as  it  is  for  ciSzens  of  their  parent’s  age  living  elsewhere  in  the   city.         In  short,  CityCenter  Englewood  struck  my  students  as  a  more  “authen8c”  urban  place  than  other  Denver   urban  retrofits.  Belmar  seen  as  “ar8ficial.”       Their  experience  in,  and  evalua8on  of  these  places  was  very  different  from  that  of  the  professional  opinion-­‐ shapers.  

Images  of  the  exisSng  hospital  site.  All  of  this  will  be  demolished.  

A  small  piece  of  this  historic,  1920s  (Stapleton  Era)  Nurses  Dorm  along   with  its  adjacent  grassy  quadrangle  will  be  preserved  as  the  social  “heart”   of  the  site.  

Map  of  the  proposed   and  sSll  un-­‐named     development.  The   preserved  Nurses  Dorm   will  house  retail  and   office  space  on  the   north  side  of  the  public   square  (center).    The   large  retail  store  at   upper  leg  will  be  a   100,000  square  foot   “Big  Box”  store  that   will  be  the  “anchor”   tenant  for  the  site.   ResidenSal  buildings   for  mulS-­‐family   housing  are  at  lower   right.  

Urban  Design   Standards   and   Guidelines   reflect  the   planning   principles  of   New   Urbanism.    

South  Pearl  Street,  Denver  

Conceptual  renderings  feature  pedestrian-­‐oriented  design  and  ground  floor   “transparency”  that  allows  a  closer  connecSon  between  the  buildings  and  street.  

Renderings  of  the  Big  Box  Store  also  have  a  Neo-­‐Modern  cast.  These  examples  of  Big   Box  design  (from  ciSes  around  the  United  States)  range  from  the  banal  (upper  leg)  to   the  more  adventurous  (lower  right)..  

1.  Create  Iconic  Architecture    
I’ve  suggested  to  the  developer  that  an     appropriate  structure  for  the  Big  Box  at   9th  and  Colorado  would  be  an  exposed   skeleton  structure  like  Paris’  Centre   Georges  Pompidou.    This  would  honor   the  site’s  historic  use  as  a  hospital  and   also  likely  make  for  an  interesSng   conversaSon  piece.  As  Sco7  Doyon,  a   New  Urbanist,  percepSvely  suggests:     “(Memorable  visual  events)  make  our   communi2es  more  interes2ng,  and   interes2ng  places  engage  people  at  a   more  in2mate,  emo2onal  level.  When   we  talk  of  making  places  more   pedestrian  friendly,  we  o.en  focus  on   sidewalks,  road  geometries  and   diversity  of  des8na8ons  but  it’s  less   o.en  that  we  also  focus  on  delight  —   the  visual  candy  that  engages  our   senses  as  we  travel  from  point  A  to  point   B.”  

AlternaSvely,  something  like  the  Idea  Store  in  Whitechapel,  London–  a  building  that   inSmately  connects  to  its  context  and  that  also  a7racts  an  ethnically  diverse  user   populaSon—would  also  work  for  the  Big  Box.  

2.  Save  the  9th  Avenue  Bridge  

3.  Create  Pedway/Bikeway  over  Colorado  Boulevard  at  9th  to  thread  the   site  directly  into  Congress  Park  

4.  Rethink  the  Parking  Lot    

Parking  lots  at  9th  &  Colorado  will  be  concealed.  This   will  likely  prevent  development  of  “informal   economies”  (e.g.,  food  trucks)  important  to  some   barrio  cultures.  

5.  Fully  Enclose  the  Quad  

Enclosed  Quadrangle;  HOWEVER,  one  worry  for  an  intercultural  urbanist  is  that   the  main  square  will  end  up  looking  like  a  place  that’s  more  invested  in  Sdy  Grand   Manner  symmetry  and  visual  order  rather  than  messy  cosmopolitan  interacSon   (e.g.,  Place  des  Vosges,  Paris,  early  1600s)  

Barcelona,  Plaza  Real  (“Hard  Plaza”)  

6.  Build  Affordable  Housing  

“Paraisópolis”,     São  Paulo