A Century of Parking

Originally Published February 2, 2020

The Downtown Parking Saga – Part 1

Parallel Parking where there were few cars – click to enlarge

Cars were a rarity in Golden until the 1920s. Once they came, Golden had to scurry to create traffic laws and parking standards. In the early twenties, drivers were able to park their car parallel to the curb. This quickly proved to be an inefficient use of street space, and in 1928, the City passed an ordinance requiring that drivers adopt diagonal parking along Washington Avenue. This bought us a few more years.

Diagonal Parking – fits more per block! – click to enlarge

In 1935, The Colorado Transcript suggested that locals walk downtown, to leave parking spaces available for tourists.

In 1937, the Transcript regarded tight parking as a sign of economic prosperity, and bragged that “it has been almost impossible on Saturday afternoons to find a parking place on Washington Avenue.” The City considered installing parking meters downtown. The Transcript said “Phooey on this notion of establishing parking meters on city streets. Citizens are obliged to pay plenty for construction and maintenance of the streets, and it’s certainly rubbing it in to ask that they pay extra for the privilege of using them.”

In February of 1940, the Mayor published a detailed set of rules concerning parking–which streets should have parallel parking and which had diagonal parking. The new rules went into effect on March 18th, but Golden soon learned that publishing the rules in the paper wasn’t enough–they needed signs, too. The new parking rules were put on hold.

Diagonal Parking in the 1940s – click to enlarge

In 1941, the City painted stripes on the street to indicate the location of parking places, and they introduced a 2 hour limit on downtown parking. In 1944, the Chamber of Commerce asked that all parking regulations be suspended for the duration of World War II. In 1946, despite wartime rationing of gasoline and tires, parking was so bad that City Council voted unanimously to install parking meters. The Chamber of Commerce asked them not to, so the meters were not installed.

In 1947, the Transcript conducted a poll of downtown merchants and wrote an editorial saying that parking meters were the only solution. Council was still operating on the Chamber’s request and delayed installing meters. In 1949, the City began widening streets to allow for more diagonal parking and to make space for turn lanes.

Parking was allowed near the Research Institute during football games – click to enlarge

Also in ’49, the School of Mines began to restrict parking on campus.

In 1950, talk of parking meters was circulating again. They decided to cut the parking time limit from two hours to one on Washington Avenue. Cops began ticketing. The merchants howled about the ill-treatment of their customers. The Chamber protested the tickets and all fines were forgiven, but officials were baffled as to the next step.

As the 50s progressed, concern about parking reached frantic levels. Nearly every issue of the weekly Transcript included an article about “Golden’s Biggest Problem.” Safeway moved from Washington Avenue to Ford Street, and the new store included a parking lot. Store owners and employees were asked to park in more remote locations. Parking meters were a recurring topic of conversation. Police resumed ticketing motorists who parked improperly or exceeded their time limit.

In 1954, the Planning Commission said we must either widen more streets to allow more diagonal parking or buy a half block, raze the buildings, and provide a parking lot.

Tune in tomorrow to see what they decide!

Originally Published February 3, 2020

The Downtown Parking Saga – Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about the first 30 years of Golden’s learning to accommodate automobiles in downtown. It was a never-ending battle. Golden has always attracted its share of non-residents: it’s the County seat, so all Jefferson County residents come to Golden to transact County business; the School of Mines and Coors both bring people to central Golden, downtown Golden was the commercial center for the ranches and farms that surrounded it, and Golden has always attracted tourists.

The City responded to the ever-increasing number of cars by widening the streets and trying to use available space more efficiently. Yesterday, I left you with this cliffhanger:

In 1954, the Planning Commission said we must either widen more streets to allow more diagonal parking or buy a half block, raze the buildings, and provide a parking lot.

More Street Widening
As it turned out, we did both–and more! Throughout the late 1950s, the City widened the downtown streets and added stripes for diagonal parking. With those changes, the City estimated that downtown could go from 60 parking spaces to 110. Arapahoe Street “went diagonal” in 1957.

Predecessors of the Foss Parking Lot – Click to enlarge
Excerpted from the Denver Public Library Western History Collection # Z-12056

In 1957, the City doubled the price of business licenses and raised the mill levy to finance purchase of downtown property to be used as parking lots. Not content to wait for public parking, Heinie Foss purchased a large home and yard behind his store to be turned into a parking lot. In 1959, Mr. Foss bought the other home behind his store–the home that had belonged to Gertrude Bell (of Bell Middle School fame). Both houses were demolished and the land made available for Foss customers.

In 1961, the Chamber of Commerce purchased the old Baptist Church at 12th and Jackson, to be demolished and used as a public parking lot. The Baptist parsonage followed in 1962, and eventually they were able to acquire that entire half-block, behind the stores in the 1300 block. It served as a 48-slot public parking lot until GURA built the parking garage and sold the 12th and 13th Street ends of the lot for development in the 2010s.

Site of the Jackson Street Surface lot – click to enlarge.
Excerpted from the Denver Public Library Western History Collection

Golden’s new municipal center on 10th Street opened in 1961, and the old city hall on 12th Street (between the Old Capitol Grill building and the Astor House) was demolished to make way for more public parking.

