It’s moving day at Westword. By the time our current issue hits the streets (and this column goes live on the web), Westword will have left the building we’ve occupied for more than two decades, decamping first to a temporary spot, the Grid at 445 Broadway, and then this spring to our permanent home in the Dodge Building at 1278 Lincoln Street. There’s some pleasing synchronicity there: In October 2018, the Colorado State Land Board received a Community Preservation Award from Historic Denver for its work renovating the structure, which started life as a car dealership (like the building we just vacated), then became home to the Colorado Ballet and, finally, Westword. At that same event, Historic Denver honored me with the Molly Brown Award, given annually to a woman who exemplifies Margaret Brown’s civic engagement and “unsinkable” spirit.
The packing process has sunk me on more than a few occasions, though. And glancing around our soon-to-be-abandoned offices, I’m awash not just in boxes, but memories.
Westword’s history, while five decades shorter than that of the Dodge Building, covers a time when Denver has changed almost beyond recognition; surely the flappers of the ’20s would be no more startled by the John Denver-loving granola-eaters of the ’70s than that group would be mystified by today’s rent-gouged, smartphone-grasping transplants.
Back in 1977, we found our first office by reading the daily newspaper classifieds, of all quaint things. It was up a narrow, steep staircase on the second floor of an old storefront at 1439 Market Street, across the street from early coffeehouse Cafe Nepenthes and a block from Larimer Square, then just twelve years old. At the end of the nineteenth century, the space had been a brothel — a more dignified enterprise than the free paper we were starting, some critics said — and there were still faint outlines of where the prostitutes' cribs had been in the back room, which also had a wonderful, unimpeded view of the mountains. Our landlord officed in the back, and graciously shared the bathroom with us and the motley crew of folks who came to visit, everyone from then-Representative Pat Schroeder to two self-proclaimed “bums” who tromped up the stairs during one of our many all-nighters (in those days the paper was put together with lots of time and glue and no cash), covering the floor with flowers they hadn’t been able to sell in Larimer Square and proclaiming, “We love Westword.”
After a few years, that building was sold (today it’s a private residence on top and the Gaslamp Bar below), and Westword moved two blocks away, to a space right above what was then the Wazee Lounge and Supper Club, up another narrow, steep staircase. (There was another set of stairs directly down to the bar’s mezzanine that we were not supposed to use, but we did, of course...the lure of pizza and beer was too strong to fight.) We moved there in 1980, well before this area got the nickname “LoDo" and the Lower Downtown Historic District was created in 1988. The 15th Street Viaduct ran right past my window. It was a gritty, glorious time in the city, which was suddenly booming. We had holiday parties with punch so potent that it ate through the hot cups and started seeping into the Wazee, so potent that it led to some furniture breakage and a marriage that’s lasted over thirty years. We held our meetings in the Wazee and watched as various writers’ cars were booted on the streets outside. We sat there when the power went out during a May 1983 snowstorm that saw Mayor Bill McNichols ousted from City Hall, paving the way for Federico Peña to become mayor and usher in a new era.
Westword outgrew that space, though, and by 1985 we’d moved to the Root Building at the corner of 15th and Platte streets. It had all the prerequisites for a great office: an interesting history (it had once been a coffin factory), an all-night coffeehouse down the street (RIP, Paris on the Platte), and a legendary bar across the street (My Brother’s Bar, conveniently operated by Jim Karagas, whose brother, Angelo, had been our endlessly patient landlord at the Wazee office). From my second-floor window (we'd gone upscale with an elevator this time), I had a great, unimpeded view of the back of Union Station...because the boom had gone bust.
No one was building anything in this old cowtown. From there, I watched the 15th Street viaduct come down.
In 1989, Westword moved again, to the Atrium Building, across from the brand-spanking-new Wynkoop Brewing Co., Colorado’s first brewpub, which had been started by an unemployed geologist, John Hickenlooper, and partners who included Barbara Macfarlane, a former Westworder who happened to be married to brewer Russell Scherer. It was thanks to the now-deceased Scherer that I attained an honor that almost rivals the Molly Brown Award: Patty’s Chile Beer, which I got to taste-test and raved about, because it had everything you wanted in a Mexican meal (heat and beer). We spent a lot of time at that bar; our production night happened to coincide with the slowest night in the bar business, which helped the Wynkoop through a rough patch as Denver’s economy continued bumping along the bottom. And we were there when Hickenlooper, working with late adman Lew Cady, cooked up a campaign to save the Mile High Stadium name for the new facility that metro Denver taxpayers were building for the Broncos. He wound up saving only half of it, but in the process sparked a political career.
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By the time Hickenlooper was elected mayor in 2003, we’d already left LoDo for 969 Broadway, the building we had just left. It was here that we saw the astonishing changes in the newspaper industry, with the rise of the web and the death of the Rocky Mountain News; here that we transformed from a print product to a digital platform that includes not just westword.com, but an entire digital business; here that we moved from an alternative to an unlikely institution that has covered, and uncovered, the city for more than four decades.
Three months from now, we’ll be doing our work in view of the State Capitol. It should be historic.
But first there are papers to sort, boxes to pack, and memories to cherish.