Denver is suddenly awash in nicknames. Developers are smacking hip labels on formerly unhip areas of town; the creators of South Park are smacking those developers with mocking SoDoSoPa mockeries. The city is drowning in an alphabet soup.
Denver has always had nicknames — Mile High City, Queen City of the Plains — but the first neighborhood nickname to really stick was LoDo, which technically applies to the old warehouse area of lower downtown by Union Station.
The man responsible for starting the name game? Dick Kreck, a columnist for the Denver Post. In the early ’80s, Kreck's ex-wife, Vicky Gits, called one day from New York, where she was attending Columbia University. “She said, ‘You know, one of the cool things about New York is all the different neighborhood names,’” he recalls.
Among the names she mentioned was “SoHo,” which New Yorkers use to mean “south of Houston Street.”
“Wouldn’t it be cool if we got something like that in Denver?” Gits asked. “How about ‘area below Wazee?’”
“I said, ‘No, that doesn’t work,’” Kreck remembers. “So then I got to thinking about lower downtown, and I shortened it to ‘LoDo’ and put it in a column in September of 1983. I didn’t think I was a great genius for thinking of it, but now I wish I had patented it.”
The LoDo label had stuck for good by March 1988, when Denver City Council passed a zoning ordinance that gave the neighborhood historic designation and officially changed its name to the Lower Downtown Historic District. That guaranteed the area would actually keep some history; the Victorian-era warehouses and storefronts that lined the streets could not be demolished without city permission, unlike so many of the downtown buildings wiped away by the Denver Urban Renewal Authority in the ’60s and ’70s.
One of those buildings at 18th and Wynkoop streets was already in the process of turning into Colorado's first brewpub, the Wynkoop Brewing Co., whose founders included future governor John Hickenlooper. And soon other entrepreneurs were venturing into the area that had pretty much been a vast wasteland just a few years earlier.
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But few people called the neighborhood by the official Lower Downtown Historic District name; it was just LoDo. In fact, the organization set up to oversee those 23 blocks was itself named the LoDo District Inc.
LoDo has actual boundaries: from the alley between Market and Larimer streets to Wewatta Street (with a bite out of the district so that Union Station is not included), 14th to 20th streets. But as LoDo started gaining in popularity — and marketability — the nickname was applied to areas far beyond the borders of lower downtown. When Coors Field opened for play in April 1995, people often said it was in LoDo — even though its home is labeled Five Points on city maps, and the Ballpark neighborhood was organizing its own historic district. Businesses up the mall started stretching the LoDo boundaries, too, in order to make their places more appealing.
But today, LoDo pretty much stays within the lines. That's because even more marketable nicknames have caught on all around the area over the past twenty years, including RiNo.
But that's a story for another day.