Old City Hall on 12th Street, demolished in 1961
Golden History Museums, City of Golden Collection

More buildings were razed: the Catholic Church became the Coors visitor parking lot; the Methodist Church became the Holland House (now the Table Mountain Inn) parking lot. Homes near downtown made way for new businesses with their own parking lots.

Downtown Churches that became parking lots. click to enlarge

In 1971, the Golden Downtown Improvement District (GDID) voted to acquire the 1867 Astor House and turn it into a parking lot.

Come back tomorrow to see how that turned out

Originally Published February 4, 2020

The Never-Ending Story of Parking in Golden – Part 3

As traffic levels grew in Golden, the City began to regard diagonal parking–a great solution in the 1920s–as a waste of lane space. In 1970, Washington Avenue reverted from diagonal parking back to parallel parking, and we went from two lanes of traffic to four. This loss of parking spots made it more urgent that we create off-street parking.

This block of homes between 13th and 14th/Ford and Jackson was replaced by businesses with private parking lots. Click to enlarge.

Businesses began to move out of downtown–or to the fringes of downtown– in order to have their own parking lots. Increasingly, businesses would advertise “Plenty of Free Parking!” Likewise, the church congregations also moved out of downtown, in search of properties big enough to include parking lots. Residential neighborhoods were also changing to include off-street parking. In 1971, council passed an ordinance (#650) requiring that multiple family dwelling units provide two off-street parking spaces per dwelling.

The Golden Downtown Improvement District continued to acquire and demolish old buildings to make way for parking lots–as did Mines, and Coors, and Jefferson County, and the rest of the country.

South School (on the Mines campus), Courthouse (15th & Washington), North School (5th and Washington), Methodist, Baptist, and Catholic Churches Enlarge

In 1971, the GDID acquired the Astor House. For some Golden residents, that was the last straw. In the past few years, we had lost the Courthouse, South School, North School, several churches, and many old houses. People didn’t think that trading the Astor House for 8 parking spaces was worth it. What followed was an amazing display of grassroots advocacy (worthy of another post on another day), and in 1972, the citizens of Golden voted to have the City purchase and preserve the building.

The endless search for parking slowed in the 1980s. Downtown Golden was in an economic decline, and we actually reached a point where our parking was adequate to our needs. We had plenty of other things to worry about (notably the dying downtown), but for a few years, we had adequate parking.

Tomorrow: Golden’s Renaissance and Our Love-Hate Relationship with Parking

Originally Published February 5, 2020

Parking: The End. Or maybe not.

For the past few days I’ve been musing about how automobiles have changed the shape of our built-before-cars downtown. On Sunday, I talked about the 1920s through the early ’50’s and our quest to provide ever-more parking spots on our streets. On Monday, I covered the rise of parking lots, 1950-1970. Yesterday‘s post reviewed some of the buildings we lost in the quest to build parking lots.

After more than half a century of scrambling to provide enough parking for their customers, downtown business owners got some unwanted relief in the 1980s. Shoppers’ tastes were changing. They didn’t want to shop in a traditional downtown anymore–they wanted to go to shopping malls. One by one, our downtown stores closed. By some counts, half of our storefronts were empty by 1990. Our downtown hotel–the Holland House–closed and stood empty. There were few restaurants, few stores, and few reasons to visit downtown. This was happening to small towns all over the country.

Golden fought back. We voted to form a Golden Urban Renewal Authority, which was able to use tax incentive deals to finance visual and infrastructure upgrades. The Golden Civic Foundation bought some of the empty buildings and carefully selected developers to refurbish and reopen them as viable businesses. The Golden Chamber began hosting downtown events almost every weekend. The merchants funded a tourism program, administered by the city. Community leaders raised funds to build a Visitors Center. The City developed the Creek and built a golf course to help attract tourists. And many, many citizens undertook all sorts of volunteer efforts aimed at making Golden a vibrant, viable city again.

It all worked: Golden is as viable as all get-out. Our downtown has never been as crowded as it is today. Our population is climbing steadily and Mines is growing rapidly and we attract thousands of tourists every month. Most of them arrive in cars and most of them need places to park. GURA built not one but two parking garages. To discourage Mines students from parking downtown all day, the City finally installed the parking meters that we’ve been discussing since the 1930s (only now we call them kiosks).

But there is an interesting undercurrent at work. In response to environmental concern, there is rising social pressure to ride bikes, walk, or take public transit instead of driving everywhere. Urban planners are convinced that people will change their ways and our need for parking will diminish. For that reason, they’re starting to build less parking into their plans. Compare today’s parking with the West Downtown Plan for Arapahoe Street.

Google satellite image on the left | West Downtown Plan on the right

Will better bike lanes and bigger sidewalks entice more people to leave their cars at home? Maybe. Can we start to give up our hard-won parking spaces? I have my doubts, but we’ll see. Even after a century, we haven’t fully solved the parking conundrum.

Many thanks to the Golden History Museum for providing the online cache of historic Transcripts, and many thanks to the Golden Transcript for documenting our history since 1866!