The city of Denver is now, and has always been, a work in progress. For proof of this point, you needn't look any further than the stretch of Larimer Street between 14th and 15th Streets.
This block has been a central player in Denver's downtown ever since there's been a Downtown Denver. Over the years, it's seen pioneers, miners, riots, skid row alcoholics by the hundreds, and lately, scores of well-heeled shoppers and diners.
But Larimer Street's best known days may have been its worst.
Right up until the mid-1960's, Larimer Street was home to dozens of dive bars and cheap motels known as flop houses. Larimer Street's grit and distinct lack of glamor is eloquently described in Neal Cassady's classic autobiography The First Third: And Other Writings, as well as other skid row histories such as as An Office on the Street: A Poignant Story of Survival and The Unattached Society: An Account of Life on Larimer Street Among Homeless Men.
Suffice to say, scenes like the one depicted in this picture were an everyday, probably every few minutes, scene on Larimer Street for a very long time.
By 1965, however, the City of Denver embraced an aggressive urban renewal strategy that was in vogue across the country. As part of that strategy, city planners were keen on knocking down the entire block and starting all over.
Fortunately for Denver, a preservation-minded developer named Dana Crawford stepped in and convinced urban renewal fans that, perhaps, something else could be done with Larimer Street. The result of her efforts is now known as Larimer Square and, within a few years, the Denver Police Department was spending a lot less time pouring rotgut into Larimer Street gutters.
Today, Larimer Square bears almost no reminders of rowdy past as a skid row as throngs of shoppers, diners and fun seekers crowd the street every weekend. (Of course that doesn't mean the problems of alcoholism, homeless, and mental illness are gone; they've just moved to different parts of the city.)
It's just another example of how change, whether we like it or not, maintains a constant presence in the city of Denver.
I used to be a bartender at Denver's Oldest Bar on 17th & Market on the day shift.
The sheep herders would come down from the mountains and drink until about 5 PM. It was the first place I'd seen wine on tap. You could get a $.
50 cent glass of muscatal. At 6 the strippers started dancing and had a live band.
Wow! That must have been quite a scene. Thanks for sharing that with us, Rose!
Another insightful post, Brian!
I love the department staffers efforts in not just being custodians of our incredible collections-- but in their own research and exploration in the stacks and resorces-- and then bringing these rich anecdotes and vignettes to light on social media!
We're lucky to have great librarians who happen to be great writers as well!
Thanks for the kind words, Ben!
Brian, a minor nit to pick: those were cheap hotels on Larimer, not motels. Keep up the good work; these photos are always fun an instructional.
Good spot, Chuck and thanks for the kind words!
John Dunning was a reporter for the Denver Post and wrote about the revolving door of a Hotel where vagrant types lived in the area in the 70s. I am certain it helped clean up the area!
Hi Kandy - Thanks for posting. Those crusading reporters definitely pulled their weight back then.
I remember the area in 1965. My Grandfather owned the Zaza Barber Shop at 1727 Larimer St.
Thanks for sharing that memory with us, Steve. That must have been a very interesting barber shop!