Denverites will get to decide if they want to rename these six parks due to their namesake’s troubled history

The first community meeting will focus on S.R. DeBoer Park in the University neighborhood.
5 min. read
S.R. DeBoer Park in University. Aug. 17, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

What's in a name?

A lot, especially when it comes to public spaces, statues and parks with names used colloquially by residents for decades.

Six Denver parks throughout the city may be renamed due to their namesakes' history, if community members are on board.

Jefferson Park, La Alma-Lincoln Park, Jefferson Square Park in the Southmoor Park neighborhood, S.R. DeBoer Park in the University neighborhood, Pasquinel's Landing in the Overland neighborhood and Grant Frontier Park in the College View-South Platte neighborhood were all chosen to be a part of the Renaming Denver Parks project.

The project is being led by the Denver Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships through collaboration with the city and county.

Heidi Rodriguez, the spokesperson for HRCP, said the idea behind the project started after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by law enforcement and the social unrest and demand for justice that stemmed from the incident.

Rodriguez said then-Mayor Michael Hancock tasked the HRCP with looking into city-owned properties to find if any names or monuments had "complex histories related to any racial groups or ideologies."

HRCP put together a renaming committee to focus on park names that consisted of one representative from the Mayor's 10 Advisory Commissions such as the African American Commission, the American Indian Commission, the Asian American Pacific Islander Commission and the Immigrant and Refugee Commission.

The Pasquinel's Landing sign in Overland and what could be a bullet hole in its face. Aug. 17, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The committee also partnered with History Colorado, several city historians, neighborhood groups and former Denver City Council At-Large members Robin Kniech and Debbie Ortega.

Together, the group created a criteria that included how impactful the "honoree's" behavior was in terms of harm and trauma, how valid the background information was on each honoree and what the impact would be on keeping the names in terms of glorification and false or misleading narrative perpetuation.

In total, 20 parks were identified and required additional research and vetting. From there, the six listed parks moved on in the process to be renamed.

A video was made on each of the parks to share the history about their namesakes. Some of the chosen parks were straightforward picks such as Jefferson Park and Jefferson Square, named after President Thomas Jefferson who owned slaves.

Here's why some parks have been recommended for renaming:

Pasquinel's Landing and Grant Frontier had the highest percentage of votes to rename the properties. Pasquinel is a character in the book "Centennial" by James A. Michener, which was turned into a "racial insensitive" television show. For Grant Frontier, the committee took issue with the word "Frontier," because it means uncharted territory. The word erases Native American history.

Grant Frontier Park in Overland. Aug. 17, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

For La Alma Lincoln Park, the committee suggested removing the "Lincoln" portion. That comes from President Abraham Lincoln, who did assist in the abolishment of slavery but also authorized the execution of 38 Dakota men amongst other crimes during the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War.

S.R. DeBoer was another less obvious choice. DeBoer was an immigrant and prominent Denver landscape architect who contributed to Denver by created many of the city's park designs. But he also helped write the exclusionary and discriminatory 1920 zoning code the city is still working on removing.

"While they had many contributions in society like Abraham Lincoln, there were some other complex parts of who they were or what they participated in that we should probably consider if we're going to advance equity," Rodriguez said.

Pasquinel's Landing in Overland. Aug. 17, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

HRCP will host several community meetings for each park, which will determine whether the parks will be renamed.

The first meeting will be for S.R. DeBoer Park on Wednesday, Aug. 30 at University Park Elementary (2300 St. Paul Dr.) from 5:30-7 p.m.

Rodriguez added that depending on how community members feel, the parks may not be renamed, they could be reframed or left entirely alone but one of the goals of the project is to educate residents, which Rodriguez said will be accomplished through the meetings.

"It is open to the public. Anyone is welcome to listen to the history and to just start that conversation, which is what we want, we want to start a conversation with the community," Rodriguez said. "Then if the community does feel like moving forward with renaming, we want them to be part of that process. That is what we really want to accomplish at this stage."

Rodriguez also said that the committee may go back in the future and revisit the other listed parks to gauge whether they should also be considered for renaming.

Some of the parks had a high voting percentage but ultimately weren't chosen. For example, Cranmer Park in Hilltop was considered because its namesake, George Cranmer served as manager of Parks and Improvement under former Mayor Ben Stapleton, a known Ku Klux Klan member who often appointed other members to city positions. Circumstantial evidence suggests Cranmer was also a Klan member but he was not listed in the Klan's ledger so the committee couldn't determine whether he was truly a KKK member.

Dates for the remaining community meetings are still to be determined. As Rodriguez said, the process is still in the very early stages but in the end community members will determine how they want to proceed throughout the whole proceedings.

"Our goal is to bring forward what the community wants, to advance equity and really understand how the community thinks and feels," Rodriguez said. "These places that surround us in the community, while they have these complex histories, this is the truth and let's unveil some of that complexity that lives around us and surrounds us and educate the community about it. Let's move forward...and try to address those traumatic experiences that we may be relating, based on our family histories or even present history."

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