Whether you've lived in Denver your whole life, or you just moved here last month, you can't help but notice that the Mile High City is growing at an incredibly rapid pace. Over the past few years, it seems like every vacant lot in the city is being filled in with new apartments and condominiums to house the city's newest residents. Those new residents have pushed the population to just a hair under 700,000.
Some critics say we've got all the residents we can handle, but that wasn't always the case. Back in 1922, when the city's population clocked in at 256,491, the Real Estate Exchange Bureau of the Civic and Commercial Association wanted more people to move to Denver, a lot more people. To boost their efforts they came up with a slogan that seems quaint in perspective, 500,000 in 1930.
According to an article in the January/February, 1922 Municipal Facts, the effort to double Denver's population included a suggestion from Councilman Louis F. Bartels that $15,000 (about $220,000 in 2018 dollars) should be set aside to promote the effort. Part of the money was earmarked for a giant banner that was to be hung on the smokestack of the Omaha and Grant Smelter in Globeville.
While the Omaha and Grant Smelter was indeed a landmark, towering 35 stories above the dusty ground of far north Denver, it seems unlikely that potential residents would see it from wherever they were living that was not Denver. Perhaps this kind of misguided marketing was the reason why 500,000 in 1930 was something of a failure. By 1930, Denver's population had increased to just 287,861, a pickup of just 31,370. In fact, Denver wouldn't top the half million mark until the late 1960s. According to the US Census, the population of Denver in 1970 was 514,678.
While some folks may look at the 500,000 in 1930 as a case of, be-careful-what-you-wish-for, others see growth as a natural entity that can impact any city. That growth, however, has come with some unexpected consequences, especially when it came to housing prices.
For example, the current average home price in Denver is currently around $393,900. Unfortunately, average home prices for 1922 and 1930 are hard to come by because the US Census Bureau didn't start collecting that information until 1940. Back then, the average home price in the US was $1,795 or $32,000 in today's dollars. Suffice to say, you will not find a home of any kind in Denver for $32,000.
The 500,000 in 1930 campaign shines a light on Denver when it aspired to be a lot more than it was, when growth was generally viewed as positive, and the word gentrification had not yet entered the English language.