Confluence Q&A: Dana Crawford on Union Station

Confluence Denver recently spoke with Dana Crawford, Denver's award-winning preservationist and the force behind the preservation of Larimer Square nearly 50 years ago, about Union Station project and what she sees as a missed opportunity at the Gates factory. 
Dana Crawford is a legend for her preservation work in Denver. She rallied the city to save Larimer Square in the 1960s and led the charge in LoDo in later decades with loft projects and the restoration of the Oxford Hotel.

Crawford's Urban Neighborhoods has been involved in the $500 million, public-private Union Station project from the beginning, as part of the Union Station Alliance, the team behind the Crawford Hotel, named for Dana and to be operated in conjunction with the Oxford, and the activation of about 50,000 square feet of space for retail and other uses.

What's your helicopter view of the Union Station project?

I've been really dedicated to that building for many decades. There were several times it was threatened.

My view is it's a very big landmark for Denver: Its architecture is important, its function is important, its siting is important. 

Why was it threatened?

It was just the popularity of the automobile and the airplane that diminished passenger rail. That led to it being moribund

People couldn't see the potential. That was true for the Gates factory on South Broadway. They only see it for what it is -- and abandoned factory -- not what it could be. (Note: Demolition is currently underway.) 

I live in a loft downtown, with high ceilings, and it would have been perfect. It had all of the parking you could want. It was going to work out extremely well with South Broadway with all that's going on there.

It wasn't going to be an easy project. … Now it'll end up being a Costco or something. We'll see what happens.

How do you feel about Union Station as it prepares for its grand opening on July 12?

It's hard to describe my emotions about it. I've been so involved for many years.

It's just sensational. People in Denver are going to be proud of it. That's one of the nice things about preservation projects -- everybody has ownership of it.

I think everyone will enjoy it, especially kids. They'll see it going out to DIA -- it's a 35-minute ride to the airport. There are going to be so many fabulous local tenants and shops.

How important is that local angle?

That's been a huge foundational premise of our development group. We want it to be an expression of Colorado. It's really symbolic of the entire state. We didn't want a typical shopping center with a bunch of chains.

What are some of your favorite things about the project?

We rediscovered a lot of materials. The main wing isn't the original, it's third generation. It dates back to 1914. The terrazzo floors are original, the columbine, the state flower, is used repeatedly. 

There's a 99-year lease, so we were reaching into the past for possibility and potential and balancing that with the future needs of the city. In the very near future, the train will be coming into DIA at a regular interval -- every 15 minutes. It's going to be more and more a focal point of this region from a transportation perspective.

I think it really becomes the gathering place for Lower Downtown and all of downtown. It's a destination and it should remain a destination. People are going to like the quality of the thing. It's been refurnished, repolished and rehashed.

What impact will it have on the Oxford Hotel?

That's something people haven't zeroed in on -- the Oxford and the station, they're brother and sister -- they're related. It's going to be great for both sets of guests. It's going to work very well for both partners.

Now that Union Station is just about done and Gates is rubble, what's the next big preservation in target in Denver?

There's a lot of stuff that has to be redone all over the city. We're 50 years past the post-war boom, when a lot of stuff was built as cheaply and quickly as possible. Some of those buildings are going to be pretty challenging.

What about having Union Station's resident hotel named in your honor?

It's embarrassing -- but I'll get over it. I'll get used to it. And it rings well with Oxford: Crawford. Oxford.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

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