Once upon a time in lower downtown Denver, before anyone ever dreamed that there might one day be a hip, happening LoDo -- or, in fact, ever dreamed that the rundown area of abandoned warehouses and pawnshops might one day be given the nickname "LoDo" -- there was Larimer Square.
5:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday, August 23 tickets $40-$100 303-922-5880, young-audiencescolorado.org
And that was because of Dana Crawford. A transplant from Kansas busy raising four sons in the late '60s, Crawford still took the time to look at the 1400 block of Larimer Street -- then the end of the line for what was very definitely Denver's skid row -- and she realized that all those wonderful, scummy, dilapidated Victorian storefronts had to be preserved.
The rest is history -- which, of course, was what Crawford set out to save. "I definitely saw the potential," she remembers. "Everything was supposed to be torn down for urban renewal, everything in lower downtown was to become an eight-lane highway. The historic buildings sort of stood up for themselves."
And how. Over the years, Larimer Square became a booming success, drawing tourists and Denver residents alike to a previously unexplored part of town. Even by the late '70s, a trip to lower downtown was still an exotic adventure. But the scenery was quickly changing. By the time Crawford sold Larimer Square to pursue development full-time, lower downtown was turning into LoDo, which was not just an entertainment center, but an area that people were increasingly calling home -- first living in old warehouses, then in newly built lofts. And today, going to LoDo is an everyday occurrence, not just a trip reserved for special occasions.
But Thursday, August 23, promises to be special indeed. La Dolce Vita LoDo will celebrate the best this part of town has to offer, and for the very good cause of Young Audiences, a nonprofit arts-education organization whose goal is "to make the arts an essential part of the education of Colorado children." The evening begins with tours of six separate lofts, located in new buildings as well as in the renovated John Deere warehouse, the former Karman Western Wear Company and Crawford's own Flour Mill project. Between voyeuristic peeks, participants can stop by four local galleries -- David Cook/Fine American Art, William Matthews, Robischon and Third Canyon -- to sip wine, munch cheese and see more highbrow sights. Then, after the tour, there's dinner and a silent auction in the ballroom of the Oxford Hotel -- another historic save by Dana Crawford, who bought the building in 1980.
"We all saw an area go from no life, to being the life of the city," says Crawford. "The life of the party."