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Scenes From a Mall

A timeline of the Pearl Street Mall

1963: Crossroads Mall opens at 30th and Arapahoe streets in Boulder; JC Penney and Montgomery Ward stores promptly move there from downtown, which soon falls into decline. Rents become depressed; many downtown stores are boarded up; streets are deserted in the evening. By the early Seventies, "Tumbleweeds could go down the street and there wouldn't be anything to stop them," remembers Tom Schantz of the Rue Morgue bookstore.

1965: Over lunch at the Harvest House, city officials talk about downtown revitalization. The next year, some of them form the Committee for the Exploration of the Core Area Potential (CECAP).

1967: CECAP, now renamed Boulder Tomorrow, contacts Victor Gruen Associates of California, a well-known design firm, which comes up with a proposal for a downtown superblock that includes landscaping and an artificial lake fed by the waters of Boulder Creek. Minutes of a Boulder Tomorrow meeting list the following members as present: Bryant, Cossette, Heffron, Kerner, Sampson, Bowers, Crosley, Chairman Mao.

1968: Representatives of Boulder Tomorrow tour Kalamazoo, Michigan; Urbana, Illinois, and Dubuque, Iowa. City Attorney Walt Wagenhals drafts a bill for the state legislature that would allow the creation of a downtown mall; the measure is patterned after one in California.

1970: The legislature passes the Public Mall Act, which allows Colorado cities to close downtown streets and construct pedestrian malls. It also sets time limits within which property owners can file damage claims. The act is signed into law by Governor John Love in April. But in June, Boulderites defeat a $7 million city bond issue that would have financed a downtown civic center.

1971: Although a newspaper headline claims "Boulder Tomorrow Is Not Dead," very little appears to be happening.

1974: At last, the architectural firm of Dale Moberg, Carl Worthington and Associates is hired at a cost of $20,000 to update the Gruen plan. The architects suggest building an underground parking facility with a mall above it. Richard Foy of Boulder's Communication Arts is named a member of the design team. "It will be more than a mall," he says. "It will be a pageant of events rather than having the singular purpose of selling." The cost is projected at $1.8 million.

1975: Town and Country, a now-defunct weekly, reports that plans for the downtown mall have brought "business leaders, planners, environmentalists, young people, welfare liberals and builders" together and notes that there has been much talk about providing low-income people with housing near downtown and keeping the area accessible to the old and infirm. One article even expresses a New Urbanish -- and, in retrospect, forlorn -- hope that the mall will help densify the city center and alleviate sprawl into the county. Meanwhile, property owners on Pearl between 11th and 15th streets are told they will be assessed $1,260 per fifty-foot lot per year for fifteen years. Some owners sue, saying that mall construction constitutes an unjust taking of their property. Judge Richard Dana rules against them. Because homes near the mall are also expected to appreciate in value, taxes are assessed on those properties, too. Many of the homeowners are elderly and on fixed incomes; Frank McKee, 76, who lives on Ninth and Spruce streets and supports himself by sharpening scissors, is forced to move. Eventually, the city relents, allowing owners to defer tax payments until their houses are sold. And in August, the city council approves creation of a special assessment district to provide $1.2 million of the $1.85 million needed for a downtown mall. Property owners, local churches and the National Organization for Women object. NOW says the money would be better spent on daycare and senior citizen programs.

But also in 1975, Tom Rogers, chairman of the Core Area Revitalization Committee, resigns when he learns the city also intends to push for a new shopping center north of Crossroads. "All our meetings, all our correspondence, all our news releases have addressed themselves to endeavoring to locate major retailers in the downtown sector," he says in his letter of resignation. "That was the first priority of this committee from its inception."

1976: Boulder City Council approves the final plans for a downtown mall; work is to begin in the summer. Members vote down Councilwoman Ruth Correll's suggestion that public restrooms be included in the plan. The response is vehement and predictable. John H. Donnelly of the city-county health department suggests that "if the city should benefit from the public's affluence, it should be prepared to accommodate its effluents." The council approves a $1,387,700 bid for construction -- bathrooms not included. Mayor Frank Buchanan compares the city's commitment to the mall to its commitment to the greenbelt program. The streets around the mall are reconfigured to make a loop. There are no problems with implementation, the Daily Camera reports, except from "an eighty-year-old lady who insisted that since she's been driving the same route to the post office since 1930, she wouldn't change now."

On June 12, Pearl Street is closed. Councilman Paul Danish gets up at five in the morning and meets up with two friends. They decorate a Volkswagen bus and drive it down Pearl Street, then get out and open a bottle of champagne. This is the last car to drive those four blocks. John Matlack has had a studio on Pearl Street since 1974; "John Matlack: Minor Regional Artist," reads the sign on the door. "When the city pulled up the sidewalks," he recalls, "there was a rainstorm and it stank of horse piss. Eighty-year-old horse piss. From before it was ever paved." Richard Foy hires David Sosalla to create large stone and bronze creatures for the mall -- a beaver, frog, snail and hare. The cost is $16,085.38 -- $7,500 of that for Sosalla's labor. Foy says he did not hold an open selection process because we "didn't want a monumental artistic statement...We wanted something that the average person could relate to."

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