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Lost Denver: 11 Obscure, Oddball and Forgotten Spots

This bell is all that's left of Denver's former City Hall (1883-1936).

Inventor or not, Louis Ballast got the trademark on the word "cheeseburger."

The Doors were just one of the legendary bands to play the Denver Dog in late 1967.

Said to be the world's tallest, the 350-foot-tall brick smokestack was obsolete after 11 years, but wasn't torn down for 47 more.

The smokestack's 1950 demolition drew a crowd of 100,000.

Hop Alley, in Denver's onetime Chinatown.

The third and correct step marker on the Colorado State Capitol.

Montana City pre-dated Auraria by a few months.

Racing ended at Lakeside Speedway in 1988.

Mattie Silks House of Mirrors' facade features the busts of several Denver notables.

The Navarre is much more respectable this century.

The ghosts of Denver haunt every corner of the city. From Montana City to Hop Alley to The Family Dog, here are 11 shuttered, shifted or blown-up spots for a dose of retrospective perspective.
Denver has changed so much so fast it’s hard to keep track of everything new, let alone everything old.

Spelunking the lower levels of the city’s history gives us a clearer view of where we're coming from -- and where we're going.

Now demolished and slated for redevelopment by Frontier Renewal, the old Gates Rubber plant on South Broadway is the city's latest apparition, and it's difficult to gauge whether whatever comes next will have any links to the past.

Some of the top backward-looking minds in the city -- including Dr. Colorado, Tom Noel of CU Denver, and soon-to-retire Visit Denver flack Rich Grant -- lent Confluence Denver their insights. Historian Phil Goodstein declined on the grounds that Confluence "sounds like a corporate stooge for the destruction of printed materials."

Regardless -- and, c'mon, Phil, we just like trees! -- here are 11 of Denver's most unusual, overlooked and forgotten places.

The Bell from the City Hall War, across from Larimer Square at 14th and Larimer streets

This bell is all that's left of Denver's former City Hall (1883-1936).Under orders from Gov. Davis Waite, the state militia was set to blow City Hall to smithereens in 1894 to push out corrupt political bosses and rein in gambling in downtown Denver. Similarly corrupt police officers armed themselves and holed up in the building with said bosses and a legendary con man. "Soapy Smith stood on top of the building waving a stick of dynamite," says Noel.

This all played out right across from Larimer Square, but there's little evidence of the infamous City Hall War today. "The building's gone -- the bell's the only thing left," says Noel. In its place: asphalt and yellow paint. "We commemorate many important buildings with parking lots," he laughs.

Cheeseburger Monument, 2776 Speer Blvd.

Inventor or not, Louis Ballast got the trademark on the word "cheeseburger."Denver is the alleged birthplace of the cheeseburger, as is Louisville, Kentucky; Pasadena, California; Athens, Texas; and a number of other cities. Alleged inventor Louis Ballast had a leg up on the competition: He trademarked the term "cheeseburger," but never sued anyone for using it.

While plopping a slice of cheese on a hamburger isn't exactly a cutting-edge innovation, it's definitely made a mark on American culture and the accomplishment is commemorated by a stone marker near Federal and Speer boulevards where Ballast's Humpty Dumpty Drive-In once stood, now a bank's parking lot.

But the mystery remains. Did Ballast really invent the cheeseburger? "Oh, sure," says Grant. "They had the trademark."

The Family Dog, 1601 W. Evans Ave. (now P.T.'s Showclub), College View/South Platte

The late, great Barry Fey opened Denver's Family Dog, a sister venue to a club of the same name in San Francisco, in a failed Whiskey a Go-Go franchise's location in September 1967. By the end of the year The Doors, Janis Joplin, Captain Beefheart, the Grateful Dead, Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, Van Morrison, Buffalo Springfield and Otis Redding had all graced its stage.

The Denver Dog's light show was a thing of legend, with 36 strobing blacklights and a 22-foot-tall wraparound projection screen.

The venue closed in 1968, after Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa and other rock legends played gigs during the first half of the year, as Fey moved on to other venues. Today it's PT's Showclub, a strip bar, and little of the psychedelic history remains.

Grant Smelter Stack, 41st Street and Brighton Boulevard, Globeville

The smokestack's 1950 demolition drew a crowd of 100,000.Built in 1892, the Grant Smelter smokestack was long the tallest structure in Denver and said to be the tallest smokestack on
Earth. The 350-foot-tall chimney, which burped gases from the ore of the Colorado mines to the west during the turn-of-the-century mining heyday, was demolished in 1950 after 47 years of inactivity. It was a big event: A crowd of about 100,000 gathered to watch in person.

Now the Denver Coliseum occupies the same rough location the stack did, and Asarco shut down its plant in Globeville in 2006. While the visible stack is long-gone, the less easily seen toxic remnants of Asarco's operations marred the area for decades after demolition.

Now the cleanup is almost complete and the 77-acre Asarco site is set to be redeveloped by Trammell Crow into a 21st-century industrial park that could bring more than 1,000 jobs to Globeville.

Hop Alley, between Market and Blake streets at 20th Street, LoDo

Things got very ugly around here on Halloween in 1880 after a nearby bar fight spilled into the streets and turned into a race riot.

