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PEOPLE & PLACES

part 1 of 2
Best Way to Discourage Californians From Coming to Colorado
First stop: Colorado Springs

Before being handed the keys to their new twelve-bedroom tri-levels in Highlands Ranch, Golden State initiates will be required to spend a week of altitude adjustment in lovely Colorado Springs. Included on the welcome wagon tour: square-dancing practice at the Focus on the Family Reeducation Camp, tickets to the studio audience of Chuck Baker's radio talk show, a gun-safety lecture from Eugene Baylis and free Colorado Militia T-shirts for the kids. While in town, they'll also visit the new Francisco Martin Duran Center for Political Studies. Don't let the bunker door hit you on the way out.

Readers' choice: Bad weather

Best Use for Stapleton
Plutonium storage
Now that Rocky Flats is shut down, all that damn plutonium is a real hindrance to real estate development at the foot of the mountains. Stapleton's already next to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and it's got plenty of underground tanks just right for storing radioactive plumes. Load 'em up with leftover yellowcake and kiss that pesky gasoline smell goodbye.

Readers' choice: A racetrack

Best Local Politician
Paul Weissmann
Colorado Senate

When the Colorado Rockies pushed a bill providing a six-month jail sentence for anyone caught smuggling booze into Coors Field, Weissmann, the official legislator of the fan and a bartender at the Blue Parrot in Louisville, countered with an amendment that would have allowed members of the public to bring in their own alcoholic beverages should the Rockies charge more than $2.50 a cup for beer. "When you look at a keg costing Joe Six-Pack $44 or so, and you look at them reaping about $600 in sales out of one keg, you don't have to be a math major to know they're making more than a little bit of profit," said Weissmann. To nobody's surprise, the measure was tossed in the late innings. But Weissmann, who made waves this year by refusing to wear a suit on the Senate floor, is determined to keep swinging. Next year the bartender known for his drink called the "Drain Pipe Baby Drop-Off" plans a run for the U.S. Senate.

Readers' choice: Wellington Webb

Best Conspiracy Theorist
Stew Webb
Webb, founder of the group Guardians of American Liberties and regular revealer of shocking government misbehavior on talk radio, this year disclosed the real reason for all those cost overruns at DIA: A giant underground concentration camp built beneath the new airport runways to house all the patriotic Coloradans who may dare to defy the New World Order. City officials denied it--of course.

Best Speed Trap
Pena Boulevard
You're running late for a flight. That immaculate ten-mile stretch of divided highway beckons like the quarter-mile at Bandimere. You gun it. But look, behind the signpost up ahead--it's one of Denver's finest, who just clocked you doing 75 in a 55-mile-per-hour zone. Kiss those nonrefundable tickets goodbye, sucker. You've just entered the Feddie zone.

Best Concourse at DIA
Concourse A
Right now, five little airlines serve lonely Concourse A--the not-so-heavy-hitters at GP Express, Mexicana, America West, Frontier and everybody's favorite skeleton crew, Continental, for whom this gleaming new 22-gate structure was built to begin with. The Big A is the first stop on the train, you never have to wait in line for cinnamon rolls, and there's plenty of open space for playing Frisbee in the halls. Now all you have to do is figure out where the hell you can fly on GP Express.

Best O.J. Commentator
Dan Caplis
KTLK-AM/760

Dan Caplis does more than just take a stab at O.J. coverage. A practicing attorney himself--with a charm quotient that could curl Marcia Clark's toes--he has a way of finding small bits of meaning in the aberrant case's legal lollapaloozas. Caplis is among the few over-the-air Simpsonites to hold out the possibility--just the possibility, Edna from Aurora--that O.J. didn't do it. And for a man who inhabits the body of both a lawyer and a talk-show host, he's almost frighteningly polite. Give that man a Bronco!

Best Local Appearance by an O.J. Witness
Kato Kaelin
When he appeared in Denver April 14, mere days after leaving the stand, the sheen was not yet off Kato Kaelin's celebrity. What was most impressive about his stint on the KBPI-FM morning show, an autograph-signing session at an area mall and a brief appearance at a KBPI anniversary event held at Mammoth Events Center was the way Kaelin managed to hold everyone's rapt attention even though a handler accompanying him made sure that he said absolutely nothing of interest about anything. That's show biz.

Best Local Exploitation of the O.J. Trial
Brad Markussen
Markussen owns Cal-Trak Inc., a Broomfield company that distributes and manufactures ergonomically correct chairs. And what better place to show off the merchandise than the O.J. circus? None--which is why Markussen offered to donate a "Body Bilt" chair, complete with an "X-tension arm," to the stenographer jotting down every pearl of wisdom uttered by F. Lee Bailey, Marcia Clark and Judge Lance Ito. Even better, Markussen was seen wheeling the chair into the Los Angeles courtroom by the viewers of Entertainment Tonight. Who no doubt have already ordered "Body Bilt" chairs of their very own.

