Denver historian Phil Goodstein takes on Park Hill in his latest book
Having already chronicled Denver's ghosts, street names and Jewish communities, local historian Phil Goodstein is digging into familiar ground in his latest book on our city's forgotten past: Park Hill, the neighborhood where he once lived.
Denver historian Phil Goodstein.
Goodstein will appear at Tattered Cover Colfax tonight to discuss and sign copies of his book; we recently sat down with this man of yesteryear to get a sneak peak at what Park Hill Promise has to offer.
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Westword: You've written about so many fascinating and exotic corners of the city. Park Hill seems somewhat . . . pedestrian. What drew you to write about Park Hill?
Phil Goodstein: It's a beautifully landscaped area. It is the epitome of the "city beautiful in a residential area" city-planning design in the first twenty years of the twentieth century. In terms of what I'm interested in as a writer, it's power. Who runs the city? In some ways, Park Hill is at the center of this. You could make a comparison of the country-club neighborhood verses Park Hill. While some of the big money figures have made Park Hill their home, it generally hasn't been the home of those senior executives, bank presidents, CEOs; they generally live in the Country Club area, Cherry Hills, places like that.
But what you could call the coordinating class, those upper executives, the wire pullers, the manipulators, what Noam Chomsky called "the American mandarin," Park Hill is ground zero for that. If you want to understand how the Denver Democratic Party got to be how it is -- neo-conservatism, new Democrats -- look to Park Hill. If Barack Obama lived in Denver, he would live in Park Hill. In fact, people have made the parallel between Hyde Park in Chicago and Park Hill: the upper-class, distinguished, worldly area with an integrated aura associated with it. It is amazing the number of leaders of the Democratic Party who have had Park Hill as their home: Federico Pena, Wellington Webb, Lee White, Happy Haynes, John Hickenlooper.
If you are happy with the Obama/Roy Romer/Democratic establishment, then Park Hill is the neighborhood for you. Even if you still want the new-politics liberalism of the 1970s -- which Park Hill was a strong network for -- then Park Hill is for you. It's a bit narrow, and we haven't even mentioned the whole black dimension.
Can you touch on that briefly? I understand there's some racial disparity in Park Hill.
Moving to Park Hill has always been seen as the ultimate sign of middle-class success. By the late 1950s some blacks were seeing this as well and began moving to middle-class Park Hill. And they received a less than welcoming embrace. Part of what begins the Park Hill Action Committee was sending the message of: Our black brothers and sisters are welcome in Park Hill (so long as they're middle-class and take good care of their homes and fit in with our morals).
And to understand this you have to look at Park Hill in terms of pre-World War II and post-World War II. Pre-World War II was broad parkways, big sidewalks, mature trees, and Post-World War II was no sidewalks, few trees, slapped together ranch-houses, and once you get past 32nd Avenue the even more dilapidated it becomes. Those were starter homes for veterans. A lot of white families were moving out and black families were moving in.
There used to be some nice shopping districts over there that became black-crime headquarters. A lot of black gangs formed around this time: The Bloods are the Park Hill gang, and the Crips are more west of Colorado Boulevard area.