12:58pm

Tue October 9, 2012
Arts & Culture

Happy Birthday 16th Street Mall

Denver’s 16th Street mall is celebrating its 30th birthday Tuesday afternoon. Opened in October 1982, the pedestrian causeway of nearly a mile from Denver’s Lower Downtown to Broadway Street has become the number one tourist destination in the city.

A flash mob dances Tuesday during an event celebrating the 30th anniversary of Denver's 16th Street Mall.
Credit RTD / Screencapture/RTD

Visitors to the iconic mall meet a unique cross section of life in Denver, from hipsters to soccer moms. Jenny Starkey of the Downtown Denver Partnership says the causeway is the spine of Denver. However, 30 years of wear and tear have taken their toll on the mall’s original design.

“Since this is a milestone anniversary, we’re looking to renew our commitment to the mall’s future and make this a place where life thrives every day, which includes some pretty great projects like garden district blocks, and historic lighting preservation.”

Over $7 million in grant money was announced by Senator Mark Udall during the anniversary celebration, which he says will help bring more low-emission buses to the Mall.

Over 200,000 people attended the opening of the 16th Street Mall in 1982.
Credit Downtown Denver Partnership

Three decades ago, over 200,000 people gathered to celebrate the opening of the 16th street mall. Made up of large granite slabs, which some say looks like the back of a diamond-backed rattlesnake, the mall transformed a congested downtown corridor into a vibrant pedestrian walkway.

A history of the mall released by the Downtown Denver Partnership, places the total cost to construct the pedestrian and transit mall at $76 million. Starkey says 16th street continues to play an important role for the city and, despite its age, is still a vibrant area of economic and social development.

“We’re really looking to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 16th street mall, and remind everybody how important it is to have this gathering place in downtown Denver and what we can do to keep it such a remarkable feature and staple in our community.”

Westword recently posted an extensive look at the 16th street mall, including what the area was like before it was transformed.

The street had everything. Elegant, hulking movie palaces fit for a rajah beckoned with huge marquees and lobby displays; the Denver and the Paramount squared off across the street from each other with the latest blockbusters, while the Centre pushed Disneyfare a few blocks away. (Nothing better than plunking down 35 cents for a Wednesday matinee at the Paramount and being the first kid on your block to see Goldfinger.) Parents dragged you to chic shops and sprawling department stores — including Neusteter's, Joslins, May D&F, the Denver Dry and its precious Tea Room — but if you were lucky, the trip also included Dave Cook Sporting Goods or Zeckendorf Plaza and its ice rink, or maybe a fancy dinner at the Top of the Rockies.

From protests to zombie attacks, the mall has seen it all.

Chuck Berry was a construction worker on the 16th street mall project. Speaking to the Downtown Denver Partnership, Chuck shared his memories of the construction.

How were you involved in the construction of the 16th Street Mall? With which specific components did you assist?

I hired on with Weaver Construction on day one as the Lay-out Superintendent. RTD’s specification for the project required that a Colorado Registered Land Surveyor would perform all of the construction lay-out on the Mall. That was me. I supervised three survey crews, providing lay-out in several different blocks at the same time from July 1980 through the spring of 1981. From the spring of 1981 through its conclusion, I was the Superintendent in charge of the construction of the Mall. I was there throughout the entire project.

What were some of the most challenging aspect of the Mall’s construction, from your perspective?

It was challenging because a separate contractor ahead of us was supposed to relocate or remove existing utilities that would be in conflict with our new construction prior to us getting started. The work under that contract was to be complete prior to us getting started. It was not. And, due to those existing utilities being in our way, we had to open up the entire length of the Mall to find places to work where existing utilities were not in our way. Originally, the plan was to work in only three blocks at a time.

Chuck Berry.
Credit Downtown Denver Partnership

We’ve heard rumors about a secret underground tunnel leading to a cat-house that was found under 16th Street when you started construction. Did you find a lot of “unknowns” like this during the project?

There were indeed numerous unknowns just waiting to jump up out of the ground every time we put a shovel into it. These unknowns also required us to work more areas than anticipated while waiting for them to be resolved. On the first day on the Mall, within the first five feet of excavation, we uncovered a Denver Water Board thirty-inch water line that was at an elevation that would prohibit our planned construction. A thirty-inch line and nobody knew it was there. On day one we kind of figured that this job would take a little bit longer than anticipated. We found active steam lines that the city of Denver thought were no longer there. There was a steam cloud rising in the block between Champa and Stout for three days until somebody figured out how and where to shut it off. It looked like Yellowstone Park.

I heard stories of tunnels and what not being underground in the downtown area and we found plenty of things that nobody knew were there. But as far as a passageway that had a specific purpose, such as accessing a cat house, that’s probably speculation…which was fun.

Are you proud to say you played a role in bringing the 16th Street Mall to fruition?

I am proud of the work that we did on the Mall and feel the pride every time I see it on TV. I saw scenes from the Mall during Sunday Night Football just the other day. That happens a lot.