Denver historian Phil Goodstein takes on Park Hill in his latest book
How long have you been thinking of writing a book on Park Hill?
It is a fascinating area. I've been giving walking tours through Park Hill since about '86, '87. A previous book of mine is called D.I.A. and Other Scams. It's a 500-page volume -- I'd say about 150-200 pages of it deals with Park Hill. Because Park Hill has been the central neighborhood of Denver since the 1960s in terms of defining integration, school issues, and then the airport has such close Park Hill connections. And the cynicism that goes on with Park Hill and the airport is amazing.
What's the story there?
The city's long-time airport was Stapleton airfield, directly east of Park Hill. At one time Park Hill heavily promoted that it was next to the airport for convenience. A large number of airport workers lived in Park Hill. Then jet airplanes came in in 1960. Now, they could've made sure no jet airplanes went over residential developments, and made sure no housing developments were built under the path of the jet airplanes. But instead they said the airlines can do whatever they want and to hell with Park Hill.
Now, the mayor of Denver is living in Park Hill at this time and the racket of the airplanes over the area is incredible. There were periodic efforts to do something about the noise, but they never followed through. So Park Hill residents sued the city in 1981 for airport noise. The city vehemently opposed the lawsuit and was committed to keeping Stapleton open. But as soon as [then mayor] Federico Pena decided that he wants to be the father of DIA, he orders the city to settle the lawsuit -- which was on terms that Park Hill residents never dreamed of getting.
Better than they expected?
Yes. All they wanted was an abatement of the noise pollution. But the lawsuit settlement that the mayor ordered was that the city has to build a new airport to solve the Stapleton/Park Hill noise conundrum. And meanwhile, a lot of the flight patterns of the planes still go over Park Hill.
And now Mayor Michael Hancock wants to put in an areopolis, a new city all around DIA. But the purpose of the DIA was to get it away from the city -- now we're bringing the city to the airport!
Growing up in Park Hill, and now writing about it, how would you define the characters and culture of the neighborhood?
There are many different Park Hills. There are the prestigious, distinguished, elite Park Hill -- fine houses, well-educated people. Individuals who embrace numerous trends, go to art shows, the symphony.
Was this the original type of society that first settled Park Hill?
The origins of Park Hill are in the 1880s. The name first shows up around 1887 to denote the hill off to the east of City Park -- and the name pops up in numerous real estate filings. And then there's the typical real estate hyperbole of this is going to be the most distinguished area, blah, blah, blah. They wanted to be beyond the evil, wicked city, with City Park as a literal barrier between them. But a lot of real estate developments have this hype at the beginning.
And there were many churches developed in the area -- were the influx of people moving to Park Hill motivated by a kind of puritanical utopianism? Like the John Winthrop line about being a city on a hill?
I never thought of the city on a hill ideology, that's a good one. But what often happens in new, sprawl, suburban areas is that they want to prove to themselves, as much as anyone else, that they're civilized, by having a school, a church. And they build the church in their own image along the way.
And that brings up the question: who, or what, is Park Hill? There was a church-sponsored organization in the 1960s called The Park Hill Action Committee. And they were openly blunt that we are Christians in action, we are moral, we are righteous, and you better believe what we believe or else you're an un-American bigot. And that's part of Park Hill that I never felt too comfortable with.
Growing up in a Jewish family in that neighborhood, was the ever any tension about your faith with your neighbors?
There was never any blunt anti-semitism. It was subtle, like the mandatory singing of Christmas carols in Park Hill schools. For the most part, Jewish Park Hill wanted to go along with the Christians of Park Hill in the name of brotherhood and blah, blah, blah.
And another consideration for what brought people together in Park Hill was that it was a strong prohibitionist neighborhood. Not only were there no liquor stores allowed, but no liquor is to be served even in restaurants. This lasted into the 1990s, and that was after some nasty fights. But this gets back into the hypocrisy of the neighborhood: While they're being so viciously anti-liquor license, they're also promoting themselves as having all these great wine tastings and wine parties. A lot of supporters of prohibition drank, they just didn't want other people to drink.
Phil Goodstein will discuss and sign copies of Park Hill Promise on Monday, November 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Tattered Cover, 2526 East Colfax Avenue. Click here for more information.