Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

16th Street Mall celebrates 30th birthday today: How the West Was Won -- with concrete?

One of my great guilty pleasures, How the West Was Won, came on very early Sunday morning. I first saw this star-studded blockbuster as a kid at a drive-in movie in northern Illinois, and its Cinerama scenery fueled an early obsession with the West. Fifty years after its release, much of the movie's "history" is cringe-worthy, but there are certain scenes I cannot resist:

The raft going over the rapids, where bulky stuntmen in petticoats double for Debbie Reynolds and Carol Baker.

The family headed in a wagon through Monument Valley for their ranch, taking the same direction-challenged route that Thelma and Louise would use decades later to head for Mexico.

And especially, the very end of the movie, when narrator Spencer Tracy is congratulating all the hardy pioneers who tamed the West, over footage of more spectacular scenery -- ending with an overhead shot showing the concrete jungle of highways in Los Angeles, the ultimate sign of civilization circa 1962.

Seeing that image, I thought about the far-sighted Denverites who, just twenty years later, dedicated the 16th Street Mall, a mile-long pedestrian strip through the heart of downtown that banned cars altogether.

Today, the mall celebrates its thirtieth birthday, and its status as the city's number one tourist attraction. Sure, it could use more shopping options, and certain blocks look more parched than Monument Valley. But overall, this stretch of Western history continues to look like a winner.

In honor of the thirtieth anniversary of the 16th Street Mall, Westword writers recently went on their own mall crawl. See what they saw in "It's a Mall World, After All."


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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun