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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."

1977: The council finally okays a public lavatory. "This is not going to be your standard concrete-block crapper," says the city geologist. In August, the Pearl Street Mall officially opens -- without a lavatory. The Daily Camera's Glennys McPhilimy goes to a downtown restaurant for dinner and, as she emerges, finds "the most amazing thing. People. A mix of young and old. Participants and onlookers. A lone flutist on the corner. Couples strolling in no apparent hurry to get anywhere. It's midnight. This is downtown Boulder?" Later that month, Mayor Frank Buchanan officially cuts the ribbon, to the accompaniment of belly-dancing, a pie-throwing contest, floating orange and yellow balloons, and a demonstration of rope rappelling by the Incredible Lamont. In October the mall sees its first Halloween parade.

1978: The restroom is built at a cost of $67,328. Mockers dub it the Taj Mahal. The official name selected is the County Seat. Denver Congresswoman Pat Schroeder asks the General Accounting Office to investigate the cost. These headlines appear five days apart: "County Seat's First Flush Due." "Latrine Springs Leak." Phil Swan, a local apartment manager, forms Citizens Against Poor Planning of Elimination Resources -- CRAPPER -- and begins organizing protests. The GAO reports that while the lavatory's costs are high, they're reasonable, since the County Seat is supposed to be vandal-proof, handicapped accessible, easy to maintain and designed to blend with the rest of the mall.

By December, ice and vandals have closed the restroom. Even so, the mall is deemed a great success. Between 4,000 and 6,000 people walk on it daily, and businesses report a 40 percent increase in sales taxes.

1979: Mork and Mindy take up residence near the mall.

1980: Construction begins on a pedestrian mall in Denver. Meanwhile, HUD honors Boulder for its Downtown Revitalization Project. Over the next few years, however, the economy is dismal, many stores on the mall go vacant, and merchants complain about transients, bicyclists, dogs, skateboards and market researchers.

1982: Policing the Halloween celebration runs up a $7,500 tab for the city.

1983: Crossroads is refurbished, and the situation downtown becomes bleaker. Frank Shorter Fitness Wear is forced to close. John Matlack's "Minor Regional Artist" sign is smashed during the Halloween mall crawl.

1986: A Banana Republic store appears on the mall, to the delight of citizens and fellow merchants. Ten more national shops follow; thirteen local stores close. Police arrest 32 revelers during the annual Halloween festivities.

1987: Peggy Alter, a University of Colorado pastry chef, bakes a huge cake in the shape of the mall for the project's tenth birthday, using 300 pounds of sugar, 133 pounds of butter and 664 eggs.

1989: After a two-year-long controversy, Wendy's opens on the mall. Camera food editor John Lehndorff is an outspoken opponent. "When I want a fast-food cheeseburger, I go to Wendy's," he says. "I think they make a fine cheeseburger. But it's outrageous and completely wrong to have Wendy's in downtown Boulder. Besides the fact that there's no parking and no drive-up, it's not the kind of experience, culinarily or otherwise, that people would want to have in a place like this." Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell are sighted on the mall.

1990: Boulder officials crack down on Halloween, closing parking lots and persuading bars and restaurants to close early. As a result, there are only about 15,000 costumed revelers compared to 35,000 the year before.

1993: Wendy's closes for lack of business. B.G. Raggs, a used-clothing store, is evicted to make space for a chain store. Owner Vivian Sutherland hangs this sign in her window: "Big Money; Selfishness; Complete disregard for the common man has screwed us out of business. Are you next?"

1994: Time Warp Comics, one of the best comic stores in the country (James Earl Jones once appeared here to sign Darth Vader posters), moves away from downtown. The store's rent had increased from $2,300 a month to almost $5,000.

1995: Pearl's Restaurant, on the mall seventeen years, also falls victim to rising rents -- from less than $5,000 a month to $12,500. A stone and brass sculpture of a table with a chessboard on it and two chairs is created by Carolyn Braaksma in memory of Ron Porter, a Boulder attorney who died of cancer at the age of 51. In the coming years, it will be vandalized and restored twice.

1997: The public restroom is closed because of vandalism. The courthouse lawn is renovated, and merchants complain that the change hurts business. The council shoots down a proposal to ban sitting or lying on sidewalks.

1998: A man is ticketed for carrying his dog in a pouch on the mall; a woman is ticketed for holding a Dalmation puppy in her arms while standing in line for a cup of coffee.

1999: The County Seat is open for business. City council is considering renovating the 22-year-old Pearl Street Mall.
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