Civic Center in the running to become a national historic landmark

Within the next three to nine months, Denver's Civic Center could become the city's first national historic landmark. Earlier this week, Mayor Michael Hancock testified at a National Park System advisory board meeting in favor of the area's qualification of the honor, which will move to the National Park Service next week on the city's home turf. If finalized, the title could increase Denver's eligibility for national grants.

The process began officially last month, when Historic Denver took on the task of nominating Civic Center -- the State Capitol, Civic Center Park, Veteran's Park, the McNichols Building and the City and County Building -- for the title. But before that, Denver's regional office of the National Park Service investigated whether the land carried a significant role in history. To do so, officials weighed Civic Center against six national criteria, one of which includes historic trends.

"In this particular case, we looked at (Mayor Robert Speer's) City Beautiful movement around the turn of the century, and some of us were surprised by what we discovered," says Lysa Wegman-French, historian for the National Park Service. " When we looked at that movement, we realized Denver's Civic Center was a very important site for it. Many of us just grew up here and think of it as our Civic Center, so that was a surprise."

Once finished, the nomination traveled through several layers of review before National Park Service staff selected it for continuation. Its advisory board will convene in Denver on Wednesday to consider the remaining nominations and send their selections to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who makes the final decision. The remaining steps could take up to nine months and follow no official deadline.

In the national register of historic properties, which lists all the properties worthy of the designation, fewer than 3 percent are designated as national historic landmarks, says Wegman-French.

"It would be a tremendous feather in Denver's cap," says Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, executive director of the Civic Center Conservancy. "National historic landmark status would affirm Civic Center's historical and architectural significance in a national context. The nomination itself completes what residents of metropolitan Denver already know, that Civic Center is the heart and soul of our region."

This has been a big year for one aspect of the area in particular, Civic Center Park. In November, City Parks Alliance designated the site a "Frontline Park," and the next month, the park earned the title of Masonry Construction Project of the Year. In October, Occupy Denver began an overnight habitation of the park, and according to Eichenbaum Lent, the damage that occurred during the group's stay required Parks and Recreation to re-perform much of the construction previously finished as a result of the Better Denver Bond project. "It's been heartbreaking to see that much work undone," she says.

Current construction on the park is scheduled to conclude within the next month, and Occupy Denver's days also appear to be numbered: Under the urban camping ban, approved by City Council on Monday, no one will legally be permitted to sleep in the area overnight beginning May 29.

"We have said all along that it does not matter if it's demonstrators or homeless people or Boy Scouts -- while Occupy started out with well-intentioned individuals, the impact it has had on the park as far as sanitation, safety and accessibility are significant," Eichenbaum Lent says. "The park belongs to everyone, and this community, as a whole, wants its park back. It's where our community puts its best foot forward."

Read more about Civic Center's nomination here: National Historic Landmark Summary for Civic Center Park

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple