Denver’s Civic Center brings together key buildings from government, art and history around a 16-acre park in the heart of downtown Denver that serves as the home for festivals, fairs, parades and other special events throughout the year.
The State Capitol and the Denver City and County Building anchor the east and west ends of the Civic Center, with the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Public Library’s Central Library on the south side, the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building on the north side, and the History Colorado Center and Colorado State Judicial Building on the southeast side. The park is at the center of the complex.
The heart of the park is a large, formal promenade with the Voorhies Memorial on its north end and the Greek Theater on its south end, both constructed of Turkey Creek sandstone in Neoclassical design with colonnades, or tall columns. In front of the memorial is a large fountain with bronze statues of seals.
Colfax Avenue sweeps in a semicircle around the memorial and 14th Avenue around the theater. The remainder of the park, on either side of the promenade, includes grassy areas with trees and walkways.
The Civic Center was proposed by Denver Mayor Robert W. Speer in 1904 and was inspired by the City Beautiful Movement featured at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The movement sought to improve the quality of life through civic improvements.
Speer hired urban planner Charles Mulford Robinson, who proposed grouping government buildings around a central park. That proposal, however, was defeated in a 1907 election, and Speer lost the mayor’s office in 1912.
His successor, Henry Arnold, brought in architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., who proposed a grove of trees and a lighted concert area. After being reelected in 1917, Speer hired Chicago architect Edward H. Bennett, who combined ideas from the previous plans, adding a Greek Theater and seal pond and realigning Colfax Avenue and 14th Avenue around the park. The park officially opened in 1919.
The city completed the restoration and renovation of the Voorhies Memorial, the Greek Theatre, and the promenade in 2010 and is working on the revitalization of other areas of the park with funding from $9.5 million in voter-approved bonds. New events seek to bring more diverse crowds to the area, such as Food Truck festivals and a July Independence Eve celebration.
The Civic Center’s leading events include the Taste of Colorado festival, Theatre in the Park, a pro-marijuana rally, the People’s Fair, St. Patrick’s Day and Columbus Day parades, a Cinco de Mayo festival, and the Parade of Lights and holiday lights display. It also was the home of a community vigil following the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999. The events are free and open to the public.
The area has experienced problems with crime and the homeless.