 

Best New Building (Since June 1994)
Denver Central Library
1357 Broadway

The new library is an instant landmark--actually two, when you include the old Burnham Hoyt-designed original currently being renovated. Michael Graves's skyline-in-a-block makes its own bold statement yet pays homage to the old building and the architectural schizophrenia of the Civic Center complex, too. And inside, the place is tremendous, a series of dramatic spaces chock full of Graves's "more is more" approach to decoration. Looking at the great new library, it's easy to see why Graves is one of the most talked-about architects in the world. Added bonus: City Librarian Rick Ashton brought the project in on time and within budget.

Readers' choice: Coors Field

Best New Place to Make Out
The stacks
Denver Central Library

With 540,000 square feet, the new digs are triple the size of the old building. And, of course, amid the 47 miles of shelf, you can always find somewhere to be alone.

Best Place to Play Peeping Tom
Cheesman Park
So they trimmed the pine-tree canopies that once served as Denver's best-known spot for private trysts--it's not the end of the world. Cheesman Park is still cruise central for the queer community--and with summer coming up, there's sure to be plenty of nude sunbathing, as well. Dionysus would be pleased.

Best 2001 Reference
Directional signs at DIA
It might have been unintentional, but the designer who thought up those monumental, twenty-foot-tall pointers in the DIA terminal paid real homage to Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi classic. The functional yet towering signs conjure visions of 2001's dark-side-of-the-moon monoliths. Could HAL have been behind that baggage snafu?

Best Barbi Dream House
Copper Palace, Aspen
Money can buy you love, but it can't buy good taste. And real estate playboy George Gradow is dedicating his entire fortune to proving it. Under the careful direction of his able-bodied wife, former Playboy Playmate and Hef squeeze Barbi "Bunny" Benton, the couple has built the ultimate trophy mansion in Glamour Gulch. One would never guess by the severe facade that hallucinogenic night sweats are the interior design theme of Barbi's dream structure--complete with jeweled walls and padded video pods.

Best Vintage Sign
Lefty Martin Appliance and TV
2816 Colorado Blvd.

In 1962, when North Colorado Boulevard was booming, the owners of Lefty Martin's store constructed a flashy, state-of-the-art neon sign. Today, the exotic advertisement--featuring a smiling Lefty and elaborate lettering blessedly familiar to anyone who lived through the New Frontier--remains in place, more evocative than ever. It's a blast from the past that'll put a glow in your heart.

Best Recycled Sign
Mo Better Ribs & Soul Food
8119 E. Colfax Ave.

For years this East Colfax address was the home of Paisan's, a Midwestern-style, red-checked-tablecloth pizza parlor overseen by the image of an inviting, pencil-mustachioed Italian chef who beckoned passersby to come in and order up a large pepperoni-and-mushroom. The joint currently sells catfish and collard greens--but the same old cook still smiles unendingly from under his chef's hat. And he's now African-American, thanks to a sign painter's quick cultural makeover.

Best Marquee
Bluebird Theater
3317 E. Colfax Ave.

Is there a bluebird on it? You bet. This curvaceous pink-and-blue beauty, dark for far too many years, is the spiffiest enticement to take flight yet on porn-infested Colfax Avenue. And inside, all you'll find is good, clean fun.

Best Synchronized Lights
Broadway
As anyone who has to drive in downtown Denver on a regular basis can attest, the traffic lights along most city thoroughfares seem designed to prevent you from going more than a hundred yards before coming to a grinding halt. So thank goodness for Broadway, which is synchronized for maximum convenience. Head south from the downtown area, and if you maintain a steady speed of around thirty miles per hour, you should be able to go at least a mile between stops. Attention, city officials: If it can be done here, it can be done everywhere.

Best Night Light
Elitch's Ferris wheel
Festooned with 6,000 colored lights and visible for miles, the ten-story-high Ferris wheel at the newly relocated Elitch's sets a festive tone for lower downtown Denver--not that Rockiesville needs the free advertising. Built by Chance Manufacturing of Wichita to loft 120 people at a time into the evening sky, the wheel is a comforting beacon for weary travelers on I-25 and a memory in the making for every kid in town.

 

Best Pop Architecture
Grill Next Door
9730 W. 44th Ave., Wheat Ridge

DIA's archi-tent-ure is stunning, but for a bit of genuine Western architecture, make sure you circle the Grill Next Door, a burger joint masquerading as a covered wagon. The Conestoga has been in its present location since 1957; before that, it was "somewhere on Colfax," according to Steve Sklar, who owns the business but not the wagon. While you're there, scare up one of Steve's excellent buffalo burgers.

