Take an end-of-the-summer road trip down Colorado, Denver's boulevard of dreams

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7:15 a.m.

Colorado Boulevard and Eighth Avenue

For decades, the University of Colorado Health Sciences complex at Eighth and Colorado was the bustling heart of this neighborhood, the medical wonders inside helping to pump life into the businesses around it. But now the complex is boarded up, fenced in, with notes that the structures are closed, that the city has rezoned the property for a mixed-used development by Shea Properties. Two tattered signs, posted at the eleventh hour last September, note that the buildings to which they're affixed — the John F. Kennedy Childhood Development Center and the Children's Psychiatric Day Care Center — will be considered for landmark designation. But while last December the Landmark Preservation Commission approved saving the two structures, both classics of '60s Usonian design, Denver City Council voted against the proposal this summer, essentially signing their death certificates.

The two doomed buildings still stand — for now — not just as models of mid-century modern architecture, but also as reminders of the men who designed them: Victor Hornbein and Ed White, a local architect known not just for his buildings, not just for his work in founding Historic Denver and saving other historic structures around town, but for the role he played in inspiring the greatest road trip book of them all, On the Road.

An architectural student at Columbia in the '40s, White was drawing skyscrapers in New York when he met Jack Kerouac and suggested that the would-be writer start carrying notebooks and creating his own-word sketches, to capture what he saw and felt. Kerouac had some of those notebooks with him when he traveled on a Greyhound bus to Denver, where he met up with White and the legendary Neal Cassady. His travels became the basis for On the Road, an epic that Kerouac typed on one continuous scroll and which included a character based on White, later changed to Tim Gray when the book was finally published in 1957.

"We left Ed in his yard on the plains outside of town and raised a cloud of dust," Kerouac wrote of leaving Denver, heading south. "I looked back to watch Ed White recede on the plain. That strange guy stood there for a full two minutes watching us recede on the plain and thinking god knows what sorrowful thoughts. He grew smaller and smaller, until all I could see was a spot — and still he stood motionless with one hand on a washline like a captain with his shrouds and watched us."

White's son, Jamie, led the crusade to save his buildings. "My brother was remembering as a child going to city council meetings with my father who was trying his best to save many worthy buildings and even blocks of downtown Denver from being turned into parking lots," Jamie told council at the hearing before the final vote. "He has worked tirelessly for decades, often against all odds, trying to save, landmark and preserve some of Colorado's most recognized and cherished structures. It certainly is ironic that he is now in the situation of having two of his buildings being declared non-historic. I do feel I not only owe it to my father for all he has done for the city to try and landmark these buildings, but because they also are worthy of it and deserve it, as the Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously agreed."

Although city council members disagreed, Jamie White hasn't given up the fight. He might have lost this round, but he's now working to save other structures created by his father around town. And even if he's unsuccessful, Ed White will always be remembered in Kerouac's book, in the letters that he and the author exchanged for decades.

"You told me to start word sketches, how in the Dickens did you know?" Kerouac wrote his friend in 1957, shortly before White would design the buildings that for decades were standouts on the medical campus, the buildings that will soon become dust.

— Patricia Calhoun

9:30 a.m.

South Colorado Boulevard and Orchard Road

There's a point on its long, wayward journey to the Gulf of California where the once-mighty Colorado River seems to all but disappear. So does Colorado Boulevard as it heads into the southern suburbs. Like the river, it becomes a plaything for developers — tamed, diverted, disgraced.

South of Hampden, stripped of its girth, Colorado is a precious little country lane, rolling through the faux-country estates of Cherry Hills Village. It dead-ends at Quincy, at the property line for the Kent Denver School, then resumes briefly south of Belleview as a no-outlet gravel road. When it reappears again at Orchard, it's a meandering cul-de-sac into The Preserve, a Greenwood Village subdivision for those who find the rest of Greenwood Village — and the assorted Cherryvilles, Cherryvales, Cherrydales and Cherrypits of the southern 'burbs — far too common.

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