Monday, August 27, 2007

The Arapahoe County Courthouse

circa 1900

circa 1902

Welcome again everyone and thanks for visiting this blog and the Denver History Nugget. Since I showcased a very prominent building last time that was demolished relatively recently, I thought I'd show a treasure lost during the 1930s. That would be the Arapahoe County Courthouse.

Now you might be asking yourself the following question: Why is there an Arapahoe County Courthouse in Denver? Well, prior to 1902, Denver was the county seat of a much larger Arapahoe County, not Littleton. Due to something called the Rush Amendment, and a whole bunch of other stuff, Denver and Adams Counties were carved out of Arapahoe County and voila--the 1883 County Courthouse was suddenly obsolete. But it stayed around for another 30 years while city planners, architects, mayors and the public struggled with how, when and where to build a new city hall.

A rather famous image of the Arapahoe County Courthouse is seen below:

Many people mistake the domed building in the middle of the picture as the state capitol but it is not. This photo is circa 1894 and was taken by photographer William Henry Jackson from the dome of the capitol when it was under construction. The main road in the picture is 16th Street.

The Arapahoe County Courthouse, along with City Hall at 14th and Larimer, were both demolished in the 1930s and replaced by this familiar building, the City and County Building.

The Courthouse was put up for sale and then demolished to make way for "Courthouse Square", a park in the middle of downtown.

But no sooner had "progress" brought on the park, then a parking lot took over the park. By 1957, the land was being transformed into a skating rink called Zeckendorf Plaza, along with a new department store that combined the May Company and Daniels and Fisher into May D&F. The building is seen under construction here:

This department store and the adjacent Hilton Hotel were designed by I. M. Pei. The modernist design of May D&F was a striking example of 1950s style architecture. It was called a hyperbolic parabaloid. But Denver is not a city that dwells on the newest fad for long. The 1990s brought its demolition and an "elegant black box" along with some dancing ballerina statues replaced the structure as part of the Adam's Mark Hotel expansion which had taken over the adjacent Hilton/Radisson Hotel.

The only reminder today that anything such as a courthouse once stood here is the street name: Court Place. To see what is here today on Block 208, click here to be taken to

All historic photos are from the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection. Some of the hyperlinks above direct you to to view present day photos and maps of Downtown Denver.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Inaugural Denver History Nugget!

Welcome to the first Denver History Nugget--a blog brought to you by Denver History Tours. Frequent posts on this blog will help you explore Denver's exciting past! My name is Shawn Snow, your blog host and local history buff. I bring a wealth of knowledge concerning Denver to the table both as a historian and as an urban planner. With degrees in history, geography, urban and regional planning and public administration, you might say I like school just a little too much. So, all that knowledge has to go somewhere!! And so I bring you the Denver History Nugget.

I have lived in Denver all my life and come from a long line of Denverites, stretching back to the 1870s when great-great grandmother Hall crossed the Dakota prairie on her way to Colorado Territory! Soon, my great-great grandfather Allen was leaving Flint, MI for Denver and the rest is history. In fact, I am the fourth generation of my family to be born here and to attend the Denver Public Schools. So yes, I am even eligible to get that pioneer plate for my car. But guess what, I don't have a car! So my bike will have to do. Anyway, I encourage you to send any comments or questions my way and I'll do my best to find you an answer. I don't know it all and haven't been around for as long as Dr. Colorado (Tom Noel) but with history, there is always more to know and learn.

Posts from the Denver History Nugget come from a live historian (me) who works for the
Colorado Historical Society at their Byers-Evans House Museum (1310 Bannock) as the Manager of Interpretive Programming. Stop by and say hi! In addition, I give energetic and fun walking and bus tours for Denver History Tours, the host of this very blog. At Denver History Tours, we love Having FUN with History!

The mission of this blog is to educate new arrivals to Denver and those born here and those not. This online forum offers a new avenue for studying a subject that is around us everyday, whether we realize it or not. Our built environment has a story to tell. History isn't just about old books. Taking advantage of the benefits of computerized communication, the Denver History Nugget will work to bring our past history to a wider audience.

To that end, I am pleased to have this blog closely connected with two tremendous resources: the outstanding photographs found at the
Denver Public Library's Western History Collection and the monumental compilation of material found at Unless otherwise noted, all photos come from the library's collection. In addition, each nugget of the day entry will be tied directly to the block numbers given at so you will be able to learn about what is on the block today and see pictures from the block's past as well. For a block number explanation, click here.

And finally, I am very new to this web log thing, oops, blog, and am not as computer savvy as most of my generation, so be patient!! I have spent too much time looking into the past to be proficient at the computer stuff as well!

Now that the background stuff is out of the way, let's get started!

Today I would like to talk about Denver's grandest Victorian structure, the Tabor Grand Opera House.

Have you ever stood by the Daniels and Fisher Clock Tower at 16th and Arapahoe downtown and had a good look around? Skyline Park stretching north and south, the Federal Reserve Branch Bank on the opposite corner, where the public never enters. Well, that bank sits on the block where, once a upon a time, Denver's grandest Victorian graced the city. The block between Arapahoe and Curtis held the wonderful Tabor Grand Opera House (1881) and the US Custom House and Post Office (circa 1885). The Federal Reserve photo link above shows a picture taken from the same angle and direction as the above Tabor photo. It shows the corner of 16th and Curtis.

The photo above shows the Tabor Grand along with the Post Office. Interestingly, the Joslins Department Store (circa 1883) sits to the left. That building still stands and today houses the Marriott Courtyard Hotel.

The US Customs House and Post Office is shown above around 1941. This shot is taken from Arapahoe Street looking toward the corner at 16th Street. For a current view of this same block, same perspective, click here.

The Tabor Grand was built by famed Denverite Horace Tabor (of Baby Doe fame). The opera house was a landmark until being razed in 1965. When grand Victorian operas fell out of vogue, the building became a movie house, last showing second rate movies and Spanish language films by the early 1960s. And the Post Office served as Tabor's place of work (as Denver postmaster) after he lost it all in the Silver Crash of 1893. He died in 1899. It became the US Customs House alone after the new
Post Office opened around 1910 at 18th and Stout.

Here is an interior view of the Tabor Grand from 1881.

With barely a peep from the public, these buildings were demolished to make way for the
Federal Reserve Branch Bank which still resides there. Strain your ears next time you walk past the bank. Maybe you'll hear the echoes of the grand operas and unhappy ghosts from the past.

Today, we have featured half of
Block 098 (16th Street between Arapahoe and Curtis).


All historic photos are from the
Denver Public Library's Western History Collection. Some of the hyperlinks above direct you to to view present day photos and maps of Downtown Denver.