Best Architectural Lost Cause
American Institute of Architects, Denver Chapter
Architects make their money designing new buildings, not saving old ones. So when they come out for historic preservation the way they did regarding I.M. Pei's endangered Zeckendorf Plaza, it means something. The local AIA took a vigorous position in favor of rescuing the modernistic structure from the excavation plans of its out-of-state landlord--a brave bit of civic paraboloidism while it lasted.

Best Surviving Bit of Urban Decay
Pride of the Rockies Flour Mill
Central Platte Valley

Known among local teens as the "towering inferno," the Pride of the Rockies is a burned-out, seven-story concrete shell just off I-25 in the shadow of Coors Field. Now developer Dana Crawford wants to convert it into--what else?--condos. For the time being, though, think of it as a mute monument to the days when Denver was a railroad boomtown and an agricultural capital.

Best Historic Rehab (Large-Scale)
Byron White U.S. Court of Appeals
1929 Stout St.

When the ex-Federal Building and U.S. Post Office, built in 1910, reopened to hoopla last August--with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on hand--all evidence of chipped marble, unsightly partitions and hemmed-in hallways had vanished. In its place now stands a magnificent beast of a building, with airy, vaulted interiors and graceful stairways. Thanks to architect Michael Barber's painstaking adherence to original drawings and design concepts, the structure's five courtrooms now drive home the dignity and solemnity of the law.

Best Historic Rehab (Small-Scale)
Romeo Block
2944 Zuni St.

Prior to its recent makeover, calling the Romeo Block an eyesore would have been a compliment, since the building's Italianate charms were almost completely hidden by a gloppy coat of stucco. Now that frosting-like outer layer of goo has been removed, exposing the original brick, and the show windows of the shop bays have been reopened. It's all the product of a thoughtful loft conversion undertaken by Murphy Stevens Architects with the engineering firm of Monroe and Newell. Together they've made the Romeo Block a place as romantic as its name.

Best Restoration Group
The Park People
715 S. Franklin St.

What makes a city great? In some cases, it's the little things--a tree here, a fountain there. The Park People are dedicated to just such miniature slices of beauty. Their Denver Digs Trees program not only distributes young trees to residents but passes along tips on how to prune and maintain them. The group is also working with the city on plans to restore three fountains, including the list-heading, weed-choked Dolphin Fountain by East High School, whose original character today can be gleaned only from old photos. Long may the Park People grow.

Best History in the Making
History students, University of Colorado at Denver
A better example of learning-by-doing can't be found: UCD professor Tom Noel, one of Denver's most loving historians, rounded up a classful of his Western Art and Architecture students and had them research facts about 29 historic downtown sites. The resulting factoids were engraved on bronze plaques and placed on location as lasting tributes to such landmarks as the Clark and Gruber Mint and the 14th Street Viaduct. It's a ready-made walking tour you can take at your own leisure. Move to the head of the class.

Best Place to Learn Denver History
Byers-Evans House
1310 Bannock St.

This historic old manse, nearly lost in the shadows of the nearby art museum and library, is a fun excursion for kids and others who under normal circumstances can't be torn away from their computer terminals. The house is equipped with interactive videos explaining Denver history--visitors can choose from a plethora of categories, losing themselves in biographies, exploring the origins of local street names or calling up photos of old churches and mansions. And even if they do keep their noses glued to a video screen all day, rest assured in the knowledge that your loved ones had to pass through the outdoors to get here.

Best Cemetery
Riverside Cemetery
5201 Brighton Blvd.

 

On the unlikely cusp of industrial Commerce City lies one of Denver's loveliest bows to the past--pastoral, serene Riverside Cemetery, a landmark rightfully listed last year in the National Register of Historic Places. Established in 1876, Riverside was the first Denver cemetery to be laid out in the form of a landscaped park, and it served as the area's primary burial site until Fairmont Cemetery, a newcomer built in 1890, lured cadavers away to the southeast. Nevertheless, Riverside's classic funerary objects (we recommend the modest marker honoring Negro League baseball great Oliver "The Ghost" Marcelle) still beckon. It's a favorite haunt.

Best Friends an Old Fire Truck Ever Had
Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus in America

The Society crowd--some of them firefighters, some just lovers of antiquity--sponsor annual fire "musters" to raise money for The Children's Hospital Burn Center. Or they go to schools and give kids a chance to ring bells and put on fire helmets. But their real reasons-to-be are 35 retired fire trucks dating from 1918 to the early '60s. Like brave stallions gone to pasture, the vehicles, stored in an old Greyhound Bus barn in Denver, have stories to tell--one carries a mantle of tragedy brought upon it when it carried firefighters to their deaths atop a railroad flat car in a conflagrated Moffat Tunnel. And many still draw wistful looks from fire department old-timers who never forget an old friend.

