While many Denverites were relieved to see demolition begin at two longtime eyesores, urban explorers — the thrill seekers who sneak into empty buildings — and historic preservationists are mourning the passing of both the former Gates Rubber factory on South Broadway and several of the buildings that were once part of the University of Colorado's now-vacant medical-school campus and hospital at Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.
Work began on the Gates site more than a year after Denver's Landmark Preservation Commission voted unanimously not to recommend landmark status for the property because of its highly limited preservation potential and their concerns about the "integrity" of the site. A University of Colorado student named Eugene Elliott had tried to save the buildings ("Trouble in the Rubble," August 16, 2012), which had been empty for many years, by filing an application to name them as historic. Two years later, Gates finally got permission from the city to tear down the remaining structures in September.
Over the twenty-plus years that the buildings had been vacant, they became a magnet for urban explorers, who liked to sneak in and explore the creepy remains of what was once one of Denver's largest employers. In 2007, an urban explorer was killed there when he fell down an elevator shaft ("Gone," December 20, 2007), and although security was beefed up, the site continued to attract explorers, who've stayed up on developments in an online urban-exploration forum.
The same website, uer.ca, has also noted the progress of demolition at the former CU facility, which included a power plant, cooling towers and two 1960s-era buildings that historic preservationists waged — but lost — a battle to save: the Children's Psychiatric Day Care Center and the John F. Kennedy Childhood Development Center, both designed by well-known architects Victor Hornbein and Ed White.
Last June, an anonymous person posted dozens and dozens of photos allegedly taken at sites in the abandoned complex, including the morgue, the hospital emergency room, the cafeteria, the power plant, the psychiatric ward, a conference room and numerous labs and offices. The university subsequently increased security, but explorers — and thieves — continued to make their way inside the building. And the demolition hasn't seemed to keep them away, either. Last Thursday, police arrested two men who they believe were trying to steal copper from one of the buildings.
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University spokesman Dan Meyers says the demolition is being done by the Lionstone Group, which bought a portion of the old campus last summer and plans to build apartments there; demolition of the rest will be done by whoever buys the remaining property. Several would-be developers have backed out, though Meyers says that there are now about a dozen proposals on the table and that some decisions could be made as soon as late December. But judging from the pace of previous progress at the site, urban explorers will have plenty of time to get their jollies before the wrecking balls come out.
Map time: Speaking of neighborhoods, last February we wrote about Trent Gillaspie, a technology and product manager who created what he calls the Denver Judgmental Map — basically a map of the city with no-holds-barred labels for different streets, neighborhoods and intersections. The map stirred up a lot of laughs — and a lot of controversy, since it relies on old tropes and stereotypes in order to get those laughs. "I've lived in a few different areas around Denver, and I've explained neighborhoods to people with stereotypes," Gillaspie told Westword then. "So I thought, why not just have a map for it that sort of pokes fun and uses a little humor?"
We'll let others judge the success of that humor — but at least Gillaspie has lived in Denver for two decades. The creators of the new "Denver Urbane" map (mapurbane.com) and eight similar projects targeting other big cities all hail from elsewhere. And although their map is detailed and occasionally funny, much of it doesn't make sense even to people who've lived here all their lives. For instance, why are Lakewood residents described as "wearing North Face or Patagonia listening to Jack Johnson in their Subarus while driving to a micro-craft beer bar" when that stereotype could pretty much fit 75 percent of the metro area — except for Lakewood?
There go the neighborhoods.