Along with a lot of other people in Denver, I had my heart broken last winter when Skyline Park was bulldozed. The decision to destroy the park, which runs for three blocks along Arapahoe Street between 15th and 18th streets, was the last of many terrible moves made by the forces of architectural darkness in the Wellington Webb administration. In this case, James Mejia, the city's former park and recreation head, made the call.
There was an all-out preservation fight to save Skyline, one of the biggest and most contentious ones in my memory. The struggle garnered national attention in the architectural press and even led to the founding of an ad hoc group, Friends of Skyline Park, specifically created to save the place.
A 1970s masterpiece by Lawrence Halprin, Skyline's unusual design was magical, allowing visitors to enter a recessed garden defined by raised planters, fountains and integral seating. This below-grade feature, though aesthetically effective, was Skyline's undoing. It was used by the park's enemies as evidence that the design itself encouraged occupation by scruffy teenagers.
As illogical as this argument was, it worked, and Halprin's Skyline is now only a memory and a few fragments, including the old sign (above). These fragments, detached from their original context, look like ruins, but in fact, they're the only things about the new Skyline Park that are worth seeing.
The reason why is because there wasn't enough money to complete the design by Thomas Balsley, a hotshot New York landscape architect. So Balsley oversaw the destruction of Halprin's Skyline without being able to see his own design fully realized. It's both a delicious irony and something I believe is called "karma."
In fairness, there is a kind of brilliance to the new park, at least from a city-government standpoint: Unlike with Halprin's park, when Balsley's design is threatened with demolition in the future, city bureaucrats won't need to fend off the preservationists, because there won't be any.
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