By Phil Goodstein
On April 6, 1887, Eugen von Winckler, an eccentric German baron, staked original Park Hill from Colorado Boulevard to Dahlia Street between Montview Boulevard and 26th Avenue. Soon, numerous other real estate subdivisions followed in the section east of nascent City Park. Many had “Park Hill” in their name – the section referred to the gently rolling hill east of the park.
Park Hill emerged in the early 20th century at the same time Denver sought to become the city beautiful. It exemplified the trend with the lush plantings along Montview Boulevard and 17th Avenue, Monaco Street, and Forest Street parkways. Their development reflected the close links Park Hill had with city hall. An intimate connection with key figures in city and state administrations has been a Park Hill constant. Park Hill Promise observes that every elected mayor of Denver since 1959 has lived in Park Hill at one time or another.
While Park Hill has touted itself as the ultimate home of the upper-middle-class, it has also been where many sturdy members of the middle-class have lived. To preserve and enhance the neighborhood, residents have formed and supported civic societies. The Park Hill Improvement Association emerged in 1910, lasting into the 1990s. To assure that racial tensions and the black influx to the area east of Colorado Boulevard would produce an idyllic integrated neighborhood, local churches and homeowners created the Park Hill Action Committee in 1960. Before long, it worked closely with the Northeast Park Hill Civic Association, a group dating from 1955 for the northern and newer sections of the area. The two group merged in 1969–70 to form Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. A lengthy chapter in Park Hill Promise looks at these developments.
The book next examines Park Hill schools. Park School opened in 1893 at 18th Avenue and Forest Street, the first effort to educate neighborhood children. Eventually, it grew into Park Hill School. Stedman School soon followed. A burst of new schools after World War II saw the creation of Philips, Hallett, and Smith. Within a few years, Ashley and Barrett were also considered Park Hill schools. The last was cynically opened in 1960 in the hope of keeping black children out of Park Hill School and Stedman School. Eventually, controversy about school integration resulted in Park Hill parents suing the school board, leading to a landmark case by the United States Supreme Court. An argument is made in the text that virtually all Denver Public Schools developments since the 1960s have pivoted around Park Hill – many members of the school board have had close Park Hill connections.
Park Hill Promise has a treasure of fascinating information about the quirks of the neighborhood. For example, it explains why the north/south blocks were supposed to be eight to a mile whereby developers eliminated those roads for the mile between Montview Boulevard and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Then there is the story of Turtle Park at 23rd Avenue and Dexter Street. For years, Conoco had wanted to build a filling station there on the land which was once a rather dilapidated cobbler’s shop. Likewise, the book relates how the Tower Theatre opened in 1949 near 22nd Avenue and Kearney Street. It was later the Crest Theatre before becoming a Korean Presbyterian church.
Park Hill Promise does not shy away from controversy. This especially comes out when it turns to northern Park Hill. The book observes the stark divisions in the neighborhood, particularly to the north of Martin Luther King Boulevard. It explains how Clayton College has been very much a Park Hill institution while recalling the bowling lane which was part of Dahlia Square at 33rd Avenue and Eudora Street and the racial discrimination which was once part of the Park Hill golf course. The study agonizes over the gang warfare that besmirched Northeast Park Hill in the 1990s. Even so, it makes positive observations how much of the area has also been home to everyday people who have done their most to contribute to making Park Hill an idyllic residential neighborhood.
Having grown up in Park Hill, attending Park Hill School and Smiley Junior High School, I have become Denver’s foremost historian, as evidenced by the book’s sourcing. Each chapter includes an essay on sources, often the citation is the Greater Park Hill News. Additionally, I have gone through the virtually untapped papers of the Park Hill Action Committee and the marvelous collection compiled by the late Art and Bea Branscombe, the contributing historians of Greater Park Hill News in the 1990s. I hope that the overall impact of Park Hill Promise is a superb contribution to the neighborhood, a book that everybody who appreciates Park Hill will come to nourish.
Copies of Park Hill Promise are available at the Park Hill Cooperative Bookstore. Goodstein will talk about the volume and sell and sign copies at the Park Hill Branch Library on Saturday, October 6, from 11a-12:30p. He will sign copies at the Park Hill Cooperative Bookstore on Saturday, November 10, from 11a-2p.