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University Park & Observatory Park

University to Colorado Boulevard, Evans to Yale


The connection between Northwestern University in Illinois and the history of the University Park/Observatory Park neighborhood lies in one man-John Evans. Evans was named Colorado’s 2nd territorial governor by Abraham Lincoln in 1862. Active in railroads and real estate, he developed Northwestern University in the 1870’s, and wanted to create a comparable institution here in Denver.

A devout Methodist, Evans worked hard to create the Colorado Seminary, located at 14th and Arapahoe, in 1864. The success of the school was short-lived as it closed in 1868 and was technically only a prep school, with students ranging from primary to college age. It reopened in 1880 and was called the University of Denver under the Colorado Seminary. Property values in downtown skyrocketed and Evans realized he needed a new location for his project. Rufus Clark, founder of South Denver, donated $500 and 80 acres (University to High, Evans to Iliff) for the school.

Additional donations from Humphrey Baker Chamberlain ($5000 for a telescope) and Bishop Henry White Warren’s wife, Elizabeth ($100,000 for a theological seminary) led to further expansion of DU. Railroad lines brought materials for construction and the trolley which extended from East Washington Park to DU in 1890 brought people.

Robert Roeschlaub designed DU’s first building, University Hall, at the northwest corner of University and Warren. The Chamberlain Observatory, also designed by Roeschlaub, was built in 1891 and contained an $11,000 20” refractor lens which was installed after being on display at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair it was so impressive! The Iliff School of Theology was completed in 1893 and designed by Frank Edbrooke, who also designed the Brown Palace and the Oxford Hotel.

Amidst the development of DU, the surrounding neighborhoods were also growing. University Park, platted in 1886, contained 100 lots and the first house was constructed at 2525 Evans. Screening potential buyers in order to preserve an atmosphere of “conscience and culture” was the name of the game early in the development of the University Park/Observatory Park neighborhood. Grey Gables, at 2184 South Milwaukee, was among the earliest homes in the neighborhood, and was built for Bishop Warren and his wife. Following their move, the property became the first chancellor’s home, the President of the Iliff School of Theology’s home, and then a rooming house for students.

The Warrens’ new home, a Queen Anne called Fitzroy Place, encompassed an entire block (Evans to Warren, Cook to Madison), and was built in 1892. Following their deaths, the property came to be used as a private school, the Randell School, run first by Anna Ragland Randell, and then Marian Moore. By the 1990’s, the Randell-Moore school commanded some of the highest private tuitions in the city.

The Silver Crash in 1893 led to a 70% decline in the student population at DU. Henry Buchtel, named Chancellor beginning in 1900, took the challenge and expanded DU to include a library, science building, and a gym. He served as Governor of Colorado from 1907-1909, still maintaining his position at DU. By the 1920’s, DU had expanded North of Evans and South of Iliff; by the end of WWII, it had 11,000 students. Many homes were built to accommodate DU faculty along the perimeter of Observatory Park and the neighborhood continued to thrive along with DU. The city of Denver took over the park in 1952, adding tennis courts and a playground.

The story remains largely the same today-with the continued success and growth of DU, University/Observatory Park continues to follow its lead with many new construction projects developing and values steadily increasing.

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