People, Libraries, and Civic Pride in Upper Denver’s UpDo Urban Hike
The Civic Park Neighborhood together with its neighbor to the north, Central Business District (now called Upper Denver, or UpDo), is about people. With 10,000 residents in the ‘hood and a giant people’s park bookended by government, there’s no denying the draw of these two neighborhoods in bringing people together to connect. You’ll enjoy this Civic Center urban hiking adventure when combining it with Denver’s Central Business District, Upper Denver.
From Motel to Metlo
Taking an urban hike through Upper Denver will bring you past sites and smells you may not see elsewhere in Denver. It will be an adventure, so grab your patience and sense of gratitude and head out. Start at the Metlo (1111 Broadway), an urban re-use motel turned small business complex. Why “Metlo?” When the award-winning developer wanted to remodel the building, the City mandated he had to use the old signage…thus, he mixed up “motel” and out came “Metlo.” Enjoy the fun redeveloped sign.
It’s All about the Shapes
The boundaries of Civic Park, a triangle shape of Speer, Broadway and Colfax, call out what the neighbors have named as the “Golden Triangle,” although the city doesn’t officially recognize this nomenclature. But no matter what you call it, the area’s riches abound. In the Golden Triangle you’ll find the Denver Art Museum. What’s on the outside of the building, you ask? The skin of the building is titanium, which was donated! The DAM traces its start back to the founding of the Denver Artists Club in 1893.
Also within the Triangle, you’ll find the central location of Denver Public Library. As the crowning star to the system’s 26 libraries, the Central Library’s architecture shines. Started in 1886 by the Chamber of Commerce, the library has had many locations and funding sources. Andrew Carnegie infused the library with buckets of money, allowing it to grow into branches and increase its collections. At one time, the library was in what is now the McNichols Building.
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Over time, the City has passed funding measures to build new buildings and branches throughout Denver. When the current library was built, they installed a conveyor built through Civic Park and across 14th Avenue to move all the books! Today, the library’s 26 branches have over 4.1 million visitors annually, 6.7 million website visits, 2.5 million children’s items, and 9.1 million circulations.
A Plaza for the People
You can’t enjoy Upper Denver without passing through Civic Park. Mayor Speer foresaw an area for the people to gather, and thus grew the Civic Park Plaza. Sandwiched between the Capitol and the Congress, the Plaza hosts parties, festivals, rallies, protests, and food trucks on Tuesdays and Thursdays. From the controversial Columbus sculpture to a subtly-lit Veteran’s Memorial, be sure to enjoy your time in the Plaza. Don’t miss Vorhees’ seals!
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You’ll also find large amounts of people experiencing homelessness in the park. As Denver sorts though the constitutionality of whether people can camp or not camp in its open spaces, expect to find people using this park as their layover. You will often see different organizations handing out meals, services, and aid to individuals within the park.
Pausing at Plumb Center
Before crossing from the library to the Webb Building, make sure you enjoy American Indian artist, Edgar Heap of Birds, “Wheel” sculpture. It’s the circle of red statues just outside of the library. If you can catch this artwork on the summer solstice, stop between post 1 and 10 for interesting surprise for you as well.
Across the park, you’ll see the county’s Webb Building, named after former Mayor Wellington Webb. He served as Denver’s first African-American mayor for twelve years. A stop in front of the Webb building requires a quick google map search. The gold plumb bob in the East Meets West sculpture is the spot where Denver officially shows on Google maps.
Around the corner from Webb, be sure to pause at the chained link artwork by Denver School of Arts’ students. It will enthrall you. It’s a nice surprise on a short street.
Central Business District (UpDo) Welcomes People Too
The boundaries of the Central Business District stretch over to Lawrence and up to 20th Street, making a somewhat rhombus shape. In this area, you’ll find 16th Street Mall, the business heartbeat of Denver, and additional historical relics.
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16th Street Mall, currently scheduled for a major overhaul, is a pleasant walking experience through the heart of downtown. You can catch the free bus to shuttle you, or walk the entire length admiring the artwork and public spaces to relax.
At the end of the mall, you’ll find The Brown Palace. An historic hotel with tons of local Denver history involving barons, politicians, and secret tunnels, the Brown Palace requires that you stop for a spot of tea or a good cocktail while reading the signs and plaques within.
The Wall Street of Denver
When you leave the Brown Palace, walk down 17th. Keep your eyes open for plaques and medallions inlaid within the sidewalks. You’ll even get a chance to understand the grid-to-grid cattywampus street system of Denver. (Hint: Take the Auraria Neighborhood walk and learn why one city blended into the other in order for Denver to grow.)
The Route (click for interactive map):
Start at Metlo, 1111 Broadway. Walk west to Acoma Street, noticing the first pubic school on the west side of the street, which is currently restored and vacant. Continue north through the museum grounds, noticing the titanium of the Denver Museum of Art, the library, and the various sculptures around the museums.
At 13th Street, take a left. Notice the blue For Jennifer statue, the Clifford Still Museum, and the Byers-Evans House. Take a right on Bannock Street, and then a right on W 14th Ave Parkway.
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After admiring the Wheels exhibit, cross 14th into Civic Park. Spend some time acknowledging the various government buildings, the size of the Plaza and the artwork within the park. Walk through the park, then cross Colfax, taking a left.
Stop in front of the Webb Building and check your gps for Denver’s center. Continue along 14th Street, then make a left onto Tremont. Walk a half a block and enjoy the chained link artwork on the north side of the street. Return back to 14th Street, turning left.
Take a right on Welton. Continue to the major 5-way intersection at the Brown Palace, and find the plaque in the street discussing the grid system. Take a right on Broadway. Continue along Broadway until you return to the Metlo, passing in front of the Capitol (go up and see the 5280 step(s) on the staircase in front), the Colorado History Museum and the library.
Party with the People and Supporting Denver By Foot
If you’ve enjoyed this information, maybe you’ll enjoy some other walks curated by Denver By Foot. Get the 52 Hikes 52 Weeks Denver Calendar, which recommends a hike a week, subscribe to the YouTube Channel to hear about weekly hiking suggestions in Denver, and buy access to the Denver By Foot Challenge. The Challenge is 30 activities in Denver to do by foot where you’ll uncover treasures throughout Denver. It’s a great thing to do with friends and family.
Finally, please support Denver By Foot by purchasing Chris Englert’s books, The Best Urban Hikes: Denver and Discovering Denver Parks. Thank you so much!
See you on the trail!