Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

16th Street Mall is no party, says one critic

The 16th Street Mall turned thirty yesterday, and it's looking better than it has in years, with the best yet to come as work continues on the Union Station project. The mall's official birthday celebration will be Tuesday at Skyline Park -- but some critics won't be coming to the party.

While researching the history of the mall for this week's cover story, we came across a review of the 16th Street Mall by Lamont C. of Denver on, posted September 18:

"16th Street Mall: Disgusting Tourist Trap Full of Homeless People, Abandoned Store Fronts, Drug Dealers, Bootleggers"

When I was a wee-laddie, I used to be fascinated with slums and run-down ghetto areas. After all, I was born in upstate New York.

Why were they like that? I used to wonder. Why were so many places abandoned? Why were there so many drunks and homeless people and bodies lying on sidewalks, plastered with vomit and urine?

Wonder no more! You now have Denver Colorado's Ultimate Wasteland, the 16th Street Mall!

Want to watch cop after cop do absolutely nothing for hours? Go to the 16th Street Mall, as they waddle slowly past or lean against buildings watching once-green grass turn brown, giant dripping sandwiches in one hand and boiling-lava cups of street joe (also known as ground dirt by locals) in the other.

Watch as prostitutes, street urchins, vagabonds, bootleggers with legitimate booths selling knockoffs, and thousands of urine-drenched homeless people plead for jobs they will never get or beg tourists for pennies so they may yet survive in this post-apocalyptic desert of sharply-shattered dreams.

The 16th Street Mall is not a mall per se, so much as it is a giant festering blister on the tuchis of Colorado, that is open and raw, bold as daylight for everyone to see.

There are abandoned stores, bar after putrid bar every few feet or so, tourist postcard store after another.

The only reasonably clean section is the Denver Pavilions Mall, which is full of wandering armies of the night nonetheless, over-priced chain stores you'd find at any other mall, and a few restaurants.

Jazz at Jack's is reasonably clean, wildly over-priced, serves microwaved frozen meals, and has one of the most godawful house bands known to mankind, appropriately named as Dot Zero (just extremely depressing, canned elevator "jazz" that can literally lull anyone into an instant narcoleptic stupor).

Will Denver's 16th Street Mall ever bee renovated? No.... If it were going to be renovated, wouldn't it be under development now? Well, trust me, it is NOT under development...unless you consider cemeteries, ghost towns, abandoned buildings, areas filled with vomiting prostitutes, homeless people dressed in torn and ripped thrift store cast outs, bar after bar, shoplifters galore, and urine-soaked streets (covered with chunky, sticky substances every ten feet or so), pickpockets, bodies lying on concrete walkways and lurking ominously in darkened allies, and a giant state capitol with a golden dome atop it looming in the distance.

And finally, if you take public transportation to the 16th Street Mall in the evenings and nights - be prepared to encounter violent arguers on either bus or light rail, drunks and homeless people wiping their bloody noses and fecal matter on seat covers (with of course no security of any kind anywhere), as zombie-like, blankly staring drivers continue onward with minimal motion, people screaming "N-word" this and "N-word" that, cursing and gesticulating at hallucinations.

If you'd like to drive to the 16th Street Mall, good luck. Parking does does not exist here, unless you pay $10-$15 per hour at one of the few subterranean, steam-heated garages that smell so bad they literally make you feel like weeping in disgust -- smells like human remains and unwashed hiney mixed with Chinese food.

If you want to go to the 16th Street Mall, be my guest....Like good taste and decorum in Denver, Colorado.... I'm out.

Whew! What's your view of the mall? Post it below, or in the comments section of this week's cover story documenting our own 16th Street Mall crawl.

At the end of May, the city banned overnight camping anywhere in Denver. Read about it in the Jef Otte feature story "For the homeless, 'urban camping' is no picnic."

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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