The Kettle Arcade Murals
The two murals showing people who influenced Denver’s past include General Larimer, Robert Speer and Soapy Smith. If you’re a tourist visiting Denver you would assume these murals are of city fathers. Two out of three isn’t bad.
General William Larimer Jr. moved west when opportunity presented itself. He belonged to the Pennsylvania Militia where he got his rank as General. He was a Whig, then a Republican, an abolitionist and a Presbyterian. He supported women’s suffrage. In 1855 he was a member of the Nebraska Territorial Legislature. He arrived at the confluence of the Platter River and Cherry Creek on November 12, 1858. Ten days later he founded the Denver City Town Company, earning him the surveyor’s scope in the mural. He was influential in bringing the stage to Denver City. Auraria and Denver consolidated into Denver on April 5, 1860. In December of that year he was in Washington D.C. hoping to be appointed governor to the future Colorado Territory, founded 2-28-1861. He lost that bid, returned to Denver, then went back to Leavenworth Kansas in January of 1862. During the Civil War he served in the Kansas Cavalry and was discharged a Captain. He stayed in Kansas, serving in the Kansas Senate in 1867-1870. He died in 1875. His family sold his last lots in Denver in 1906.
The mural depicts his cabin with a glass pane window. It was located approximately where the entrance to the Comedy Club is now facing 15th Street. It is doubtful he brought a urn with him, perhaps minted coins, but he did bring wood for caskets that served as a door to his cabin. Hoping for an appointed government position in the newly formed Colorado Territory, Joan Ostrom Beasley’s article in Colorado Heritage Magazine says it all with its title: Unrealized Dreams: General William Larimer Jr. (Summer issue 1996).
Still available, the rare book written by Herman S. Davis Ph.D., Reminiscences of General William Larimer and his Son William H.H. Larimer, Two Founders of Denver City, 1918 details General Larimer’s struggle to build Denver City.
Robert Speer came to Colorado in 1877 to help his sick sister recover from tuberculous. When they returned to their native Pennsylvania she passed away. Then Speer discovered he too had contracted the disease. He returned to Colorado the next year. Cured in the dry, high altitude air, he stayed. His first job was as a carpet salesman at Daniels & Fishers. He then entered the real estate business. By 1884 he was city clerk. The same year he was also promoting Horace Tabor’s Lookout Mountain Resort Company, and was the director of the Manufacturer’s Bureau. In 1891 he was appointed to the Fire & Police Board. He was not on the board when the City Hall War occurred in 1893. Again appointed the board, he served in 1897. In 1901 he was appointed president of the Board of Public Works. This appointment gave him experience to try to control public works when he was elected mayor in 1904.
Speer served in the time of political “bosses.” Some considered him a political boss. Other considered him taking orders from a boss, William G. Evans. He had turbulent times with the public utilities. He had a constant battle in the newspapers with Thomas M. Patterson (Patterson’s house is on the Capital Hill tour). But Speer improved the city. Cherry Creek was improved, numerous swimming pools and beaches were opened for the citizens to enjoy, golf courses were started, viaducts built, lighting erected, parkways were built and numerous other city improvements were made.
Social programs did not improve at the same rate as infrastructure improvements. Graft and other illegal activities still existed. Speer’s 1908 election was sprinkled with fodder for the newspapers and do-gooders. He was elected in 1908 but by only a margin of 5% more votes than his opponent. During this term he was able to visit Europe and study city government in numerous European cities. He also was able to see the beauty of these cities. He was on the European trip with his wife for two and a half months! Speer was reelected as mayor in 1916 after a failed experiment in committee government. He only served 2 years, passing away in 1918 as one of the first victims of the world wide flu epidemic.
Pictured as a prospector, Speer was usually digging for support of his political machine. Public utilities were growing at the time and high powered Denverites like Cheeseman, Moffat, and Evans were looking for favors. The city was becoming beautiful with Speer but behind the scenes is where the ugliness played out
Information from: Denver’s Mayor Speer, by Charles A. Johnson, 1969
Speer was in real estate before he was mayor. One of his projects was Arlington Park, now Alamo Placita. It was the east side amusement park in contrast to Eliches, Lake Side and Manhattan Beach. Cherry Creek split through the park and a lake was created on the north side of creek. That lake is now the site of the flower garden on north bound Speer Boulevard.
This week, and this is getting off track a bit, I discovered a park named after one of Denver’s architects, J.J. Benedict. J.J. designed the Washington Park Boat House. The park is located north east of downtown off Park Avenue. Located there is a copy of the original fountain that fell into ruin. J.J. designed the original. Another copy is found in the Hungarian Freedom Park, moved from the Belmar Estate.
The top photo is the fountain at Benedict Park. The lower photo is the fountain at the Hungarian Freedom Park. Below is the plaque at Benedict Park, with J.J.’s photo.
Speer gave up on Arlington Park and continued to use his influence to develop the Country Club Neighborhood.
I left the story of Soapy Smith for next week.
Ginny Gilbach sent this note about Chief Hosa: He was also called ‘The Peace Indian”. Natives came through Colorado from all over to trade. The present Chief Hosa Lodge was the trading site. Since tribes were all so different in language, dress, customs,..etc…he insisted on ‘good behavior’ while here.
Additions, comments and corrections are welcomed, JOE S