When most of think of the lights at Civic Center, we picture the Denver City and County Building, as depicted in the above picture by Harry Mellon Rhoads. While this vista is certainly iconic, it doesn't tell the whole story of Denver's love affair with colored lights in public places.
Denver is frequently cited as the birthplace of the colored holiday light, thanks to a eureka moment by Sturgeon Electric founder, David Dwight Sturgeon. Sturgeon, so the story goes, dipped a string of plain holiday lights in red and green paint to cheer up his sick son in the winter of 1914. His idea proved to be a hit and in short order, Denver was awash in colored lights.
For many years, the Denver Post sponsored the Denver Post-Electrical League of Colorado Outdoor Christmas Lighting Contest which was, by all accounts, a very big deal. In December of 1926, Denver Post reporter, and Denver booster, Frances "Pinky" Wayne, pointed out the contest's success saying:
Six years ago, when The Post sponsored a program of outdoor Christmas lighting to link Denver with a joyous expression of Christmas cheer and good will, we little thought it would reach such dimensions...In 1925, Denver won title as the Christmas city of the world.
At this point, it's worth noting that the year Wayne is referring to, 1920, is a full 15 years before work on Denver's City and County Building was completed. During this period, according to Denver Municipal Facts, the City of Denver decorated Civic Center Park with electric holiday lights for the first time. (The park was just a year old at this point.)
Though it's hard to tell from the black and white photos above, it doesn't take a huge leap of imagination to picture how lovely the brand new park must have looked on snowy holiday evenings.
Civic Center Park's role as the early jewel on Denver's holiday lighting crown is all but forgotten today, but for a time, it sparkled as brightly as the building in whose shadow it still sits.