A half-century ago this March, Cinderella City, arguably Colorado's most famous and well-remembered mall, opened in Englewood, and to mark the occasion, Denver designer Josh Goldstein is currently working on what he calls a "fully-detailed digital recreation of Cinderella City Mall for a Virtual Reality experience" he hopes to complete by the end of the attraction's fiftieth-anniversary year.
Our preview of the project included a request from Goldstein for folks to send him vintage photos of Cinderella City prior to its late-1990s demolition so that he can make his efforts even better, and the response was heartening. Goldstein, corresponding via email, notes that in addition to photo submissions courtesy of individuals, he received "messages from the City of Englewood and the Englewood Library granting me additional access to their archives."
A selection of the shots, posted on Goldstein's must-follow Cinderella City Project Instagram page and shared here, will send those who recall the magnificent edifice into a nostalgic swoon and make those who weren't around to experience its version of retail glory green with envy.
In addition, Goldstein is sharing a teaser of early animation to give us a better idea of how things are shaping up.
The video "shows a brief walk-through of the Center Court/Blue Mall from the 1980s-era Cinderella City, which is the version of the mall I'm rebuilding first," he notes via email. "Eventually I will build out the 1960s era to the same level of detail. This walk-through starts from the southeast entrance to the Blue Mall, towards Montgomery Ward (formerly Denver Dry Goods) and around to the southwest entrance and down the hallway that would eventually lead to the Rose Mall. I've included a few storefronts and signage from stores that existed in this area in the 1980s and 1990s. This represents my latest efforts at adding lighting, signage and other details to the model, then converting it to an interactive video-game environment where the lights and signage glow for immersive effect and the player can walk around the space. I'm using some simple 2-D cutout people for scale, but these will eventually be replaced with 3-D animated characters."
Here's a look at his latest eye-popping efforts:
"I still have much to learn about how to optimize the lighting and get the most realistic results out of the video-game engine," Goldstein acknowledges. "The model currently has a few hundred lights that contribute to the scene, but this number will grow significantly (and so will the time it takes to render) as I tackle the rest of the mall. Overall, I'm fairly happy with how it's turned out so far. There are a few strange artifacts in the video that the casual viewer might not notice, but I'll be working to make things look even better in the future. It feels a bit like a digital dead mall, which is actually somewhat accurate for this portion of its life. Animated characters might help it feel more alive, but I'm not sure I'll ever model the interior of the stores, so it may never feel totally real. I have bigger goals with this model that I'd like to explore before ever getting to that level of detail."
Goldstein adds: "Going forward, I'll be exploring various interactions inside the space to allow users to record and place memories they'd like to document inside the mall, and also allow them to easily switch between and compare the distinct eras of Cinderella City during its 28-year life, including my future design exploration of what could have been done with the building if it hadn't been demolished. These are the bigger intentions I speak of and part of why I started the Instagram account. I'm fascinated by how many lives a huge social magnet like Cinderella City touched and want to help record memories and experiences from anyone who wants to share them. Despite it being essentially a giant consumerist cathedral, it touched many lives through its focus on community engagement, amenities and events."
Continue to see images courtesy of the Englewood Public Library that echo with the ambience Goldstein is trying to re-create, followed by more of the designer's observations. Anyone with additional photos or memories of Cinderella City is encouraged to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
More insight from Josh Goldstein about his Cinderella City project:
"As most know, Cinderella City's initial incarnation included a spectacular fountain and enough seating and places to gather to be the envy of even today's most experience-driven developers and architects. Its center court was a gathering place, ostensibly Englewood's communal living room. Its tenant mix was mostly charming, local or regional brands. The shopping center featured Englewood High School's "City Campus," where students from nearby EHS could learn on site in the mall. It had a police and fire substation, and the Cinderella City Merchants Association often held concerts, plays, car shows, boat shows, trade shows and competitions in various open areas in the mall. I show some of these events in the Instagram account. It of course also had its brightly painted, color-coded malls, plus Cinder Alley, which was a bazaar of specialty and boutique shops that is all the rage in retail design today. This place was more than a mall when it opened.
"I'm fascinated by just how fast Cinderella City changed from decade to decade. By the early 1980s, the idea of a fountain was out of favor, the lush furniture that made the Blue Mall feel like a living room was undesirable, Cinder Alley was renovated to be more like a typical 1980s mall. The Englewood High City Campus was long gone, concerts and events were scarce, and the bright colors of the five malls were painted beige. Cinderella City changed ownership a couple of times during this period, and management apparently thought everything that gave the mall character in the 1960s and 1970s needed to be scaled back. So Englewood got roughly the version of the mall I show in the video, a shell of a once-opulent and grand vision of community engagement. In the later years, the mall had little to differentiate itself, with chain retailers and offerings that could be found in other malls around Colorado. It didn't age well.
"Starting my rebuilding efforts with the 1980s-’90s version of the mall is simply a factor of having more information available to me from this era of Cinderella City's life. This era wasn't Cinderella City's finest, and modeling it as such isn't terribly exciting. Apart from the technical feat of making an interactive game inside a 1.35 million-square-foot shopping center, the more I model the mall as it was in its later life, the more I long to move on to modeling its earlier life, so I can re-create something that's a little more forward-thinking and optimistic. I can't wait to send out videos and images of that when I get there."