"Whites attacked the Chinese ghetto and burned down Chinatown," Hop Alley, in Denver's onetime Chinatown.says Noel. "As a result, we don't have a Chinatown." They hung one old man, he says, then the mob proceeded to hang his body again elsewhere.

The rationale for the violence is a familiar one. "Workers objected to them working cheaper and better," says Noel. "The great irony of it was that they called them the 'filthy, dirty Chinese.’ Who was doing the city's laundry?"

Hop -- slang for opium -- Alley is marked by a plaque on 20th Street.

Lakeside Speedway, 46th Avenue and Sheridan, Lakeside

Lakeside Speedway was the center of the city's car-racing scene from the 1930s to the 1980s. Most of the sport's national stars sped around the one-fifth mile of pavement here at one time or another during its heyday.
Racing ended at Lakeside Speedway in 1988.
But the fencing between the track and the stands proved inadequate to stop heavier cars from crashing through, leading to the death of a spectator in 1988, and the races came to a halt.

In the ensuing quarter-century, weeds and trees have taken over the racetrack as it's sat vacant and increasingly decrepit on the outskirts of the parking lot at the adjacent Lakeside Amusement Park.

Mattie Silks' House of Mirrors, 1942 Market St., LoDo

Built in 1889, the building Mattie Silks bought about 20 years later was Mattie Silks House of Mirrors' facade features the busts of several Denver notables. the glitziest brothel in the city. And, while Market Street was one of the most notorious red-light districts in the West, Noel says the building is unique. "It was the only whorehouse built as a whorehouse," he explains. "It was a palace of horizontal recreation."

The facade features "the busts of the people who were blackmailed to build it," says Noel. "They were customers."

City authorities started cleaning up the red-light district on Market around 1913, he adds, and the building became a Buddhist temple before opening as the events venue it is today. "Instead of the fake orgiastic cries of your favorite hookers, you would hear, 'Om mani padme hum,'" jokes Noel.

The third and correct step marker on the Colorado State Capitol.Mile-High Markers, Colorado State Capitol steps, Broadway and Colfax Avenue, Capitol Hill, and and City Park

Three markers are embedded in the steps of the Colorado State Capitol steps to signify exactly the elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level. The first one was installed in 1909 on the 13th step, but it was stolen and replaced with an etching. Then a 1969 estimate held that was five steps too low and moved it to the 18th step.

Not so fast. In 2003, modern technology proved that elevation was also incorrect and a market was installed 3.03 feet lower on the 15th step.

But for a little more privacy, check out the Mile High Trail in City Park outside of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. "If you wanted to join the mile high club, that would be the most secluded," jokes Grant.

Montana City, Evans Avenue and South Platte River Drive, Overland

Montana City pre-dated Auraria by a few months.Established a few months before the gold camps at Auraria in Nov. 1858, Montana City was the first settlement in what is now Denver.

Located on the eastern bank of the South Platte River just south of modern-day Evans Avenue, Montana City consisted of a few tidy rows of cabins that were soon dismantled and moved to Auraria when gold-panning did not pan out at the site.

Now located in Grant-Frontier Park in the Overland neighborhood, the spot is marked by reproductions of a cabin and mining headframe.

Spider Man House, 3335 W. Moncrieff Pl., The Highlands

Theodore Edward Coneys graduated from drifter to murderer when he killed Philip Peters in his northwest Denver home in 1941. He picked a curious hiding place: the scene of the crime.

Explains Grant: "He lived in the attic and only came down to the house at night."

Peters' wife, who was in the hospital at the time of the murder, returned home for a stint, but her housekeeper became convinced the house was haunted, and both women left the house soon thereafter.

Nine months after killing Peters, Coneys was caught by police coming by on a routine stop and confessed to his crime. The sensational headlines dubbed him Denver's "Spider Man” when Peter Parker was but a glimmer in Stan Lee's mind. Coneys ended up with a life sentence and the story later inspired episodes of CSI and The Simpsons.

"The house is still up," adds Grant, noting that it's ended up on the map of a few local walking tours. "It's just a regular house. It freaked out the people who lived there."

The Tunnel from Brown Palace Hotel to the Navarre Building, 17th Street and Tremont Place, CBD

Well-heeled Denverites would head into the very respectable Brown Palace, then descend to the underground tunnel for passage to a very different establishment: the brothel in the Navarre Building across Tremont Street.

The Navarre is much more respectable this century."It made it much easier to visit your favorite nymph, your bride of the multitude, your favorite commercial companion, and cross the tunnel from the Brown Palace to the Navarre, which billed itself as Denver's favorite department store of vice," says Noel.

It wasn't a secret passage for very long, he adds. Reporters from The Denver Post staked the place out and the newspaper forced the tunnel travelers to buy full-page ads.

The tunnel, now imploded, is visible from the American Museum of Western Art -- The Anschutz Collection in the Navarre, Noel says, but it's not highlighted on the requisite guided tour.

While it's the most infamous, it's probably not the only tunnel that connected Denver's underground. "There are all sorts of rumors of other tunnels," says Noel.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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