Best Housing Covenant
Aloha Beach development
Forget those community restrictions on race and ethnicity; they're passe. Try to qualify instead for Adams County's Aloha Beach, the "only water-skiing-oriented residential community in Colorado," according to its developers. Better hurry: Aloha's owners anticipate building only forty single-family homes on the two lakes between Lowell and Federal boulevards.

Best Brave New World in Housing
Highline Crossing Common House Co-Housing Project
1660 W. Canal Ct., Littleton

Anyone who grew up during the '60s will tell you--living off the land in a commune is great. If you're a sheep. But the concept had its benefits, one of which was a profound sense of community. Now, updated co-housing communities borrow on that concept, with shared kitchens and dining areas, cozy lounges and child-care facilities. And the people who live in them can retreat to their own private spaces if they choose. Residents of the 36-home Highline Crossing have the option of helping to prepare meals for the group every few weeks or using their own kitchens for private repasts. In a hectic world where we often don't know the names of our closest neighbors, that seems in very good taste.

Best Student Center
Tivoli Student Union
Auraria Campus

Until the Auraria Student Union relocated in the old Tivoli Brewery last fall, the building was an empty, echoing shell. Today the place bustles with a coffeehouse, the campus book store, inexpensive restaurants, student lounges, meeting rooms, a Ticketmaster outlet and even a record store. Best of all, there are people at the Tivoli--coming and going, talking and eating, studying and bringing the place back to life. You can even get a beer.

Best Smell From the Sidewalk
All American Seasonings
1540 Wazee St.

All you have to do is take a walk down Wazee between 15th and 16th, and suddenly, your senses are flooded with the scent of varying combinations of fresh, dried, roasted or toasted basil, fennel, oregano, marjoram...the list goes on. Follow your nose (there's an increasingly strong, wonderful trail) straight to the door of the All American Seasonings company. But alas, the olfactory treat is all you'll get: the firm only sells its custom blends of spices to restaurants. Still, just to stand there and snort it is enough.

Best Light-Rail Destination
29th and Welton streets
Thanks to those slick new rail cars, one of RTD's goals--to revitalize the Five Points area--is actually being realized. Folks are visiting the plethora of rib joints within walking distance along Welton Street, as well as the Raven, a nightclub so underground it doesn't even have a phone number. Plus the Black American West Museum, the Five Points Community Center, and an express service branch of the Motor Vehicle Department are just a couple of blocks away. How's that for convenient one-stop culture shock?

Readers' choice: Five Points (actual)/DIA (potential)

Best Media Move
Five Points Media Center
2900 Welton St.

The Five Points Media Center opened last fall, right along with the light-rail line. Its mission: to provide spread-out new digs for the formerly cramped and nomadic KBDI-TV/Channel 12, public-radio station KUVO 89.3 FM and Denver Community Television. Already, the awards are pouring in--the center won a special regional Emmy in September and a Downtown Denver Award followed this spring honoring it for its role in bringing positive changes to the community. There's no place like home.

 

Best Cutting-Edge Philanthropy
Tommy Lazio
When Tommy Lazio took a gander at students in Grand County using printed mats to learn their way around a computer keyboard, he was appalled, to say the least. The education professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver was able to strike a deal with a firm that was upgrading and managed to have more than forty used computers sent to the county's modest school district. He's also rounded up software and other equipment and encourages volunteer Metro State students to help teach real computer skills to the Kremmling greenhorns. Enthusiasm apparently feeds the fire--Lazio now has his eye on schools in the San Luis Valley.

Best Charitable Slam Dunk
Walter Tharp
A recent Regis University graduate in communications, Walter Tharp had a dream. Several, to be exact. So he took the nest egg he'd been saving for a trip to Europe and instead hit the road, hoping to attend basketball games in every NBA arena in the country--all while interviewing players for a book and raising money for Boys and Girls Clubs in each city visited. If that sounds like a lot to juggle, it was. Tharp says he was met with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but he did manage--at great expense--to hit all the B-ball cities. And he did get to talk with players. He even managed to raise $3,000 for his chosen cause. Now he's back home in Louisiana, working on that book...and paying his bills.

Best Animal Philanthropist
Cajun the Cat
The Cat Care Society

Cajun, a handsome long-haired orange tabby, somehow manages to look perfectly dignified at all times, even if he's caught wearing a pirate hat or an artist's beret on the Cat Care Society's fundraising greeting cards and calendars. A gentle, leash-trained trooper who originally made his name in local schools and day-care centers as the star of the society's traveling Humane Education program, Cajun has helped thousands of people get in touch with their felines.

end of part 1


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