Synopsis of Speer’s city government

I found this in my computer files.  It is from a class I had under Jay Fell, UCD history department.  He alway assigned an interview in his classes.  That made you take your nose out a book and actually talk to someone.  Great lesson!  It is nice that references are listed to this article.

Sokolowski, Joe, Week 6 Essay, 3, Hist 3601, Fell, Fall 2009

Denver and Progressivism

Denver followed the nation around the turn of the last century and adapted progressivism.  Progressivism is a political movement that represents the interest of “ordinary people.”  Denver was different, according to N. Walter Dixon, “there was a gradual transition in Western communities from the raw mining camp to the civilized town.”1  Denver was still shaking off the old west.  Denver city article XX of 1902 merged Berkeley, Elyria, Globeville, Montclair and Valverde.  The city was changing.  Reformers were appearing.

John K Mullen, the flour baron, Ellis Meredith, suffragette and Spanish War hero, General Irving Hale were trying to change Denver.  Social reforms were attempted such as liquor license fees were raised from $600 to $1000 annually to discourage saloons.2 There were other important reformers: Thomas M. Patterson, part owner of the Rocky Mountain News, Judge Benjamin Barr Lindsey, and Edward K Prentiss Costigan, lawyer.  Patterson owned two newspapers, the Denver Times and The Rocky Mountain News. Getting himself in hot water by his editorials, Patterson eventually alienated Robert Speer, future mayor.  Patterson and Speer continued to be on opposite sides of any issue.

Judge Lindsey, appointed to the Denver county court took notice of the large numbers of juvenile cases.  In 1907 as special juvenile court was set up.  Lindsey was given the choice of juvenile court or county court.  This was actually a move to get Lindsey away from biting the hand that feed him.  Always critical of politics, even of those that helped him, he was eventually disbarred and moved to California.

Speer, with the downtown liquor interests tied up, was able to gain enough votes to defeat John Springer in 1904.  Speer’s election was questioned and investigated but nothing was to come of the inquiry.  Once in office Speer’s dealings with big business especially the gas and electric company and the tramway companies lead most to see him as Boss Speer.  In his corner Speer had William Gray Evans, the Denver Tramway president and political insider.  Speer’s influence carried him through this second term as Denver’s mayor, ending in 1912.

Then the reformers tried again to change Denver.  Lindsey, Costigan, and other were able to use their influence to have the city run by a commission instead of a mayor.  Not able to turn the tide and reform the city the mayoral government was back in 1916.  This new government had the added power to appoint the city assessor, sheriff, treasurer, clerk and four City Council members.3  Speer, however came back in a different form.  Less interested in the machine and more interested in completing prior projects the leopard changed his spots.  While out of office the sin center of the city was pressured to shut down.  The state approved prohibition in 1916.  Lindsey’s The Beast revealed the influence of big business on city and state politics.4  Although criticized, Speer’s most important talent was that he could make things happen.  Although not a progressive or reform mayor, Speer changed Denver.5


Window at the Auditorium Theater

For the Denverite of 2009 the most memorable works of Speer is his “City Beautiful.”  A blue print to building Denver into tree lined boulevards linking parks and public places.  The list of Speer’s projects include: the Auditorium, the park system, swimming pools, golf course, Twentieth street viaduct, Cherry Creek improvements, the library building, and of course the Civic Center.  Politically Speer had some controversial liaisons, but Denver will always be shaped around the projects Speer supported.




  1. Charles A. Johnson, Denver’s Mayor Speer (Denver: Green Mountain Press, 1969)146


  1. Stephen J. Leonard and Thomas J. Noel, Denver Mining Camp to Metropolis (Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1990) 129


  1. Stephen J. Leonard, Denver. 136


  1. Charles A. Johnson, Denver’s Mayor. 99


  1. Stephen J. Leonard, Denver. 139

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This entry was posted on June 30, 2018 by in Larimer Street.
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