An old Civic Center Park plan would have included a reflecting pool and more fountains

It took many years and many mayors to end up with what we have now.
3 min. read
“Proposed Civic Center” in Denver. (Ryan Warner/CPR)

You're sitting on the lawn at Civic Center Park, waiting for the fireworks to start on Independence Eve, and you think, "Man, if only I knew the iterations this park went through before it became what it is today, I would be truly free!"

Well, imaginary freedom-loving history geek, this story is especially for you.

Our colleague in journalism Ryan Warner found an old postcard in a Grand Junction antique shop that piqued our interest. As you can see above, the landscape in this painting of a proposed Civic Center Park includes a huge fountain in the middle and a Washington, D.C.-style reflecting pool in front of the City and County Building. Neither of those features exists today.

We did a little digging and found that this image was probably created in 1911. So those wee people in the picture aren't walking. They're promenading.

A photo of Civic Center Park taken by an unknown person between 1923 and 1932. Denver Public Library Western History Collection/ X-22123

According to a federal application to make Civic Center a national historic site, the postcard depicts one of the earlier ideas for the neoclassical park. Charles Mulford Robinson first designed the park in 1906 under Mayor Robert Speer, who is famous for bringing the "City Beautiful" movement here. But it would take more designers -- including the famed Fredrick Law Olmstead -- and several more years before the park was completed.

Sculptor Frederick MacMonnies reinterpreted Robinson's plan in 1909, adding the fountain and reflecting pool. Then a different administration came in, that of Henry Arnold, who hired Olmstead to remake the plan. But... then Speer came back and was like, 'No, I would like Edward Bennett to design this thing.'

"So much of what we see was in the Bennett plan, but all were influential in the design thinking as the park evolved," said Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver.

Fluctuating funding and changing mayors (the project spanned seven administrations) meant that the reflecting pool and central fountain never made it. But so many other things did. My new favorite, after researching for this story, is the seal pool -- excuse me, the Voorhies Memorial Seal Pond.

The tweaking has even continued into the 21st Century. John Hickenlooper's administration had this vision in 2006:

A wooden replica of what Civic Center Park might look like in the future. Wednesday August 30, 2006. Marc Piscotty/Rocky Mountain News/Western History Collection, Denver Public Library)

It's pretty much the same, except futuristic.

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