Posted: May 28, 2009

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Historic Photos of Denver
in the 50s, 60s, and 70s

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Historic Photos of Denver in the 50s, 60s, and 70s book cover

Chapter 1: Making up for lost time (1950-59)

Denver and its residents emerged from World War II weary of its necessary limitations and sacrifices. The Queen City of the Plains was in desperate need of a makeover – civically, architecturally, culturally and emotionally. It was a city in search of its identity.

It wasn’t without a national image. But it was based on the blessings of its geography, poised on the flanks of the Rocky Mountains, pleasant though whimsical climate, and some venerable icons – the Brown Palace Hotel, the National Western Stock Show and Elitch Gardens amusement park.

Change drove into town in fat-finned automobiles and parked in front of new clusterings of neighborhood stores – called “malls” – full of fresh goods and ideas. Federal funds fueled large public projects. To make room for the new growth, the Denver Urban Renewal Authority swept a huge broom – in the form of a wrecking ball – through blocks and blocks of downtown neighborhoods. Unfortunately, much history and heritage was swept away, too.

Still, it began a building boom that would last for three decades.

The first “skyscrapers” changed the city skyline. Auto dealerships popped up seemingly overnight to supply the growing demand. The old grid traffic pattern of streets was modified with one-way streets. A toll highway was built between Denver and Boulder, and the first interstate highway through the city – I-25, or the Valley Highway – opened.

The return of thousands of military men, whose families waited out the war at Lowry Air Force Base and Fort Logan and Rocky Mountain Arsenal, opened new businesses and created new jobs. Parks were expanded with new attractions for the swelling families. Radio and television, after a war-time glimpse of their potential, entered a period of huge expansion.

In 1959, the city woke up to learn it even had its own professional football team, the Denver Broncos of the fledgling American Football League, and it fell in love with a passion the rest of the country would come to envy.

The “Mile High City” now sounded a much more hopeful tone.

Denver was on its way.

It didn’t matter that it appeared sometimes it didn’t know exactly where it was going. But it was making up for lost time.