In 2012, Denver’s Civic Center Park became the city’s first National Historic Landmark. It has a lot to brag about. Built under Mayor Robert W. Speer (yes, that Speer), the park offers pristine structures and plenty of green space in an iconic location at the heart of downtown right next to the Colorado Capitol and the City and County of Denver building. It epitomizes the City Beautiful movement which can trace its popularity to the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair, where Mayor Speer got the idea to construct the park. The only problem? Something was already there.
In fact, there were a lot of somethings there. The capitol building was constructed in the 1890s, although the historic dome wouldn’t be finished until 1908. There was also the McNichols Civic Center Building, which opened in 1907 as a Carnegie Library. In addition to these structures, there were two full city blocks filled with shops, homes, and other buildings. Early maps tell quite a story. Across the street from the capitol there were businesses of all kinds. A cigar factory was located on Broadway, as was an ice cream factory. Hotels dotted the area. A school of art was off the alley between Broadway and S. Fifteenth Street, which continued directly south and paralleled Broadway before the park was built. It is now Acoma Street. On Cortland Street, which ran east/west between Colfax and 14th Avenue and no longer exists, there was a livery and several houses, and a drug store held a piece of prime real estate on the southwest corner of Colfax and Broadway.
Below are scans of two early maps showing the blocks between Bannock Street (labeled as S. Fourteenth) and Broadway, from Colfax to 14th Avenue, where Civic Center Park is today. The first image shows cropped parts from Sheets 6 and 20 of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1890, courtesy of the University of Colorado Boulder Library. Colfax Avenue wouldn’t be curved around the park for nearly thirty more years. The second image shows a cropped part of Plate 13 from the Baist Real Estate Atlas and Surveys of Denver from 1905. As can be seen in the 1890 map, a boarding house once stood at the southeast corner of Colfax and Bannock. By the 1905 map, the Carnegie Library (today’s McNichols Building) was shown.