Twenty Years of Denver

1977: Colorado is in the grip of a severe drought, yet permits for construction of new homes top 20,000 annually, to better accommodate the thousands of immigrants inspired by John Denver's lyrical vision of the state (1973's "Rocky Mountain High") and James Michener's bestselling novel Centennial (which celebrates the state that marked its centennial in 1976). The metro area--don't call Denver a cowtown!--is in the midst of a spectacular cycle of growth.

Jimmy Carter is president, Dick Lamm is governor, Pat Schroeder is Denver's congressional representative and Bill McNichols is mayor. One will serve only one term.

The anti-growth governor is a Colorado anomaly. Lamm made his political bones with the 1972 grassroots campaign to prevent Colorado from spending any public money on attracting the 1976 Winter Olympic Games and consistently vetoed construction of what is now C-470 throughout his long tenure in office. But Lamm's philosophy, "Don't build it and they won't come," doesn't stand a chance against the allied forces of the Denver Chamber of Commerce (later to be renamed the Greater Denver Chamber of Commerce).

17th Street is the Wall Street of the West, leading the nation in the number of daily bank transactions. Branch banking is not allowed. Although the OPEC oil embargo ended several years before and the Alaska pipeline is up and running, the consensus is that the local economy, although heavily dependent on oil and gas, is virtually recession-proof.

Oilman Marvin Davis, "Mr. Wildcatter," is worth $100 million or so; he buys the 22,000-acre Phipps Ranch at Broadway and County Line Road from the estate of former senator Lawrence C. Phipps II for $13.5 million. Phipps's sons, Gerald and Allan, own the Denver Broncos. Davis buys the Oakland A's--but does not move them to Denver, to the consternation of baseball fans in the Time Zone Without a Team who have supported the minor-league Bears for thirty years.

Villa Italia Mall--more than a shopping center!--opens in Lakewood. The Tattered Cover Book Store is a three-year-old hippie haven, a warren of rooms located on the farthest reaches of the aging Cherry Creek business district. Downtown Denver offers five major department stores for your shopping convenience: J.C. Penney, Joslins, Neusteter's, the Denver Dry Goods Co. and May D&F, with its hyperbolic paraboloid soaring beside the popular skating rink at Zeckendorf Plaza.

Coors has been the Seventies cult beer of choice, available only in eleven Western states and smuggled back east in car trunks and aboard Air Force One. Its popularity takes a hit when the AFL-CIO calls a strike at the Golden brewery over contract terms, including the routine administration to employees of lie detector tests probing mental health and sexual attitudes. Instead of settling the strike, the company brings in permanent replacement workers. The union calls for a nationwide boycott.

Cappuccino is an exotic drink available only in finer Italian restaurants in north Denver, which also serve a mean chilled Chianti. The hotspot for the young executive's business lunch--the power elite meet in the Brown Palace--is the Broker, housed in a former bank vault. Top of the Rockies offers a spectacular view west from the Petroleum Building, as well as lots of red meat, martinis and cigars.

Speaking of meat, Sid King's Crazy Horse Bar--East Colfax's poshest strip joint--is not to be confused with Barbara Davis's Carousel Ball, Denver's poshest annual fundraising event, which attracts local glitterati and their wallets in the name of the Children's Diabetes Foundation.

During KVOD's annual fundraising marathon for the Denver Symphony the last weekend in February, Gene Amole, owner of the station, early morning DJ and brand-new Rocky Mountain News columnist, leads the traditional Friday waltz in Zeckendorf Plaza, which is attended by all ages and occupations. KBCO signs on as a certified hippie station in Boulder.

The former Kansas City Scouts finish up their first season in McNichols Arena as the National Hockey League's Colorado Rockies. The Caribou play professional soccer at Mile High Stadium.

Coloradans get divorced in record numbers, with more than 20,000 marriages dissolved in 1977. (The record still stands.) A Boulder teen sues his parents for divorce.

Denver is one of the few cities in the nation still supporting two daily newspapers: the Denver Post, owned for nearly a century by the Bonfils family, and the Rocky Mountain News, Denver's first newspaper and pride of the Scripps-Howard empire.

On September 1, 1977, Westword publishes Volume 1, Number 1.

1978: With a population of 515,000, the City and County of Denver now makes up about one-third of the metro area. The population grows after the national broadcast of the 24-hour epic mini-series based on Centennial, with a stellar cast including Richard Chamberlain. Thousands more of the easily impressed head west.

After ten years in office, Mayor McNichols rates the Brown Cloud as Denver's number-one problem. On some days, metro-area air quality is second only to that of Los Angeles in terms of carbon monoxide content. Of course, the air is bad in L.A. year-round; Denver's air pollution violates federal standards only 136 days a year.

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Kate Hawthorne

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