National Western Stock Show's past should be part of the discussion of its future

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Yesterday, we parked our car off Packinghouse Road, outside the Stockyards Inn, tucked in back of the historic Livestock Exchange Building -- which got its start in 1898, then was expanded in 1916 and 1919 -- and walked into another world. The world of the National Western Stock Show.

If you enter this way, you go right under the train tracks that used to bring animals to the cattle yards here -- the reason the Stock Show started in this part of town. Back in 1900, the Livestock Exchange handled 239,000 cattle, 115,700 hogs, 306,109 sheep and 22,700 horses. You walk past many of the working ranchers and farmers who set up in the back of the lot, away from the knife and emu oil vendors. And by the time you reach the relatively new Hall of Education, which is filled with those vendors (as well as the excellent Cowboy Bar in the basement), you're filled with the sights and sounds...and smells...of the National Western.

This year's show had a particular poignancy, and pungency, given its uncertain status. NWSS officials have said the show cannot survive in its current setting -- and other municipalities and business look eager to rustle the event away. But Denver has reminded the NWSS that its lease on the complex runs until 2040...although the prices at some of the parking lots, including the city-owned one behind the Denver Coliseum, seemed designed to steer Stock Show fans to other options.

Maybe a streetcar: That's how people arrived at the Stadium Arena when it was completed in 1909, according to the excellent National Western Stock Show page that Historic Denver rounded up in light of a possible move.

I roped up some history of my own in the Cowboy Bar, a saloon set up in the basement of the Hall of Education -- right by the animal grooming areas -- for a two-week run every year. This year, the bar had gotten a facelift, with the cinderblock walls painted -- but the great, circa '50s paintings of Stock Show faces and places were nowhere to be seen. So I went hunting for those paintings, asking numerous officials, and finally found them tucked away in back of the bar, behind the cleaning supplies.

Some people might want the show to move to a shiny new spot, but tradition is a large part of the NWSS's draw. In all the discussion of the Stock Show's future that is bound to occur before next year's incarnation, consideration of the past should be very much present.

No question that preserving the past can be a challenge. Read Robin Chotzinoff's 2003 profile of the Livestock Exchange Building, "Move 'em Out."

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