Dana Crawford, urban preservation pioneer
March 17, 2017 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Around the same time Jane Jacobs was going toe-to-toe with Robert Moses in New York, Dana Crawford was fighting to preserve a historic part of downtown Denver, Larimer Square, from the "clean slate" style of "urban renewal" that was popular in the 1960's. How Dana Crawford’s heart saved the soul of Denver. "I’m attracted to beautiful places, and, a lot of times, they happen to be places that have been ignored. When I go around the country on consulting jobs and I get to the towns, I always say, ‘Take me to your pigeons and your pensioners,’ and then I find the beautiful buildings."

Crawford still an urban pioneer (Denver Post, circa 1999/2000)
Crawford's collective list of credits is the result of a steely tenacity and hard-nosed approach to getting things done. Both are belied by her engaging Midwest exterior.

Friends like longtime preservation activist Barbara Sudler, a co-founder - with Crawford - of Historic Denver Inc. in the early '70s, say "all the business things you hear about her are true, but she's an incredible woman and has also been a magnificent friend. You don't see many people like her nowadays.''

Not everyone loves Crawford. In the early '70s, critics tagged her Denver's "Dragon Lady.'' But even Crawford's critics - who include retailers, tenants and other developers - will grudgingly admit that she gets things done.

In Denver, she usually got things done first - with projects that were often ahead of their time.
At 85, Developer Dana Crawford Is Ready to Make More History (Westword, Dec. 20, 2016)
Difficult projects are Crawford’s specialty. Over the years, she’s been told her ideas are crazy or impossible. Yet she always seems to deliver her vision for a special place that makes a difference in the community.

“As a preservationist, I have to be optimistic and look on the bright side of everything,” Crawford says.
posted by filthy light thief (9 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
...the thing that I regret that’s coming with [growth] is an enormous amount of growth in the building of rental apartments, and I think so many of them are being constructed from plywood. I say we’re just building a plywood city that 15 years from now isn’t going to hold up.

It's not news that Denver has become a popular place to move to these days. Most of us are "immigrants" here, but those of us who've lived here for thirty-forty years are not amused by recent changes. I know we're not the first urbanites to want to roll up the welcome mat, but we certainly didn't see this coming ten years ago.
posted by kozad at 12:03 PM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are you sure that's an issue with not wanting or welcoming "immigrants"? It seems more like general cost-cutting in the modern (read: since plywood was first considered as a building material) times. Brick and stone are heavy and expensive, especially when you're in the business of building at the lowest cost.

That's part of the appeal of retaining and rehabilitating old buildings - they're very solid, and often include features and details that would be very costly to re-create now.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:18 PM on March 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm sure when it was saved it was an interesting place. But Larimer Square now is for rich people. Super fine dining, fashion boutiques, valet parking, and high-end chains. I only go down there for fancy dinner.
posted by tunewell at 12:20 PM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

But Larimer Square now is for rich people.

This is the irony of urban preservation. The stuff rich white folks wanted to raze in the 60s and 70s has become the places they desire the most.
posted by GuyZero at 12:40 PM on March 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

My sister lived in Denver for a year when working for the 2008 DNC, and she effused about how livable and walkable the downtown was. Which was a surprise to me, because I tend to think of cities of the West and Southwest as either having been built to the car or redeveloped into blandness.
posted by tavella at 12:48 PM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, it was nice in 2008, and more so before that, downtown Denver. That's when my wife and I entertained the idea of living downtown. Now living downtown is something that would appeal to you only if you love sports bars and drunks. And a cheaply-built yet expensive condo to call home.
posted by kozad at 1:01 PM on March 17, 2017

Now living downtown is something that would appeal to you only if you love sports bars and drunks.

"No one goes there. It's too popular."
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:23 PM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I grew up in Denver, and worked in Larimer Square for 6,(7?) years at the now long-gone Bratskellar. It was basically burgers and brats, with an amazing beer list (for the 80's, that is). I bought many many books at The Footnote (also long-gone).
For many years, the Square was surrounded by acres of asphalt - where "urban renewal" had torn down all the interesting stuff, and replaced it with parking lots.
One last memory - when the Daniels and Fisher department store building was torn down (in 1971), it was so well-built that it took far longer to wreck it than had been plannned. The tower attached was saved, it is a miniature of the campanile at St Mark's in Venice.
posted by dbmcd at 6:35 PM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

The irony is that urban renewal, the very thing that spawned the modern historic preservation movement, is now itself at the 50 year threshold that commonly makes resources potentially eligible to be designated "historic." I've recently written a number of National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmark nominations for urban renewal projects. It's often a very difficult and painful history as, beyond the loss of historic resources from an earlier era, urban renewal is often inextricably linked with racist urban planning policies of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Lafayette Park in Detroit, for example, is unique for its collection of Mies van der Rohe architecture and as one of the few truly successful urban renewal plans (in the sense that the district achieved many of its original stated aims). But it also sits on land that used to be a dense, thriving African American neighborhood and cultural center with many black-owned businesses and cultural institutions. Aretha Franklin's father headed a church on Hastings Street and farther north was Paradise Valley, the center of Detroit's jazz and blues scene. Both districts were mostly swept away in the 1950s and 1960s in the name of blight removal and their residents involuntarily removed, often into substandard, high-rise, dense housing developments.

As a preservationist, I often struggle with the dichotomy involved in preserving urban renewal projects. On the one hand, there's a strong argument for correcting the wrongs of the past. On the other hand, they can be powerful places for remembering that history and educating future generations.
posted by Preserver at 10:30 AM on March 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

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