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The Haunts of Washington Park

West: Alameda to Louisiana, Lincoln to Downing
East: Alameda to Louisiana, Marion to University


by Phil Goodstein. Reviewed by Sonja Leonard LeonardAs every Realtor knows, properties close to Washington Park have been in top demand during recent decades. Parts of the area have been virtually rebuilt since the 1970s. Other sections have remained dominating neighborhoods such as Belcaro and the area directly south of the Denver Country Club. Most desirable condominiums are nearby such as at the Norman and Park Lane. Exactly how this all came to be, the history of the buildings and their residents, and what makes Washington Park tick are the subjects of a fascinating new book, The Haunts of Washington Park by Phil Goodstein.Washington Park dates from 1899, named to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of George Washington. It rapidly became the greenery around which South Denver grew. During the course of the 20th century, it surged in popularity. At one time, it included a swimming hole in its northern lake and places for ice-skating. Over the decades, it has featured fascinating artwork and attracted users from far and near.About the same time Washington Park was emerging, members of Denver high society mounted their horses. This led to the creation of the Denver Polo Club in 1920. Simultaneously, a virtually unknown elite neighborhood, Miller Park, emerged between Cherry Creek, Alameda Avenue, South University Boulevard, and South Steele Street. The Haunts of Washington Park tell exactly what happened and the character of these premier places. It also explains the origins of Bonnie Brae and how Denver’s first radio station was close to it at South University Boulevard and Mississippi Avenue.

On page after page, I discovered a new tidbit in The Haunts of Washington Park. The extremely well-illustrated volume features pictures of the bizarre creatures and gargoyles that guard South High School. In another place, it emphasizes that South Colorado Boulevard was the city’s baby boomers’ strip in the 1960s and 1970s at such attractions as Celebrity Lanes and the Cooper Theatre. The book provides a plethora of information for any Realtor showing a client a house in the area.

Author Phil Goodstein is a Denver native who holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Colorado. He is known for giving zany walking tours of all parts of the city. He states The Haunts of Washington Park is volume two of a three-part trilogy of The History of South Denver. Volume one, The Spirits of South Broadway appeared in 2008, dealing with the South Broadway corridor from Cherry Creek to Englewood. The third part, The Ghosts of University Park, Platt Park, and Beyond will come out in 2010. I eagerly await its appearance.

Reviewed by Sonja Leonard Leonard

Let’s head to Washington Park. There is a marvelous new book that tells us exactly what is what in the greenery. Phil Goodstein’s volume, The Haunts of Washington Park, is an amazing directory of not only the park, but of surrounding neighborhoods. In it, we learn how people once were allowed to jump into the lake in the summer and go ice-skating atop it in the winter. Children splashed around in a fountain celebrating the famous poem by Eugene Field “Wynken, Blynken and Nod.” Supposedly, the ghost of a misbehaving young woman haunts the island in the park’s southern lake.

Once we cross the street from Washington Park, we are in a most desirable neighborhood. The houses along South Franklin Street near the greenery illustrate 125 years of the city’s residential architecture. The Haunts of Washington Park tells the stories about who lived in them and helped make them come alive. From there, it looks at the mansions hidden away to the south of the Denver Country Club, how the “Aristocrat of Apartments,” the Norman, has been a most desirable residential tower, and the tale of the demolished Park Lane Hotel at South Marion Street Parkway and Virginia Avenue, a place the Beatles supposedly stayed in 1964.

Baby boomers who grew up in Denver in the 1960s and 1970s will especially appreciate the chapter on South Colorado Boulevard. It recalls such destinations as Celebrity Lanes, an indoor amusement park with 80 lanes of bowling, a huge swimming pool, game arcades, and the omnipresence of characters out of Disney Land. Across the street from it at 960 South Colorado Boulevard was the Cooper, a move theater in the round which had exclusive rights to such blockbusters as How the West was Won and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The book skillfully blends it such stories with tales of Belcaro, Bonnie Brae, and the Polo Club.

Author Phil Goodstein promises that The Haunts of Washington Park will be followed next year by The Ghosts of University Park, Platt Park, and Beyond. I can hardly wait for it while I enjoy this well-illustrated volume in Washington Park.

Phil Goodstein. The Haunts of Washington Park. Denver: New Social Publications, 2009. vi + 302 pp. ISBN 0–9742264–4–0. $19.95. maps, illustrations, index.

Sonja Leonard Leonard is a veteran real estate agent whose office is just north of the Washington Park neighborhood.

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