Noel: Pioneer cemetery fading
Ken Papaleo © News

The 1910 gravestone of Minnie Dwyer at Riverside Cemetery was restored by Fairmont Heritage Foundation volunteers after this photo was taken in early May.

Tom Noel
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Coloradans crank out about 100 books about our state annually, and this year's list includes some terrific new reads.

Judy Mattivi Morley, for example, examines how cities interpret and preserve their history in Historic Preservation and the Imagined West. The author scrutinizes Albuquerque, which repackaged a typical Victorian downtown as a Hispanicized, adobe- wrapped com-mercial "Old Town."

Morley also assesses Denver's conversion of its skid row into the Larimer Square and LoDo Historic Districts, as well as Seattle's focus on once-seedy Pike Place and Pioneer Square.

LoDo, as Morley notes, had been proposed for urban renewal or as a site for I-25. Many thought demolition was the way to deal with those derelict buildings filled with the poor, homeless, and down- and-out. Now LoDo is a model for many cities hoping to transform their skid rows into fashionable entertainment districts with expensive lofts.

But the LoDo miracle almost didn't happen: During the 1980s, 25 percent of the buildings between Larimer and Wynkoop, from Cherry Creek to 20th Street, fell to the wrecking ball. Citing Dana Crawford's successful Larimer Square redevelopment, preservationists proposed a Lower Downtown Historic District.

Some landowners resisted, but then-Mayor Federico Peña helped persuade the city council to accept the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission proposal in 1988. Peña argued that historic district designation was "the best opportunity to kick off the rehabilitation of downtown Denver."

The historic district designation ended demolitions, encouraged preservation and made this unique, low-rise, masonry district a magnet for new housing, restaurants, nightclubs, art galleries and shops. Although the arrival of Coors Field certainly deserves credit for revitalizing the area, the historic district designation was an important catalyst in LoDo's reincarnation.

Another old Denver neighborhood is not faring so well. Riverside Cemetery, where the owner has stopped watering and has cut back drastically on management services, is dying. One solution would be for Denver to purchase and maintain its oldest cemetery as a history park. Denver, although the most populous of Colorado's 64 counties, is the only city or county without its own history museum or heritage park.

Riverside would make a terrific Denver Heritage Center. Gov. John Evans, Aunt Clara Brown, William Lin Sin Chou, Count and Countess Murat, Gov./Mayor John L. Routt and a host of other illustrious ghosts are there to welcome history buffs and students.

Read about the cemetery in Annette L. Student's new book, Denver's Riverside Cemetery: Where History Lies. After three years of diligent research, Student provides a detailed history of the necropolis and profiles 114 notables slumbering in Colorado's first cemetery park.

Riverside opened in 1876. Rather than "a boneyard that is the most shunted and neglected suburb in the city - given over to owls and bats," as the original Riverside prospectus boasted, this new burial ground would be a "much frequented and delightful park" with fine funerary art, curvilinear carriage drives and landscaped grounds beside the South Platte River.

That lovely scenario is fading. As trees die, tombstones tumble and the once elaborate crematorium, caretaker's house and office deteriorate, it is sad to see our town turn its back on its history and hallowed pioneers.

Reading list

Books worth a look:

Historic Preservation and the Imagined West, by Judy Mattivi Morley, Univ. Press of Kansas, $29.95

Denver's Riverside Cemetery: Where History Lies, by Annette L. Student, CSN Books, $24.95)

Signings: Tattered Cover LoDo will host a signing and slide show featuring Annette Student at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2; Judy Morley will appear on Dec. 2.

Find more: The Colorado Historical Society tracks new publications at:

Reach Tom Noel at www.coloradowebsites. com/dr-colorado.

About Tom Noel
Tom Noel writes for the News' Spotlight section about Colorado's history.