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Denver The American Paris

( Originally Published 1913 )

A GREAT bronze arch spans Seventeenth street and bids you welcome to Denver. For the capital of Colorado seems only second to the Federal capital as a mecca for American tourists. She has advertised her charms, her climate, her super-marvelous scenery cleverly and generously. The response must be all that she could possibly wish. All summer and late into the autumn her long stone station is crowded with travelers — she is the focal point of those who come to Colorado and who find it the ideal summer playground of America.

To that great section known as the Middle West, be-ginning at an imaginary line drawn from Chicago south through St. Louis and so to the Gulf, there is hardly a resort that can even rival Colorado in popular favor. Take Kansas, for a single instance. Kansas comes scurrying up into the Colorado mountains every blessed summer. It grows fretfully hot down in the Missouri bottoms by the latter part of July, and the Kansans begin to take advantage of the low rates up to Denver and Colorado Springs and Pueblo. And with the Kan-sans come a pretty good smattering of the folk of the rest of the Middle West. They crowd the trains out of Omaha and Kansas City night after night; at dawn they come trooping out through the portal of the Denver Union station and pass underneath that bronze arch of welcome.

They find a clean and altogether fascinating city awaiting them, a city solidly and substantially built. Eighteen years ago Denver decided that she must discontinue the use of wooden buildings within her limits. She came to an expensive and full realization of that. For Colorado is an arid country nominally, and water is a precious commodity within her boundaries. The irrigation ditches are familiar parts of the landscapes and ever present needs of her cities. To put out fire takes water, and Denver sensibly begins her water economy by demanding that every structure that is within her be built of brick or stone or concrete. And yet her parks are a constant reproach to towns within the regions of bountiful water. They are wonderfully green, belying that arid country, and the water that goes to make them green comes from the fastnesses of the wonderful Rockies, a full hundred miles away.

The brick buildings make for a substantial city, but Denver herself has a solidity that you do not often see in a Western city. Giant office buildings in her chief streets do not often shoulder against ill-kempt open lots, have as unbidden neighbors mere shanties or hovels. Moreover, she is not a " one-street town." Sixteenth and Seventeenth streets vie for supremacy the one with the great retail establishments, the other with the hotels, banks and railroad offices. There are other streets of business importance no one street not even as a via sacre of this bustling town for the best of her homes.

The Paris of America, is what she likes to call herself and when you come to know her, the comparison is not bad. But Paris, with all of her charms, has not the lo-cation of Denver — upon the crest of a rolling, treeless plain, with the Rocky Mountains, jagged and snow capped, to serve as a garden wall. Belasco might have staged Denver and then been proud of his work.

But hers is a solitary grandeur and a very great isolation. She is isolated agriculturally and industrially, and before long we shall see how difficult all this makes it for her commercial interests. It makes things difficult in her social life, and Denver must, and does, have a keen social life.

The isolation and the altitude, constantly tending to make humans nervous and unstrung, demands amusement, self created amusement of necessity. If Denver is not amused she quarrels ; you can see that in her unsettled and troubled politics, and her endless battles with the railroads. So she is wiser when she laughs and it is that faculty of much laughing, much fun, expressed in a variety of amusements that have led magazine writers to call the town, the Paris of America, although there is little about her, save the broad streets and her many open squares and parks to suggest the real Paris. But, on the other hand, the Seine is hardly to be compared to the majesty of the backbone of the continent, Denver's greatest glory.

In winter Denver society has a fixed program. On Monday night it religiously attends the Broadway Theater, a playhouse which on at least one night of the week blossoms out as gayly as the Metropolitan Opera House. Denver assumes to prove herself the Paris of America by the gayness of its gowns and its hats and a Denver restaurant on Monday night after the play only seems like a bit of upper Broadway, Manhattan, transplanted. On Tuesday afternoon society attends the vaudeville at the Orpheum and perhaps the Auditorium or one of the lesser theaters that night. By Wednesday evening at the latest the somewhat meager theater possibilities of the place are exhausted and one wealthy man from New York who went out there used to go to bed on Wednesday until Monday, when the dramatic program began anew.

For him it was either bed or the "movies," and he seemed to prefer bed.

In summer the Broadway is closed, and Elitch's Gardens, one of the distinctive features of the town, takes its place as a Monday rendezvous. It is a gay place, Elitch's, with a quaint foreign touch. A cozy theater stands in the middle of an apple orchard — part of the one-time farm of the proprietress' father. Good taste and the delicate skill of architect and landscape gardener have gone hand in hand for its charm. You go out there and dine leisurely, and then you cross the long shady paths under the apples to the theater. And even if the play in that tiny playhouse were not all that might be expected — although the best of actors play upon its stage — one would be in a broadly generous mood, at having dined and spent the evening in so completely charming a spot.

