Larimer Square, in the Lower Downtown neighborhood of Denver, Colorado, is the city’s first designated local historic district. The history associated with the buildings on the 1400 block as well as Larimer Street itself have played an important role in the economic and social importance of the area, and that impact continues to evolve.
Today, residents and tourists visit Larimer Square to see the Victorian buildings that house specialty boutiques and restaurants, along with events that take place throughout the year. All of these elements have come together to form an attraction that creates an experience for visitors from all over.
The Mile High City’s Oldest and Most Historic Block
Larimer Square was originally laid out by William E Larimer in 1858. Larimer Street became the city’s main street and served as a main business area for many years, but a silver crash in 1893 led to the area falling into disrepair. By the time the rest of the city began to boom after World War II, there were considerations of demolishing the entire block since it continued to attract the wrong kind of attention and clientele.
However, in 1965, John and Dana Crawford started the Larimer Associates to change the face of the 1400 block of Larimer Street by refurbishing the buildings, creating courtyards and leasing space to office and retail tenants. These efforts enabled the birth of Larimer Square as both an attraction and destination. The 1400 block was saved from demolition by the Denver Urban Renewal Authority and in 1971 it was named Denver’s first historic district. Since then, many more have been created and established.
In 2015, Larimer Square celebrated 50 years of being an official destination. The presence of Gusterman Silversmiths, which opened its doors in 1966, along with Chef Jennifer Jasinksi’s Rioja and Chef Troy Guard’s TAG restaurants showcase the evolution of the area. This process has ensured visitors are able to experience Larimer Square in an especially personal manner, which can vary depending on their wants and needs.
The Larimer Experience
Buildings such as the Miller Building, the Congdon Building, the Kettle Building and the Hope Building all have individual histories that can be experienced and explored online and in person. The ability to do so has given visitors something specific and engaging to do beyond visiting the stores or shops that currently reside in all of these buildings. Visitors can choose to experience both the past and present that’s associated with all of these spaces and places.
As an example of what it can mean to experience this history, the Kettle Arcade was built between two existing buildings, using the neighboring structures as side-wall support and building only front and rear walls for the Kettle Arcade itself. The building was decorated with key figures from Denver’s early history, including Larimer himself, Chief Little Raven, sharpshooter Annie Oakley, con man Soapy Smith and Denver Mayor Robert Speer. Viewers can still see these figures today.
While not as distinct of a day/night experience as you can have elsewhere, the signature canopy of lights above the street certainly impacts visitors in a different way during the day than at night. The experience is one that can be enabled via guided tours or ones that visitors can have on their own that utilize the markers located up and down the street. All of this can be done before, during or after visiting any of the shops on the street.
These establishments are the core of the Larimer Square experience, but their ability to enable something deeper is what makes the area about more than just shopping and eating.
An Economic and Social Impact
Restaurants, retail stores and clubs/bars populate the street, and they deliver the most important economic impact for the area. The popularity of the street has enabled a great number of restaurants to flourish, but the options when it comes to shopping and clubs/bars are just as diverse and plentiful.
The events that take place across Larimer Square are just as important as the economic impact though, as everything from stand-up comedians to restaurant specials to free makeup lessons happen on a regular basis. These events can serve as a draw for both residents and tourists to create specific reasons for them to visit the area.
Being able to see and discover a great deal about what’s happening at Larimer Square online also contributes to the experiences people can have when they’re there. It’s simple to do everything from look at a map to find out what events are going to be taking place in the near future. Efforts to encourage social interaction are just as powerful for people that have either visited the area, or want to get a sense of what doing so will mean.
All of these elements have come together to create a center for commerce and culture that has a connection to the past and present of Denver, which draws in visitors across the region. The street showcases what’s possible when there’s a conscious effort to create experiences for visitors that incorporate commerce and culture, but is ultimately about something more.
What’s Old is New Again
Larimer Square is a great example of what it can mean for an area to embrace the past and the present of an area to create an attraction. What could be just another strip of shops and stores in Denver has been transformed into an experience that visitors can embrace in whatever way they wish.
By embracing this history while still enabling plenty of contemporary experiences, visitors have multiple reasons to visit this section of the city. Doing so has opened up incredible economic and social opportunities, all of which can be further expanded and explored in especially powerful ways.