Wake-Up Call: The rest is history

In retrospect, Denver might have been smart to delay its 150th anniversary celebration to next May, to mark the day in 1859 when the towns of Aurora and Denver officially merged into the start of the city we know today. Back in 1959, the city and state had quite a centennial to celebrate the Rush to the Rockies. With the DNC, we've already had one big celebration this year; no one was in the mood to plan another blow-out.

But Denverites have never been eager to delay gratification. So this weekend the city will party on, with Mayor John Hickenlooper kicking off the commemoration tomorrow at the Colorado History Museum. And while the economy doesn't have anyone in a particularly celebratory mood, it could be a good time to think back over all the booms and busts this town has suffered through.

It even started with a bust: The big gold strike rumored to be waiting at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte never materialized, so the people who settled here decided to mine commercial opportunities instead, while prospectors struck out for higher ground (and others gave up altogether and headed back East).

A decade later, Denver was about to go bust again, after railroad moguls decided to take trains through Cheyenne rather than this city. It took a bunch of boosters to bring a spur line back to Denver, and keep the economy chugging along.

Solving the current crisis won't be nearly as easy. Still, it's edifying to look back at the bad times we've weathered (the doldrums of the mid-'80s, for example, when the plains of Aurora were dotted with the carcasses of unsold condos) and consider what a rich history could lie ahead.

Denverites have never been eager to delay gratification. If there's no easy solution, they imagine one -- as they did back in 1858, as they did a decade later, as they did in 1982, when Federico Pena envisioned his dark-horse race for mayor -- and two onetime Westword partners came up with a slogan for his quest: Imagine a Great City.

There may never be a better time to use our imaginations. -- Patricia Calhoun

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