The ’70s: Development thrives, solar panels pop up, Arvada Center opens

Richard Gardner
Posted 5/31/12

In the 1970s Jefferson County saw maturing growth and a continued transformation into the county it was to become. Jefferson County entered the new …

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The ’70s: Development thrives, solar panels pop up, Arvada Center opens


In the 1970s Jefferson County saw maturing growth and a continued transformation into the county it was to become. Jefferson County entered the new decade with a population of 233,031, an explosion by 82.7 percent over the past decade.

In the spotlight

Movie multiplexes were beginning to appear, and the fast food of Burger King, Jack in the Box, Whataburger, Long John Silver’s, Arby’s and more, were popular. So were the Mile High Nationals, the first National Hot Rod Association event in Colorado that debuted at Bandimere Speedway in 1977.

That year folks were treated to even more fast cars with “Smokey and the Bandit,” in which Coors, not sold east of the Mississippi, featured prominently. High-speed smugglers, including Burt Reynolds, dodged the law escorting a semitrailer full of Coors from Texas to Georgia. The Coors mystique was further bolstered by its most prominent real-life absconder, President Gerald Ford, who got his favored brew into the White House aboard the much-faster Air Force One. The local brewer topped things off by introducing Coors Light in 1978.

The Vietnam War came to an end, and Jeffco citizens and beyond remembered those who served and many more by building the United States Marine Corps Memorial in 1976.

Exemplifying social change

Amid the backdrop of national debate over the Equal Rights Amendment, Jeffco women made milestones of their own. Jeffco had been electing women to public office since 1894 and to countywide office since 1904. In 1974 Joanne K. Patterson became the first woman to be elected to highest office as commissioner; she served for the rest of the decade. Patrice Helland Von Stroh became the first female Lutheran pastor in Colorado when she was installed at Faith Lutheran Church in 1978, the same congregation where in 1975 served student pastor April Ulring Larson, who would go on to become the first female Lutheran bishop in America and second in the world.

Preserving Jeffco’s history

During the 1970s, Jefferson County citizens and communities looked fondly upon their rich heritage and commenced movements to preserve it.

In 1971, after seeing other historic landmarks fall, Golden citizens drew their line at downtown renewal destroying the Astor House hotel, a stone landmark from 1867. Rallying at the grassroots level to prevent it from becoming a parking lot, they formed the Golden Landmarks Association and by vote of the people saved the Astor House on June 13, 1972, with 69 percent voting in favor.

In Wheat Ridge, a historic sod house, dating to at least 1864 and possibly the gold rush, also came under threat by encroaching development. Organizing the Save Our Soddy (S.O.S.) campaign, citizens raised $3,000 to preserve it, upon which the newborn Wheat Ridge government voted to make up the difference to purchase the property. Both became museums, and the upcoming Centennial-Bicentennial celebration, celebrating the simultaneous 100th birthday of Colorado and 200th birthday of America, helped spur more historic and preservation endeavors.

Mitchell Elementary students and Golden Landmarks joined to save Guy Hill School and move it down Golden Gate Canyon to Golden on June 25, 1975. The Lakewood Centennial-Bicentennial Commission eyed land of the historic Belmar estate as the spot for the newborn city’s first museum, and on Aug. 1, 1976, the Belmar Museum, housed in a historic calf barn, was opened. It became a refuge for area landmarks threatened with destruction, and the Wheat Ridge Soddy also gained its own historical park with their old post office moved there.

The entire towns of Morrison, Buffalo Creek and Pine were placed on the National Historic Register. Watching over it all, the county government in 1974 formed the Jefferson County Historical Commission, which designated 25 Centennial Sites across Jeffco, started the Festival of the West, began publishing Historically Jeffco magazine, and commenced its permanent mission to promote and preserve Jefferson County’s great heritage.

Creating new landmarks

While old landmarks were being preserved, new landmarks were springing up across Jefferson County. In 1974 architect Philip H. Phillips transformed a vacant grocery store at the JCRS shopping center in Lakewood into a 52,000-square-foot fantasy recreation of Old Mexico, called Casa Bonita, the featured a centerpiece lagoon, three-tiered fountain, 30-foot-high diving waterfall, grotto, cabaña, pirates’ hideout, mercado, Spanish tile floors and 82-foot-high Spanish baroque tower.

In 1979 the Steve Frederick Steakhouse in Golden was transformed by Reed Pasco into the elegant Briarwood Inn, Golden’s first fine dining establishment in many years. Twin brother chefs Dale and Dean Peterson bought a hillside overlook at Simms at 6th Avenue in 1977 to create Simms Landing, a two-story brick-and-timber lodge designed as if built by shipwrecked people with whatever materials they could find, with many windows through which patrons could also feast their eyes on Denver, spread out before them.

Across 6th from there, Lakewood created Union Square, a 260-acre landscape with office towers, restaurants (including Jose O’Shea’s opened in 1978 by Jim Hotchkiss), and the towering glass Sheraton Hotel, flanked by the Lake Plaza Towers, designed by Brooks Waldman Associates in 1976.

In 1977 Westminster Mall opened, featuring Joslins, the popular Trail Dust Steak House, and 30 more tenants collected around its signature fountain area that boasted rising and falling hot air balloons.

The proposed Wide Acres Mall, east of Pleasant View, did not make it beyond the Holiday Inn built in 1965, but its proprietors enclosed it into the Holidome, complete with indoor pool and poolside restaurant. Chuck Stevinson began his own development of the area, moving Stevinson Chevrolet across the street and building Denver West Office Park that would house many prominent entities. Among them was AMAX, parent of the Climax Molybdenum mine which moved to downtown Golden earlier in the decade, and the newborn Solar Energy Research Institute, established in 1974 and opened in 1977. The institute was, devoted to investigating solar and other forms of renewable energy and was created in the wake of the Arab oil embargo, which disrupted supplies, spiked oil prices and caused area gas stations to go out of business.

