By Show and Tell
By Byron Graham
By Jamie Siebrase
By Bree Davies
By Zoe Yabrove
By Zoe Yabrove
By Jamie Siebrase
By Emilie Johnson
Throughout the Etterses' tenure, they strove tirelessly not only to preserve the parks and parkways, but also to conserve the historical material related to them. They had discovered that a huge volume of fragile old drawings, photos and correspondence were piled up willy-nilly at the department, while similar things were in the nooks and crannies of the Department of Public Works. The Etters began a more-than-decade-long effort to transfer this booty over to the DPL's Western History collection, a project that continues today.
Fortunately, the Etters weren't impeded by their successor, B.J. Brooks, who ran the department from 1991 to 2001. The Etters worked around Brooks, who resigned after a number of departmental scandals earlier this year. But the comparison between how the Etters ran the department and how Brooks did is a perfect parallel to the differences between the administrations of former mayor Federico Peña and current mayor Wellington Webb. The Etters got their job because they were knowledgeable about the parks and interested in their history. Brooks, who now works in the city's planning office, was hired because she is a political associate of Webb's. And though the parks system has been greatly expanded under Webb -- in the Platte Valley, at Lowry, at Stapleton -- there has been no consequent increase in funding. As a result, except for City Park and the Civic Center, where armies of volunteers supplement municipal maintenance crews, Denver's beloved green spaces look pretty rundown.
Denver Park and Parkway System: A Legacy of Design
Through December 31
Denver Public Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway
One revelation of the show is the rediscovery of an important figure in the history of Denver's parks: landscape designer Reinhard Schuetze, who was born in Germany in 1860. The Etters have written an informative and generously illustrated monograph on Schuetze that is available in the DPL's gift shop. "Schuetze had been trained at Sanssouci, the royal Prussian horticulture school," Etter says, before attending the Koniglichen Forstakademie Eberswalde, Prussia's forestry academy. He moved to Denver in 1889 -- most likely for health reasons, Etter says, since he suffered from tuberculosis and the area was a center for the treatment of the disease.
Schuetze's first great accomplishment was the laying out and landscaping of Fairmount Cemetery, a project he began almost as soon as he got here. "He knew how to grade," says Etter. "He knew how to create a water drip system; he knew how to find water. He was highly experimental and discovered what would grow here, and he introduced an incredible variety of plant materials to this then-barren landscape."
Schuetze spent the next 21 years -- until his death, in 1910 -- landscaping the State Capitol grounds, redoing City Park, designing Cheesman Park, Washington Park and a number of others, and operating a successful private landscaping practice. A photo, "Pavilion, Cheesman Park," taken by Louis McClure in 1915, records a part of his legacy: Though most of the photos in Legacy of Designare set in the spring or summer, this one demonstrates the appeal of the city's parks even in the dead of winter, something that was doubtless of interest to Schuetze even before he left Prussia.
The DPL show includes a good deal about Schuetze's successor, Saco DeBoer, as well. Interestingly, DeBoer also came to Denver to seek relief for tuberculosis. One notable piece is a marvelous photo of DeBoer's now-lost Sunken Gardens on Speer Boulevard. DeBoer was a landscape architect and, more or less, the father of city planning in Denver.
The exhibit also includes modern designs and designers, including material related to Burnham Hoyt's 1940s Red Rocks Amphitheater and Lawrence Halprin's beleaguered and endangered Skyline Park, from the 1970s.
Sadly, the cut-off date for the collection is 1990. "The department began to use computers at that time," says Etter, so paper documents have been replaced by virtual ones, many of which are already lost in cyberspace.
The Denver parks system is world-famous, thanks to enlightened landscape designers, park planners and political leaders. However, "Denver wasn't always a place with beautiful parks," Etter reminds us. "And it won't be in the future if there isn't a renewed public commitment to them."