Land Shapes

A sculpture garden enriches Golden, but Bell Park may take its toll on Denver.

There are plans to add more sculptures to the composition in the future, and I hope the choices are judicious and complement the Moroles works. Because the garden is so simple, it would be easy to screw it up.

Carol Dickinson wanted to create a lasting monument that would enrich Foothills Art Center and the town of Golden. I think it's safe to say that she got her wish.


The new Jesús Moroles-designed courtyard is a 
graceful addition to Foothills Art Center.
The new Jesús Moroles-designed courtyard is a graceful addition to Foothills Art Center.
Another view of the new Jesús Moroles-designed 
courtyard.
Another view of the new Jesús Moroles-designed courtyard.

Location Info

Map

Foothills Art Center

809 15th St.
Golden, CO 80401

Category: Art Galleries

Region: West Denver Suburbs

If Golden has been enriched by a sculpture garden, I'm afraid Denver may soon be impoverished because of a park. Something rotten is cooking, and it could spell disaster for the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission. The commission, as weak as it is, remains the city's only bulwark against unchecked development in areas rich with old buildings.

What's happening has to do with Bell Park, an ugly little block at Larimer and 14th streets just off Speer Boulevard that's named for the old bell that once occupied the top of the former city hall's tower. Most of the block is given over to surface parking lots, but it's adjacent to Larimer Square, the city's premier collection of late-nineteenth-century commercial buildings. As a result of some kind of snap judgment made decades ago, Bell Park was declared part of the Lower Downtown Historic District. And since the landmark commission oversees changes in such districts, it has gotten involved in the recent debate over the area's future.

Believe it or not, the unrest starts with the new Justice Center that is to be built on West Colfax Avenue next to the United States Mint. The land needed for the buildings is in various lots owned by different people, and the city must acquire each parcel before it can begin construction. That's where Bell Park comes in. Developer Richard Geller owns one of those pieces of land, and the city offered to trade Bell Park, which it owns, for Geller's lot. But Geller wanted Bell Park out of the Lower Downtown Historic District before he agreed to the trade. He needed that to happen so that he could build a thirty-story-plus high-rise that would not be allowed under the district's current 55-foot height restriction. But last month, the landmark commission voted against severing Bell Park from lower downtown.

The city administration clearly has a vested interest in making the trade, and, in fact, took the initial request to the landmark commission. Mayor John Hickenlooper has since stepped back and deferred to his planning chief, Peter Park, who endorses the high-rise idea.

So here's the scary part: Three members of the Denver City Council -- Judy Montero, Elbra Wedgeworth and Jeanne Robb -- got their knickers in a twist over the landmark commission's decision, and they've declared war on the distinguished panel of experts. In a fit of pique, Montero has even announced that she wants to form a task force to look into the activities of the landmark commission! I think these three stooges should be ashamed of themselves for their petulant behavior. (For politicians, though, I'm afraid shame is a little-known commodity.)

Even during the Wellington Webb administration -- dark days indeed for historic preservation -- there was no talk of destroying the landmark commission, even though it was often on opposite sides from the city, particularly in advocating for the preservation of I. M. Pei's Zeckendorf Plaza and Burnham Hoyt's Boettcher School.

On a personal note, I think the landmark commission was wrong in not severing Bell Park from the Lower Downtown Historic District. After all, there are no historic structures there, and it's at the edge of the district. Maybe some kind of compromise can be worked out in the near future.

But that doesn't excuse the behavior of Montero, Wedgeworth and Robb, or any other councilmember who agrees with the offensive idea of an investigative task force as a way to slap the landmark commission -- or worse, to rob it of what little real power it has.

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