But the Parisians of Colorado are not blind to the summer joys of the wonderful country that lies around about them. They quickly become mountaineers, in the full sense of the word. They can ride and read riding not as merely cantering in the park but as sitting all day in the saddle of some cranky broncho they can build fires, cook and live in the open. A Denver society woman is as particular about her khakias as about her evening frocks. When these folk, experienced and well-schooled, go off up into the great hills, they are the envy of all the tourists.

Do not forget that we started by showing Denver as a mecca for these folk. When you come to see how very well the Paris of America takes care of them you do not wonder that they return to her many times ; that they are with her more or less the entire year round. Her hotels are big and they are exceedingly well run. There are more side trips than a tourist can take, using the city as a base of operations, than a man might physically use in a month. The most of these run off into the mountains that have been standing sentinel over Denver since first she was born. In a day you can leave the bustling capital town, pass the foothills of the Rockies and climb fourteen thousand feet aloft to the very backbone of the continent. Indeed, it seems to be the very roof of the world when you stand on a sentinel peak and look upon timber line two thousand feet below, where the trees in another of Nature's great tragedies finally cease their vain attempts to climb the mountain tops.

A man recommended one of the mountain trips over a wonderfully constructed railroad, poetically called the " Switzerland Trail."

" You'll like that trip," he said, with the enthusiasm of the real Denverite. It's wonderful, and such a rail-road ! Why, there are thirty-two tunnels between here and the divide."

The tourist to whom this suggestion was made looked up — great scorn upon his countenance.

" That doesn't hit me," he growled, " not even a little bit. I live in New York — live in Harlem, to be more like it, and work down in Wall street — use the subway twelve times a week. I don't have to come to Colorado to ride in tunnels."

Tourists form no small portion of Denver industry. She has restaurants and souvenir shops, three to a block; seemingly enough high-class hotels for a town three times her size. Yet the restaurants and the hotels are always filled, the little shops smile in the sunshine of brisk prosperity. And as for " rubberneck wagons," Denver has as many as New York or Washington. They are omnipresent. The drivers take you to the top of the park system, to the Cheesman Memorial, to see the view.

All the time you are letting your eyes revel in the glories of those great treeless mountains, the megaphone man is dinning into your ears the excellence of his company's trips in Colorado Springs, in Manitou, in Salt Lake City. He assumes that you are a tourist and that you will have never had enough.

Tourists become a prosperous industry in a town that has no particular manufacturing importance. Great idle plants, the busy smelters of other days, bespeak the truth of that statement. Denver, as far as she has any commercial importance, is a distributing center. Her re-tail shops are excellent and her wholesale trade extends over a dozen great western states. Her banks are powers, her influence long reaching. But she is not an industrial city.

That has worried her very much, is still a matter of grave concern to her business men. Their quarrels with the railroads have been many and varied. Denver realizes, although she rarely confesses it, that she has disadvantages of location. These same mountains that the tourist comes to love from the bottom of his heart, just as the Coloradians have loved them all these years, are a real wall hemming her in, barriers to the growth of their capital. When the Union Pacific the first of all the transcontinental railroads was built through to the coast it was forced, by the mountains, to carry its line far to the north — a bitter pill to the ambitious town that was just then beginning to come into its own. Denver sought reprisals by building the narrow gauge Denver & Rio Grande, a most remarkable feat of railroad engineering; bending far to the south and then to the north and west through the narrow niches of the high mountains. But hardly had the Denver & Rio Grande assumed any real importance in a commercial fashion and the mistake of its first narrow guage tracks corrected, before it was joined at Pueblo by direct routes to the east and Denver was again isolated from through transcontinental traffic. She was then and still is reached by sidelines.

This was a source of constant aggravation to the man who was until his death two or three years ago, Denver's first citizen David H. Moffat. Mr. Moffat's interest and pride in the town were surpassing. He had grown up with it — in the later years of his life he used to boast that he once had promoted its literature, for he had come to Denver when it was a mere struggling mining-camp as a peddler, selling to the miners who wanted to write home a piece of paper and a stamped envelope, for five cents.

Moffat saw that a number of important lines were making Denver their western terminal — particularly the Burlington and the Kansas stems of the Union Pacific and the Rock Island. He felt that he might pick up traffic from these roads and carry it straight over the mountains to Salt Lake City, a railroad center suffering the same disadvantages as Denver. He sent surveyors up into the deep canyons and the impasses of the Rockies. When they brought back the reports of their reconnoissances, practical railroad men laughed at Mr. Moffat.