Emphasis on energy-efficiency

Solar panels began being used on homes in Jeffco and featured prominently (if not fully functionally) on the solar dormitory at the Colorado School of Mines. Nearby, at 19th and Illinois, CSM two-degree alumnus and 1936 Olympic swimmer Nils Christiansen built his own answer to the energy problem with techniques he learned in 1938, using the old-school solution of adobe homes — self-crafting, double-layered, 20-inch-thick walls designed to conserve energy. He used the rare examples of adobe construction in Jeffco to teach others how to build cheaper, more efficient housing in Colorado. “It makes sense,” Christiansen said of his adobe; “Maybe that’s why the government is not interested.”

In response to the floods of 1965 and more than a century of flooding on the South Platte, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed Chatfield Dam. A major flood-control measure, the earth-filled dam rose 147 feet and created one of Jeffco’s largest lakes, putting much of the 1870s ranch of Isaac W. Chatfield underwater and creating a popular new mecca for recreation.

The federal government also built the new Interstate 70 highway, crossing through Wheat Ridge, Applewood and Golden, and up Mount Vernon Canyon, opening in 1973. As it was being built into the mountains, the highway threatened the Mount Vernon House, the 1860 stone hotel that was about the last of its gold rush town. It became the house that moved a highway, a move taken so that Jeffco’s first landmark listed on the National Historic Register (in 1970) could be preserved.

I-70 created new landmarks, from its unique geological attraction, made by cutting through the hogback ridge, to the instant landmark Picture Frame Bridge at its summit. Designed by Frank Lundberg and constructed in 1970 by H-E Lowdermilk Company with subcontractor Kenny Construction Company, this flying 180-foot span without central support framed the spectacular view of the continental divide, winning the American Institute of Steel Construction national prize-bridge award in the category of Highway Grade Separation, the first Colorado bridge to win.

AISC judges commented, “Here is a fine solution to a difficult highway crossing problem. The bridge is simple and straightforward. Omission of a center pier contributes to its graceful, slender lines; nicely frames the scene beyond; and provides the motorist with an unobstructed view.” State highway bridge engineer Paul Chuvarsky was a little more blunt, saying, “If we hadn’t done this one right, all the mountain beauty lovers in Colorado would have been on our necks.”

Attention to open spaces

Jeffco’s scenic beauty was high on the minds of its citizens, who on Nov. 7, 1972, with urging by PLAN Jeffco and the League of Women Voters, voted to create Colorado’s first countywide open-space preservation program. Fueled by a half-percent sales tax, Jeffco Open Space quickly began snapping up crown jewels of Jefferson County: Mount Falcon, Apex Gulch, White Ranch, Reynolds Ranch, Van Bibber Creek, Green Mountain Ranch, Mathews Ranch, Alderfer Ranch, Crown Hill, Welchester and more.

Historic and open-space preservation efforts converged when JCOS purchased the historic Hiwan Homestead, protecting it from encroaching Evergreen development with the aid of the nonprofit Jefferson County Historical Society, which established a museum there. In 1975 JCOS opened the Jefferson County Outdoor Conference and Nature Center at the historic Boettcher Mansion on Lookout Mountain, giving it a new purpose.

Major development also continued, with the Genesee community, expansions of Arvada, Lakewood, Wheat Ridge, Golden, Lookout Mountain, Evergreen, Conifer, south Jeffco (including Columbine) and more.

Johns Manville developed Ken Caryl Ranch, starting in 1976, in a way realizing the gold-rush dream of Robert Bradford, who wanted to building his own city there in 1860. The ruins of Bradford’s home were preserved, along with other important historic and archaeological sites. Among them was the stately Manor House built in 1914 by John C. Shaeffer, the Rocky Mountain News owner who named the ranch for sons Kenneth and Carrol. Johns Manville built its world headquarters in 1976, a gleaming glass skyscraper lying on its side in south Jeffco that won the praise of Architectural Record magazine.

Focus on culture, entertainment

Historic Tiny Town was revived through the great efforts of the family of Lyle Fulkerson, but unfortunately closed again after his tragic death in 1977. Fulkerson was hit by a runaway railcar on his way there. Golden’s much-larger historic downtown unfortunately began faltering through the near-simultaneous departure of major anchors, including the last Hesteds department store in Colorado, but Magic Mountain was revived by the Woodmoor Corporation in 1971 as Heritage Square. It became a Victorian shopping village featuring the second alpine slide outside a ski resort in North America (designed and built in 1979 by Inventex Corp.) and the popular Heritage Square Opera House, which helped lead the boom of dinner theaters across Colorado.

More performances could be seen at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, opened in 1976 to provide area citizens with opportunities to enjoy the arts, culture and heritage. The center included a 2,000-seat amphitheater; 500-seat theater; studio, meeting, gallery and exhibition space; and the preserved 1864 hewn-log cabin of Arvada pioneer Hiram C. Wolff.

By the close of the 1970s, Jefferson County had continued to be a fun and growing place, among the forefront of communities of the metro area. Many of the accomplishments during this time have continued to have a profound impact on Jefferson County to the present day.

Editor’s note: This is the second story in a five-part series that focuses on the past 50 years of Jefferson County. Last summer we published a special section commemorating the 150th anniversary of Jefferson County, and then decided we wanted to shine a brighter spotlight on the past 50 years. Richard Gardner, a native of Golden and an expert on local history, agreed to tackle the series, which will proceed decade by decade, starting with the 1960s. Gardner also serves on the Jefferson County Historical Commission and the Golden Landmarks Association.


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