ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4) – It was the 1910s, and what we call the Denver metro area today was a collection of much smaller, somewhat independent communities. Towns like Arvada, Englewood, Littleton — they all had their own unique identities and local, mostly agricultural communities surrounding them. This was before the automobile, so roads were dirt, and travel was slow. That is, unless you took the streetcar.
“The streetcar made a handy way to get to Lakeside Park, to go downtown, to do a number of different things,” says Wally Weart, a local railroad historian. His interest in streetcars led him to purchase a piece of Denver history, Denver Tramway car “point 04.” (No one really knows why there was a decimal point before the numbers on these cars.) Weart bought the car from the Forney Museum collection when they moved to their current location on Brighton Boulevard.
“Denver hasn’t had a lot of streetcars saved. Other cities saved a significant amount of examples of their streetcar fleet. I knew there were only a handful of ’em here in Denver.”
He then donated the car to Denver Rail Heritage, a preservation group with designs on restoring the car to its former glory.
Denver Tramway Company Streetcar No.04 has a unique place in Denver transit history. In 1950, Denver and the surrounding communities were quickly changing from small, isolated farming communities to the major metropolitan community we know today. With that expansion came a need for improved transportation.
“It’s very hard to extend a streetcar line. It’s very easy to extend a bus line,” says Weart, expressing a sentiment shared by Denver Tramway officials at the time. They saw buses as the future of interurban transportation, and quickly worked to retire all the old streetcar lines.
Those lines were officially retired in July of 1950, with .04 being the last streetcar to operate.
“The 04 was sent out to Leyden at the end of the line, and they didn’t get back into Denver until 12:03 in the morning after all the other cars had been suspended.”
The era of the streetcar had come to an end in Denver.
Fast forward 60 years. Denver Tramway would eventually become RTD, and RTD would revisit the old notion that buses are the panacea of urban transportation.
A renewed interest in rail transportation has them drawing on the old streetcar lines of the past. (Much of RTD’s West Line is built on old Denver Tramway right-of-way.)
“It’s sort of the idea that what goes around comes around with regard to transit.” says Kim Grant, who is the grants admistrator for the City of Arvada.
Arvada is partnering with Denver Rail Heritage to restore Denver Tramway Company Streetcar No.04. They’d like to incorporate the car into a new rail station being built in Arvada.
“The city of Arvada would like to see the .04 streetcar restored because of its historic significance in helping to tell the story of the evolution of Arvada from a small farming community to a burgeoning streetcar suburb,” Grant said.
Denver Rail Heritage has teamed up with Slater Paul Architects, a Denver firm specializing in historic renovation, to do a structural assessment of the car and develop a restoration plan. (The restoration would be cosmetic; there are no plans to actually operate the car.)
Once restored, Weart and others hope the car can offer an important history lesson to those passing by.
“It’s a tangible link to our history. It shows how we moved when two or three or four generations ago. It explains the growth pattern that led to Denver, it’s an artifact from another time in our history, and it’s important to show where we were so we know where we’ve been,” Weart said.