By Raetta Holdman

DENVER (CBS4) – Nestled in downtown Denver is a real jewel of the city, Civic Center Park. The park was the vision of Mayor Robert Speer at the turn of the 20th Century.

(credit: CBS)

“The cities in the urban areas were dirty and filthy because there was a lot of industry, a lot of pollution,” explains Dennis Humpries, a local architect. “So it wasn’t a friendly place to be.”

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Humphries is an advocate for Civic Center Park not only because he lives in the neighborhood, he’s also one of the founding members of the Civic Center Conservancy.

That activism has only deepened his appreciation of the park.

“It’s one of the key places in the where people can come together,” Humpries said.

(credit: CBS)

That place of connection was only part of Speer’s vision. It started with the City Beautiful movement based on the creating public spaces like those found in Paris and Rome. But his vision and project were not without controversy.

“It’s also interesting that the area of the park … was totally covered with residences and businesses. It was really what I refer to as a kind of ‘urban renewal’ project to tear down all the buildings and create this outdoor space.”

That meant a court before the work actually began.

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This year is the 100th anniversary of the Greek Amphitheater at the southern end of the park. On it you’ll find the Colannade of Benefactors, those very familiar families in Denver who actually help pay for the amphitheater and the park.

Humphries credits that to the message Speer delivered to them.

“You give while you live. The community has given so much to you … now is the time to give back.”

“One of the things that Robert Speer really wanted to see was that much of the improvements that were going to be done in the park would not burden the taxpayer.”

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Civic Center Park is the only National Historic Landmark in the city of Denver. It’s the only place in the country where the City Hall (or in Denver’s case, the City and County Building) and the State Capitol are in the same place. That makes it a perfect place for gatherings of all kinds, from festivals to rallies to concerts. All that cements its place as Denver’s front yard.

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“When you say Civic Center, they automatically know where it is and that’s all across Colorado, it’s not just Denver. They have this image that comes to mind of these wonderful monuments. There is no place like it in the West.”

Raetta Holdman