Page 7 of 14

1:15 p.m.: Civic Center Park, Colfax and Broadway

It's an unseasonably warm February day, but only a few office workers are enjoying the sun in Civic Center Park. A woman sits propped up against one of the many barren trees, reading a paperback novel; the discarded remains of a Subway sandwich and a pair of sensible shoes lie by her stocking feet. A gaggle of squirrels chatter at her, demanding that she toss them her leftover crumbs, and she absentmindedly complies as she continues to read.

Across the park, a homeless man named Hank drops trou and takes a piss on the Greek Amphitheater.

The woman catches sight of the show, then quickly averts her eyes.

The family jewels are a common sight in what could be -- should be -- the crown jewel in the Queen City's tiara. But by day the park is used less by government and office workers and downtown dwellers than it is by drug dealers and the homeless, and after dark, things just get worse. Still, Civic Center Park is as much the emotional heart and soul of the city as the intersection of Colfax and Broadway is the physical heart of Denver, and for the past year, it's been the subject of intense therapy sessions with the city's Department of Parks and Recreation. Planners are assessing the damage left by years of neglect, trying to exorcise the park's demons and replace them with visions of stroller-pushing yuppies.

Next month the department will release its master plan, laying out a blueprint for the twelve-acre commons that integrates the park's classical structures with the Denver Newspaper Agency's massive new building. But Hank doesn't care about monuments to the past or the future. He has just one request: bathrooms.

"I just wish they'd put in some goddamned toilets," he says as he zips his fly. "Would that be so much? A little privacy?" -- Amy Haimerl

1:15 p.m.: Gates Rubber, 999 South Broadway

There are plenty of reasons to stay away from the abandoned Gates Rubber factory. Rising gloomily between I-25 and Santa Fe Drive, the fifty acres of brick, steel, glass and asphalt are surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire and dozens of "No Trespassing" signs. Dog pawprints dot the snow below the old conveyer belts, giving credibility to the claims of one urban explorer who says he was mauled by a German shepherd while sneaking around the property one night; his friend got arrested on that same foray. And still, the derelict building is strangely compelling, haunting in its emptiness. With demolition impending, every possible entrance of the main building has been sealed against curious intruders. The metal doors are welded shut and all the windows wired closed -- except for one.

A heavy black dust clings to everything in the silent interior, even the sign that reads "Cleanliness Benefits Everyone and Hurts No One." A clock is frozen at 12:24. A chart on one wall details the levels of risk associated with certain hazardous chemicals; below it stands an eyewash fountain.

In 2001, the Gates Company sold the property to Cherokee Investment Partners. The land was recently rezoned to allow an urban-village-style redevelopment with lofts, restaurants and shopping. Maybe a few espresso shops, definitely a martini bar. For the city's most prominent industrial landmark, it will be a very symbolic transformation: Denver shaking off the most visible vestiges of its blue-collar past to make way for a project aimed at luring the creative class.

Whatever that means.

On the second floor, tall industrial fans stand in the middle of the former electrical shop. On the wall, a posted "Accident Records" sign holds little pieces of paper with names written in black marker. G. Ferguson, H. Krieig, K. Wahl. A clock here is stopped at 2:48.

When the company acquired this site, in 1914, the stretch of Broadway that ran alongside was a gravel road with no sidewalks. By the mid-'50s, Gates had gone international, and the plant had expanded to include over thirty interconnected structures, where 5,500 employees made everything from tire retreads to garden hoses. The last products made on the grounds before all manufacturing operations were moved to Mexico last year were air springs for luxury cars.

On the third floor, a startled pigeon suddenly flaps into the air from behind some old machinery. Rows of chest-high vats line an entire wall. In one corner is a tall, skinny cabinet; inside is a folded black canvas stretcher just waiting for an accident. The windows facing the South Platte have been hit by taggers, who scrawled their huge calling cards on the inside in reverse, like goldfish writing messages in their bowl. Some of the windows are broken, and the rest are stained black with soot, but you can see a light-rail car heading north on the tracks down below. Air pushes through the broken glass as the train comes closer. Wind whooshes down the long length of the corridor as though the building were exhaling one final, ghostly breath. The air is dusty, and it's hard not to cough.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laura Bond
Contact: Laura Bond
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
Adam Cayton-Holland
Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer
Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo
Amy Haimerl
Corey Helland
Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller
Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera
John LaBriola