Best Improvement to a Toxic Dump 2008 | Commerce City Civic and Justice Center | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
During World War II, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal was established north of Stapleton — and the resulting Superfund site was such a toxic cesspool that even after cleanup, parts were so polluted that the land could never be developed — so instead, we got the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Refuge. Immediately to the west of that is Prairie Gateway, where the new Commerce City Civic and Justice Center — which houses offices, courtrooms and the police department — boasts a lovely view of the dump, er, nature preserve. But this building is also worthy of a look: It's a handsome, neo-modernist structure crowded with details such as sunscreens over some windows. Not only that, but different parts are finished in different materials of different colors. Given the checkered past of its setting, though, the best part of the project could be that RNL designed it to be "built green," with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
Named for its location in an alley southeast of the Colorado Institute of Art — though it has no official affiliation with the school — the CIA Wall serves as a rotating showcase for some of the best graffiti productions in Colorado. Legal ones, at that, although "legal" is a relative concept in the graffiti world. The owner of this property's retaining wall long ago started allowing spray-can artists to paint murals here, but if they don't have serious skills and the blessing of some specific high-ups in the local graffiti scene, they can find their hard work crossed out — or worse. This unseen but stern management keeps the artistic quality of the wall work first-rate and free from the gang graffiti and tagger crap that mars Denver's other graf yards.
Who says that watching laws being created has to be boring, dry or, as the famous quote goes, like sausages (best not to see them being made)? With Colorado Springs anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce now in the Statehouse, the entertainment level has picked right up. From kicking a photographer to grandstanding, Bruce has made plenty of headlines — if not many friends — and quickly become the most entertaining part of the place. What will he do next?
In December, Forbes magazine pronounced Denver "the most lustful city in America." And no, not because the Democratic National Committee chose to hold its 2008 convention in Denver. A single statistic earned the city this honor: Over-the-counter contraceptive sales in Denver are 189 percent higher than might be expected for a city this size. Safety first!
MCA Denver
When Cydney Payton became director of the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, it was located in a former fish market. She immediately started pushing for a permanent home for the institution, and less than eight years later, through the sheer force of her will — and a lot of donations — the MCA is now in its own building. And what a building it is: Designed by an international up-and-comer David Adjaye, a London-based architect who won a competition for the job, it's a neo-modernist gem with deconstructionist tendencies. It looks like a pseudo-cube coming apart at the seams, but the interior has a savvy setup that facilitates Payton's concept of presenting different art mediums in specifically dedicated spaces. Adjaye's best idea, though, was the glass walkway on the roof that does double duty as a skylight, flooding the atrium inside with natural light. Well, that and the rooftop bar with a stunning view of downtown.
Slow and steady wins the race, as a bunch of determined Skyline Vista Elementary School students proved when they successfully lobbied the Colorado Legislature to make the Western Painted Turtle Colorado's official state reptile. It joins such other notable state symbols as the state bird (lark bunting) and state fish (greenback cutthroat trout).
Colorado's current motto is Nil Sine Numine — "Nothing Without the Deity." Territorial governor William Gilpin came up with it when the new territory needed a seal in 1861; it became part of the official state lineup sixteen years later. Which means it's high time that we dump that mothbally motto for something a little newer, a little less ecumenical, a little more hip. After all, Denver successfully courted the Democratic National Convention, which in August will return to the state where it was last held a hundred years ago. Last fall, our Colorado Rockies garnered international attention with their last-second Cinderella win of the National League pennant. The square state has never been more hip. And while the Colorado Legislature recently laid claim to sentimental favorite John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" as a second official state song, we're singing a different tune these days: "Hip to Be Square." As both a reference to our geographical outline and a defiantly tongue-in-cheek nod to what many on the coasts have always considered Colorado, this cheesy Huey Lewis and the News song is perfect — and perfectly ironic.
You know you've arrived as a wine-producing (and not just -consuming) state when you hire an official State Enologist. Stephen Menke, who previously served in the same role in Illinois, came to Colorado with a stack of credentials, including a degree in agriculture and a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology. More important, he loves the science of wine and considers the high-altitude peculiarities of Colorado's wine industry to be a challenge well worth pursuing. In vino veritus!
A few years back, crews of underground street knitters began tagging up cities across the nation — but Denver's street-art scene remained in the cold. Local light poles were left naked, bus benches stayed bare, and orange construction cones looked chilly without their little yarn hats! But thanks to the tireless work of the young women at the Ladies Fancywork Society, Denver's urban grit has gotten a little more warm-and-fuzzy of late. The anonymous knitters have donated an abundance of parking-meter mittens, trees scarves and bike-rack cozies, making the city a much warmer place. Needless to say, Fancywork members should not be harassed while applying the tricks of their trade, as knitting needles can be sharp. Thanks, ladies!
For years, the Civic Center has been under threat — most recently with a proposal to move the Colorado History Museum into the park itself, opening up space in the 1300 block of Broadway for a revamped Colorado courts structure. But after months of debate, the board of the Colorado Historical Society instead wisely decided to build the new museum on a surface parking lot a block south on Broadway, right across the street from the Daniel Libeskind-designed complex that includes the Denver Art Museum's Hamilton Building. David Owen Tryba's firm will design the museum as part of a project that will also include office towers. So instead of shoehorning a shoebox and basement into Civic Center, as he'd proposed, he'll now get to mastermind an enormous, prominently placed work of architecture. That makes this decision a win not just for preservationists, but ultimately for Tryba, as well.

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