The big bankers of the East also laughed at him when he came to them with the scheme, but the man was of the sort who is never daunted by ridicule. He had a sublime faith in his project, and when men told him that the summit of 10,000 feet above the sea level where he proposed to cross the divide was an impossibility, he would retort about the number of long miles he was going to save between the capital of Colorado and the capital of Utah and he would tell of the single Routt county stretch, a territory approximating the size of the state of Massachusetts and estimated to hold enough coal to feed the furnace fires of the United States for three hundred years. When he was refused money in New York and Chicago he would return to Denver and some-how manage to raise some there. The Moffat road was begun, despite the scoffers. Its promoter made repeated trips across the continent to secure money, and each time when he was home again he would raise the dollars in his own beloved Denver and move the terminal of his road west a few miles. He was at it until the day of his death and he lived long enough to see his railroad within short striking reach of the treasures of Routt county.

At his death it passed into the hands of a receiver, and Denver seemed to have awakened from its dream of being upon the trunk-line of a transcontinental railroad. But there were hands to take up the lines where Moffat had dropped them. Times might have been hard and loan money scarce around Colorado, but the men who were taking up what seemed to be the deathless project of Denver's own railroad were hardly daunted. In-stead, they boldly revised Moffat's profile and prepared to cut two thousand feet off the backbone of the continent and shorten their line many miles by digging a tunnel six miles long and costing some four millions of dollars. Now a tunnel six miles long and costing $4,000,-000 is quite an enterprise, even to a road which has boasted thirty-two of them in a single day's trip up to the divide ; a particularly difficult enterprise to a road still in the shadows of bankruptcy. But the men who were directing the fortunes of the Denver & Salt Lake — as the Moffat road is now known had a plan. Would not the city of Denver lend its credit to an enterprise so fraught with commercial possibilities for it? Would not the city of Denver arrange a bond issue for the digging of that tunnel — incidentally finding therein a good investment for its spare dollars?

Would Denver do that? Ask this man over there. He is well acquainted with the Paris of America.

" Of course it would," he answers. " If some one was to come along with a scheme to expend five million dollars in building a statue to Jupiter atop of Pikes Peak, he would find plenty of supporters and enthusiasm in Denver. The only scheme that does not succeed out there is the one that is practical."

The gentleman is sarcastic and yet not very far from the truth. For last year when the bond issue for the railroad tunnel went to a vote it was carried with enthusiasm. Thereafter Denver was upon the trunk-line railroad map. The mere facts that the nine miles of tunnel were yet to be bored and many additional miles of the most difficult railroad construction of the land builded to its portals were mere details. The thin air of the Mile-High city lifts its citizens well over details. And they are far too broad, far too generous to trouble with such minute things..

For in them dwells the real spirit of the West — by this time no mere gateway — and it is a rare spirit, in-deed. The town, as we have already intimated, has a strong social tendency. She has sent her men and women, her sons and her daughters to the East and they have won for themselves on their own merits. The Atlantic seaboard has paid full tribute to the measure of her training and why not? Her schools are as good as the best, her fine homes and her little homes together would be a credit to any town in the land, her big clubs would grace Fifth avenue. Her whole social organism from bottom to top is well fibered. It is charmingly exclusive in one way, warmly democratic in many others.

A girl tourist from Cleveland, a recent summer, essayed to make the ascent of the capitol dome between two connecting trains. She miscalculated distances during the hour and a half that was at her disposal and almost missed her outbound train. She surely would have missed it, if it had not been for the courtesy of a well-dressed Denver woman. The girl stood at the corner of Seventeenth street and Broadway, where a group of large hotels center, waiting for a trolley car to take her to the station. She could see its sightly tower a long way down Seventeenth street, but there were no cars in sight at that instant. She spoke to the woman, who was coming out of a drug store, and asked about the car service to the station. In the East she might have had a perfunctory answer, if she received an answer at all. The Denver woman began explaining, then she checked herself:

" Better yet," she smiled, " I have my automobile here and I'll take you down there while we are talking about it."

The car was a big imported fellow and the girl made her train. Some time after, she discovered that the woman who had been of such courteous attention was one of the very biggest of Denver society leaders. Imagine, if you can, such a thing coming to pass upon the Atlantic seaboard —in New York, in Boston, in Philadelphia — or in Charleston !

There is still another phase of life in Denver — and that is the fact that most of her residents, for one reason or another, have drifted out to her from the East. Once in a long while, if you loaf over your morning newspaper on a shady bench in the Capitol grounds, you will become acquainted with some whiskered old fellow who will tell you that he chased antelope where the big and showy City Park today stands, that he remembers clearly when a nearby street was the Santa Fe Trail and then a country road, and that two generations after him are living in Denver; or sometimes if you go down into Larimer street, which is old Denver, you can find a veteran who likes to prate of other days — of the time when he used to pack down to the capital from his mountain claim, one hundred and twenty-five miles over the mountain snows, for his winter's bacon. But the majority of these Denverites have come from the East. There is some old town in New England with avenues of giant trees that is still home to them, and yet they all have a heap of affection for the city of their adoption.

