Best Of :: People & Places
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.
The stately Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is one of the most important buildings in the Mountain Standard time zone. Built in 1936, the concrete-and-black aggregate structure combines Pueblo style with art moderne design, and was unquestionably the high point of architect John Gaw Meem's career. But while the building remained stunning, sixty years after its completion, it was also too small. After a misguided attempt to enlarge it failed, Denver architect David Owen Tryba and his crew were hired in 2003 to come up with a solution. And they did. The addition, which debuted last summer, is tucked behind the original building, giving the center adequate facilities to both showcase its impressive collection and host traveling shows while preserving the integrity of the original design.
The city was agog at reported Britney Spears sightings earlier this year. But her best Colorado appearance was in cartoon form — as if that isn't always the case — on a recent episode of South Park, the Comedy Central series that just celebrated its tenth anniversary. In "Britney's New Look," the pop princess fled the paparazzi and landed in South Park, the mythical creation of Colorado boys Matt Stone and Trey Parker, where she wound up losing her head. As if you could tell.
Long before commuting was cool, green-thinking Boulderites started hopping the B Route when they needed to get to downtown Denver — for a meeting, for a dinner, for a play. But just sitting on the B bus can be entertainment enough, since it gives you easy eavesdropping access to conversations involving everyone from MacArthur Foundation grant winners and University of Colorado professors to fraternity leaders planning the next big bash.
No matter how much the city cleans up East Colfax Avenue, RTD's #15 bus will always be the true gauge of this neighborhood. Hop on between Colorado and Broadway, and listen to East High School students talking with the homeless. Or as happy hour turns to night, watch as drunken blue-collars heading home from the strip's rougher bars rub shoulders with twenty-something hipsters on their way to hear live music. Conversation is the sole soundtrack to this route, because music is allowed with headphones only — and you'd better have exact change, because RTD doesn't dish any out. Other than that, though, no rules apply and all bets are off. Whether you're chatting with an immigrant about the world he left behind or hoping that the drug dealer to your left will leave you alone, the #15 delivers the bold, hard facts on the real Colfax.
Isaac Slade, frontman for the Fray, Denver's first double-platinum band, has been living the dream in more ways than one. Last year he met up with Sir Benjamin Slade, an English aristocrat in search of an heir to inherit his thirteenth mansion. The estate, valued at $15 million, includes three lakes, a ballroom (perfect for private rock shows), hundreds of cattle — and plenty of expensive upkeep projects. Sir Benjamin had been looking for an heir for eighteen months before he decided that Isaac might be just the Slade he was looking for; at last report, Isaac still hadn't decided if English manor life was for him.
Be flattered, not fearful, if a young redhead approaches you on the street and asks to photograph your torso. Then...try to look cool. Because Renee Mudd's fashion blog, The-Intersection, sure does. "A young gal out and about in Denver in search of the city's most inspiring and expressive fashions and street style" is how the University of Colorado Denver student describes her year-old project, which stays simple by presenting single photos of on-the-spot models with minimalist commentary. The offerings range from understated to outlandish and allow the rest of us to examine the threads of these day-to-day fashionistas without having to stare at them in real life.
Although he's known more for his scooter and his goofy grin, Mayor John Hickenlooper has stepped firmly into the spotlight as the state's fashion leader. In September, Hizzoner looked dashing in Esquire magazine's fall fashion special wearing a $1,275 Armani suit, a $575 Dolce & Gabbana shirt and a $160 Prada tie. But in the new year, Hickenlooper proved that casual is also cool when he was photographed in his jammies and fuzzy lion slippers at the annual PJ Day homeless fundraiser, and then at another event in an unbelievably loud red, yellow and blue cowboy shirt depicting the Denver flag. Keep your eye on the catwalk as the mayor moves Denver fashion-forward.
This five-story LoDo treasure, just behind the Tattered Cover, is more than a nicely updated historic building. It's also one of the greenest retrofits in town, registered for two LEED certifications — and home to a couple dozen leading nonprofits, from the Sierra Club and the Center for Native Ecosystems to Colorado Common Cause and ProgressNow. With its krypton-gas-infused windows, sensors that detect natural light and adjust light fixtures accordingly, dual-flush toilets and other features, the Alliance Center is a place for groups committed to sustainability to walk the talk.
The Tattered Cover bookstore in Cherry Creek was a beloved gathering place, but the building that housed it was an ugly lump. It wasn't always that way, however. Originally, the structure at 100 Fillmore Street was a swank, modernist landmark housing a branch of the now-defunct Neustseter's department store; in the 1970s, when mid-century modern was out of style, the chic curtain walls were stripped off and replaced by aggregate. But now, in its reincarnation as Pura Vida, a glitzy gym and spa, the building has recaptured its lost glory, clad in a neo-modernist vocabulary of details, including huge wraparound windows on the upper floors. The spa is owned by a partnership including J. Madden, son of big-time developer John Madden. But it was the work of developer the Sturm Realty Group and the good folks at Gensler notably Blake Mourer and Semple Brown Design that turned this sow's ear into the best silk purse in Cherry Creek.
When David Killingsworth purchased the Morrison Holiday Bar (known as the "local cure" by Morrisonites), he made a few changes. The bar now boasts a window to the next-door deli, for example, so that bar patrons can order food. But one thing Killingsworth didn't mess with was the blinking neon arrow above the front door. The fifty-year-old sign was an unofficial Morrison landmark, so when Killingsworth was told that the light didn't comply with the town's sign code, he appealed his case all the way to the Morrison Board of Trustees, which in February decided that the sign could stay. For saving a beloved institution from pointless bureaucracy, someone should buy that man a drink.
We first encountered Joe Rice, who now represents House District 38 in the Colorado Legislature, when he was the baby-faced mayor of Glendale, trying to save the town from turning into Titty City. Since then, the longtime military man has faced even bigger battles, including three tours in Iraq. But he's been fighting the good fight at home, too. Elected to the Statehouse in 2006 from a largely conservative district in the south suburbs, the freshman Democrat passed eighteen bills his first year, including one that established a statewide cold-case unit for unsolved homicides. This session, he's been seriously pushing for business and veterans — but he's not afraid to have some fun, too. To push his proposal that parent-teacher organizations be allowed to avoid sales tax on school fundraisers, Rice recently posed with a big blue Tax Monster. "Right now, these small, volunteer organizations spend way too much time and money on paperwork," he noted. "The government should just get out of the way so they can do what they do best: raise critical funds for their schools." We're with you, colonel.