Denver is missing its New Deal-era holiday mural

Despite the oh-so-seasonal protests — including a round of billboards from Colorado Coalition of Reason, the first of which went up Monday at 11th Avenue and Speer — the Denver City and County Building is once again lit up for the holidays, protected by the rosy glow of several court decisions that determined the garish display does not violate either the state or federal constitution. Even if it violates good taste.

COCORE's complaint focuses on the Nativity — actually one of the more tasteful elements, especially compared to that weird hoedown scene that balances out the religious references. While the LED lighting the city installed last year will glow through the National Western Stock Show, there have been a few other changes: The rest of the display will come down on January 15, to accommodate BigAir moving into the Civic Center; the traditional bells, wreaths and snowmen are on ice entirely this time; and St. Nick and his reindeer — which were racing up the steps of the building last year — have now landed on the roof. "It took two guys probably two hours to move two reindeer there," says Suzi Latona, the city's facilities manager. And next year, who knows? Rudolph may lead Santa and company off into the sky.

It won't be the display's first disappearance. Back in 1935, three years after the neoclassical building was completed, the city commissioned a 76-foot-long Christmas mural by Louise Emerson Ronnebeck, a New Deal muralist whose work is featured in a show opening Friday at the Byers-Evans House Gallery. A large room in the basement of the Auditorium Theatre was cleared out so that Ronnebeck and two assistants could complete the work, which was so large it was painted in pieces, then reassembled to fit the pediment at the top of the building.

But while Ronnebeck murals, along with sketches and studies, have survived through the decades (see story, page 25), the Christmas mural disappeared — from the city's inventory of assets (that it existed at all was news to Latona), if not from art history. Kaitlyn Mellini, who organized the show, found pictures and other documentation of the Christmas mural, and Ronnebeck's relatives remembered it. In fact, the piece could still be stashed in some forgotten corner of Denver. "We just need an organized effort to track it down," says Mellini, and Latona's already looking. This is a season for miracles, after all — and aesthetically, the city's holiday display could definitely use one.

Signs of the times: On the streets of Denver, the battle continues over another traditional Christmas display. For the past few weeks, services that charge to hang holiday lights for you have been sticking signs on medians and nailing them to posts all over town — but those curmudgeonly grinches at www.causs.org have been slashing the signs almost as fast as they appear and covering the remains with stickers promoting their cause.

Causs has been around for a while, but the intensity of its efforts to rid the city of illegal signs — everything from cleaning services and yard sales to shady homebuyers and the aforementioned light hangers — waxes and wanes. Now it's back with a vengeance.

"I hit the Auto Detailing sign at Cherry Creek Drive South and University Boulevard this morning. I also nicked the Christmas Lights sign in the middle of 1st Avenue and University," reads one post on the website's forum. "I went to Target in Glendale and bought a handy little cutter for $3 that uses Stanley blades. Cuts those signs like butter!!!"

Guess the folks at Causs know who's been naughty...

 
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