They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway...but right before dawn, on the hillside where Broadway begins, the only lights are a hint of orange and pink on the horizon to the east, the beacons of a convenience store a few blocks down the two-lane street, and the neon glow of downtown Denver, five miles away.
Although Colfax Avenue gets all the attention, Broadway was the second of "two great thoroughfares," the baseline streets mapping out the future of this city at the edge of the Plains. Broadway marked the eastern border of the original congressional grant that officially set aside 960 acres (at $1.25 per) for Denver in 1864. The street stretched from Cherry Creek to the south up to 20th Avenue, where it ran into downtown's off-kilter grid. As the city grew, boosters pushed Broadway farther north and south. Unhappy with the old Santa Fe Trail that headed up to town along the Platte River, farmer Tom Skerritt got out his plow and made a hundred-foot-wide South Broadway; the developers of Highlands Ranch did much the same a century later, creating a truly broad way, complete with landscaped median. Broadway finally exhausts itself at 11000 South, after passing through mile after mile of bookstores and antique shops, tattoo parlors and used-car lots, the 4-U Motel and the Lucky U Motel and the "Jesus Is Still the Answer" pet-grooming place and the "Wife-Savor" laundromat, and then the new-car lots and just about every franchise you can find in every city in America, and then the new luxury-car lots and subdivisions named Mansion Place and Mansion Pointe.
There are no mansions on North Broadway. Here the street grew by fits and starts, taking an elevated trip over what were then the railyards and the stockyards, coming back to ground at the modest, northern edge of the city. Finally, it made its way up to Del Norte, where it disappears into a serpentine stretch of '60s-era ranch houses just past an outpost of Las Delicias. Many hours later, a friendly mailman will confirm that this is the end of the line for Broadway.
But now, at dawn, Broadway stretches to the south with nothing ahead but promise, past Mickey's Top Sirloin at 70th Avenue; past two industrial parks; across train tracks and Clear Creek, where gold was first found; under I-76 and under I-36; along what's now known as Furniture Row. As the sky lightens, traffic gets heavier on I-25, which runs along Broadway and then, just past the sign that tells highway drivers they're in Denver, elevation 5280, I-25 obliterates Broadway altogether. It's not until you turn left at 48th Avenue and cross under the highway that you find Broadway again, now looking much as it must have fifty years ago, quiet and sleepy alongside tiny bungalows with dirt yards. Just as quickly, it's swallowed up again -- first by I-70, then by the elevated viaduct that melded it with Brighton Boulevard.
It's not until 25th that Broadway finally reclaims its identity, flanked by new loft projects, shooting straight into downtown and the heart of Denver for the start of another business day. -- Patricia Calhoun
7:51 a.m.: Civic Center Station, 1550 Broadway
The air at the corner of Colfax and Broadway is thick with exhaust fumes as buses belch their way out of Civic Center Station and merge into traffic. In front of the station, commuters wait to board buses and shuttles that will take them off to work from this unofficial entrance to downtown. There are no hellos, no goodbyes, definitely no smiles. Eyes are glued to the pavement, noses already to the grindstone.
Between arrivals, the station's interior is eerily quiet. One woman sits on a granite bench reading a copy of the Denver Post, waiting for her bus. A few feet away, a man leans over a garbage can, sifting through trash for a prize that will start his day off right. Over by the entrance, a security guard valiantly attempts to teach a young woman how to count to twenty in English.
A lone man with a backpack slung over one shoulder stands at the far end of the enormous room. His name is Rodney, and he's already well into what will be a long day. Rodney gets up at 6 a.m. to catch a bus that will get him to the station in time to take another bus to his job in Commerce City. "Actually, it's more like a three-hour ride," he says, scratching his red beard.
Rodney's quiet voice echoes in the heavy silence. Although Civic Center Station is a hub of commuter activity, it's definitely not a conversation center. In the morning, this is one of the few places in Denver where you can be part of a larger group and still feel completely alone. -- Corey Helland