Found: Virginia Village’s 1973 Neighborhood Plan
This article originally ran in the Spring 2015 Village Voice.
Check out a full copy of the master plan here, or click on the cover image.
Cleaning out his office a few months ago, local resident John Dillavou unearthed what could be best described as a Virginia Village artifact. As a local history nut, err, enthusiast, I felt like I should be handling it with white gloves. It was a copy of the 1973 Virginia Village Neighborhood Plan, which also happens to be the most recent plan for our neighborhood. Even with its dated type and yellowing pages, the plan reveals how little some of the neighborhood problems have changed. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the findings from this ancient document. (I kid, I kid.)
Density a Problem Today…and Yesterday
Today it seems like a new high-rise is springing from the ground each day. However, this isn’t the only time Denver has faced density changes. The climate today is similar to what Denver was going through in the 1960s and 1970s. High density was a huge concern for Virginia Village in 1973. In the decade prior, 70 rezoning applications were filed in the area, of those 51 were from lower density to higher density residential or business—22 were approved. Glendale just to the north of Virginia Village was also a haven for high-density housing that encroached on the area.
Virginia Village residents at the time pushed for the neighborhood plan to help preserve its enclave of single-family homes in busy Southeast Denver. The picture on the cover of the neighborhood plan reflects this concern with the sharp contrast between the high-rise apartments along Colorado Boulevard and the low-slung single-family homes farther east.
Traffic Still an Issue in 1973
Traffic was also an issue in 1973, but the way Denver resolved it then is not something that would work for us today. In 1973 Evans was already at its designed capacity. The report also noted that Colorado Boulevard, “carr[ies] traffic greatly in excess of its designed capacity,” and that Holly and Monaco both carried 150% of their designed capacity. Hmm, sound familiar? A long-range priority for the plan asked to “deemphasize South Monaco Street and South Holly Street as traffic carriers.”
The solution to these problems was to improve and expand the streets, something that isn’t realistic today with many streets already at their limits. In 1973 Quebec was an unimproved—i.e. a dirt—road that did not cross Cherry Creek. The plan recommended transforming Quebec into an arterial road. According to Dillavou, Denver expected Quebec to carry significant traffic from Stapleton Airport to South Denver, and take traffic away from Colorado Boulevard.
The plan also recommended improving Cherry Creek, but it originally sought to extend Cherry Creek Parkway all the way along the South side of the creek from Holly to Monaco and then from Monaco to Quebec. Dillavou added that a bigger plan was actually to have the parkway go all the way to Cherry Creek Reservoir. Eventually the plan was scrapped, and Leetsdale and Parker Road became the preferred method of travel out to Aurora—and Cherry Creek Trail came along instead.
Public transportation was also a key initiative in 1973. Denver had an extensive electric streetcar system that was abruptly abandoned in 1952 in favor of buses. In 1972, RTD created a plan to introduce a trendy light rail system of sorts in the 1970s: personal rapid transit (PRT), which used small automated vehicles operating on a network of purpose-built guide ways. The RTD plan called for 98 miles of PRT, including a line along Colorado Boulevard with a stop at Colorado Boulevard and Mexico. The project was later abandoned.
The Rise of Virginia Village Parks
Up until this plan, the parks we know today in Virginia Village didn’t exist, even 20 years after the start of Virginia Village as a suburb in the early 1950s. Ash Grove Park was a vacant patch of land owned by the city, which the plan recommends turning into a park, along with the vacant land that turned into City of Potenza Park. Parks were also proposed on a vacant lot southwest of Florida and Krameria, and the land west of Ellis Elementary, but these eventually turned into housing developments.
The plan also suggested turning an abandoned rail line that ran just north of Evans into a trail and greenway. The original rail line ran from Denver out to the towns of Parker and Elizabeth, and eventually Colorado Springs. With declining rail service, the line was slowly cut back until it just served a huge grain elevator that stood near the corner of Asbury and Holly. Once the grain elevator closed down—Dillavou noted that for a while the retired elevator served as nightclub and restaurant—the rail line was no longer needed and removed. Eventually the trail plan fell through. You can still the railroad line today. If you check out Google Earth, you can see a green belt that runs just north of the business on the north side of Evans between Dahlia and Holly—that’s the old rail line.
Those are a few of the findings from our most recent neighborhood plan. There have been some rumors that we might get the opportunity for another neighborhood plan soon, so we’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can see our “current” 1973 plan by going to our website, virginiavillage.com, and clicking on the link on the home page. And if you’d like to see the original copy, please let me know, and be sure to bring the white gloves.