Some of them have gone to Denver against their will, and that is the tragic shadow of Colorado. They are expatriates — exiles, if you please — for Colorado is the American Siberia. This dread thing, this thing that is impartial to all low altitudes —the white plague — marks the victims, who go shuffling their way to die among the hills in the gay Paris of North America. It is the gaunt tragedy of Denver, and even though the Denverites speak lightheartedly of the " T. B.'s" who have come to dwell among them, they themselves know best the bitter tragedy of it all.

Here were two girls, sisters, who worked in a restaurant. A customer held his home newspaper spread as he supped alone. Its title, after the fashion of country weeklies, was emblazoned that all might read; the wide-spread eagle has been its feature for three-quarters of a century now. One of the waitresses made bold to speak.

" So you are from near Syracuse?" she said.

It was affirmed. She beckoned to her sister to come over. The little restaurant Denver fashion, it made specialities of " short orders," cream waffles and T-bone steaks was almost deserted. She spoke to her sister.

"He's from Syracuse," she said. The sister was a delicate, colorless little thing, but the blood flushed up into her pale cheeks for an instant.

" We're from Syracuse," she said proudly. " We used to live up on the hill, just around the corner from the college. It was great fun to see the students go climbing up around Mount Olympus there. It was twice as great fun in winter, when the north wind was blowing the snow right up into our faces."

Exiles these. They had left their nice, comfortable home there in the snug, New York state city to make the long dreary trek to Denver. They were clever girls, and it seemed certain that they might find work in some nice office in the big and growing Colorado city. They were fairly competent stenographers, and it seemed to them that they might live in peace and comfort in the new home. It was a change from their big Syracuse house to a narrow hallroom in a Denver boarding house. Then upon that came the fruitless search for a " nice place." Hundreds of other girl stenographers, driven on the long trip West, were pressing against them. The two Syracusans held their heads high for a time. Then they were glad to get the menial places as waitresses.

The man who checks trunks at one of the biggest transfer companies confessed that he was an exile, too.

" Came out here a dozen years ago with a busted lung," he admitted with a quizzical smile. " Guess I'll stay for a while longer. But I want to go back to Baltimore. Before I am done with it I am going back to Baltimore. I'm going to walk down Charles street once again and breathe the fragrance of the flowers in the gar-dens, if it kills me."

A girl in a boarding house leaned up against the wall of the broad and shady piazza and said she liked Denver " really, truly, immensely."

" Do you honestly?"

" Honestly," she drawled gravely. " God knows, I've got to. I'm a lunger, although they don't know it here.

I've only got one lung, but it's a good lung," she ended with a little hysterical laugh.

Another exile. The American Siberia, in truth, save that this Siberia is a near Paradise — a kingdom for exiles where the grass is as green as it is back in the old East, where the trees cast welcome shade and the strange new flowers blossom out smiles of hope. But a Siberia none the less. The big sanitariums all about the city tell that. The keeper of the Denver Morgue will tell it, too. The suicide rate in Denver runs high. Desperate folk go out to Colorado to shut the door in the face of death — and go too late. They are far from home, alone, friendless, penniless in despair — the figures of the statisticians cannot lie.

The East has this as a debt to pay Denver, and generally she pays it royally. Denver does not forget the times when the Atlantic seaboard has come to her assistance — despite the troubles of David H. Moffat in raising capital for his railroad. Once in a business council there while the East was getting some rather hard knocks for its " fool conservatism "— perhaps it had been refusing to buy the bonds of the mountain-climbing railroad — a big Denver banker got the floor. He was a man who could demand attention and receive it.

" I want you to remember one thing," he said; " fifteen years ago we were laying out and selling town-lots for a dozen miles east of Denver; we were selling them to Easterners — for their good money. When they came out and looked for their land what did they see? They saw plains--mile after mile of plains — peopled by what? They were peopled by jackrabbits, and the jack-rabbits were bald from bumping their heads against the surveyors' stakes. Until we have redeemed those lots and built our city out to them and upon them, gentlemen, we have not redeemed our promise to the East."

And no one who knows Denver doubts that the time will yet come when she will redeem that promise. Her railroad may or may not come to be a transcontinental route of importance, manufacturing may or may not descend upon her with its grime and industry and wealth, but her magnificent situation there at the base of the Rockies will continue to make her at least a social factor in the gradually lengthening roll of really vital American cities.

Personality Of American Cities:
Steel's Great Capital Pittsburgh

Cleveland The Sixth City

Chicago And The Chicagoans

Twin Cities St. Paul Minneapolis

Gateway Of The Southwest St. Louis

New Orleans The Old French Lady Of The Riverbank

San Antonio The City Of The Little Squares

Denver The American Paris

Portland - Seattle - Tacoma

San Francisco — The Newest Phoenix

Read More Articles About: Personality Of American Cities

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