Thursday, October 15, 2009

Memories of Larimer Square--and other places

The other day I was thinking about how important the businesses in Larimer Square were to me in the mid- to late seventies. I mostly frequented the Flick, an "art" movie house; Josephina's Pizza/Italian Food; and the Magic Pan (crepes). Other than LS, the streets were really quiet and pretty scary at night.

Saw at least two great films at the Flick by Jacques Tati and Vittorio da Sica at the Flick ("Playtime" and "A Brief Vacation"). It was a place a young woman could go alone, even take a bus there from Capital Hill.

There was little to hang your hat on elsewhere in downtown Denver. For a short time period I swam and took yoga at the YWCA (torn down in the 1980's). Sometimes the Oxford had some good music (Norman and Nancy Blake, for example)--was it in the "Booze-Wazee" Room? I rarely went to Ebbets Field for music; the Folklore Center on E. 17th Ave. was of much greater interest. Couldn't afford Top of the Rockies restaurant. Occasionally shopped in May D&F bargain basement and the Denver. There was a food co-op on California Street in an old Safeway building that essentially got put out of business by the Rainbow Grocery, a production of Guru Maharaj Ji's people on East Colfax. Some of the same people who brought us Pearl St. Market in Boulder and also drove out a food co-op, and later the Alfalfa's/Wild Oats empire.

One other business stands out: Cafe Nepenthes, on Market Street. A coffeehouse/restaurant with a wholesome, welcoming atmosphere. I often went there alone. Occasionally I even stopped at the White Spot for coffee! But only after photographing in the railroad yards.

Having lived around Harvard Square earlier in the seventies, it was hard to get a handle on Denver. Cambridge had everything: coffee, food, books, photography stores, movies, evening classes, music--all within a few square blocks. Walkable. Lots of people on the street, particularly women. Don't forget the muffins...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Infrared film and the railroad

I've been pulling out my old photos of the yards from 1976-1978. Not documentation per se, but an artistic treatment of the area, trying to find beauty in a fairly utilitarian, often ugly place. Watching a coal train the other day make its way on the mainline through the Central Platte Valley, eclipsed and dwarfed by the lofts and other buildings, I got a hankering to do some more infrared work and catch the view of the diminished railroad in its "new" urban setting.

Kodak doesn't make infrared film anymore, just as the company knocked off Kodachrome this summer. But Rollei does, and not just in 35mm. 120 as well, so I can put my 1953 Rollei TLR to use again. It's such a great camera.

I'm excited, but wary; in truth, I'm not hopeful. The place is cluttered. Will the long rays of autumn make up for the lack of railroad?

A visit to a wonderful building on Wazee St.

This week I met with the owner of a building on Wazee, an old warehouse once used to store mining equipment, formerly owned by the Hendrie-Bolthoff company, which also owned buildings on Wynkoop St. (Wine-koop to the old Denver residents, or even Wy-in-koop). The building was designed by Frank Edbrooke, who also designed the Brown Palace, the Oxford Hotel, the Tabor Opera House, etc.

This was a revelation to me. A warehouse building designed by an architect?

Walking around LoDo later, I discovered a number of the signs that explained the history of the neighborhood's buildings. Indeed, many of the buildings were designed by architects, not just as warehouses but with corporate office spaces. The Wazee building sported some unusual features, including one of the largest freight elevators in the Western U.S. The windows are also much larger than in neighboring buildings, due to the support of steel beam lintels.

I asked what was there before the warehouses went up at the latter part of the 19th and the early 20th centuries. The speculation is small houses for railroaders and others who worked in and around the yards just adjacent. Houses that were highly vulnerable to Cherry Creek/South Platte flooding.

This visit opened my eyes to the necessity of bringing people into the picture, literally. As I have enjoyed Sam's photos of the skateboarder on 15th Street and the elderly couple crossing 16th Street a few Sundays ago, I realize there is indeed life in Lower Downtown and it should be documented. While there are still plenty of cars (that's Denver), it reminds me that I need to speak to people who work and live down there; who've done the renovations; and above all, remember the place before.