Vintage Photos: Colorado Boulevard in the ’60s (and COAL Outtake: Smelly Old Chev Vans)

This pic of Deane Buick amidst the visual din of Denver’s Colorado Boulevard in Autumn 1963 sparked some fun car spotting when I posted it the other day, so let’s have more.

Here’s one taken about ¾ of a mile north on Colorado Boulevard at Virginia Street, roughly around the same time. The car straight ahead of us is a 1961 Dodge Lancer. The others lurking amidst the clutter (smorgasbord…!) I can’t pick, but I bet others can.

Let’s take a right here on Virginia Avenue for a bit of a detour:

One business that wasn’t present on that corner at the time of the photo: Shotgun Willie’s, a –show club– strip joint founded in 1982 across Virginia Street from a catering company specialised since 1966 in serving very rich food to very rich people. The owner drove a red Porsche 911 Carrera, because of course he did. He knew all the right people, I forget the next line; he threw outrageous parties, he sent heavenly bills.

Once I had a driving licence and a car (Valiant, not Porsche) I got a job there (catering company, not strip joint) as a cater-waiter. Found myself among some interesting coworkers, including a former dancer who’d come across the street from Shotgun Willie’s when the money’d stopped getting stuffed in her crannies. Smart and driven enough to have done probably most of whatever she’d wanted with her life, and here she was. One night while we were gearing up for an event, she asked if I liked her perfume. Before I could answer she said “It’s called Ashes of Men I’ve Destroyed! “. Eep! She was alright, though; professional and easy to work with, which couldn’t be said straightfacedly of much of the rest of the motley crew.

We did the Christmas party at the Sinclair mansion, as in the oil company. Served food to the veritable Who’s Who, we did. One evening, silver tray of fussy little hors d’œuvres balanced precariously on hand, I encountered amongst the partygoers one Mrs. McClintock; she and her family lived down the block from us. She recognised me and tried gamely but lamely to make out like her obvious horror at this chance meeting was all on my behalf (working as a cater-waiter!) and not at all because she feared I’d out her aloud as a resident of our unritzy neighbourhood and driver of a 10-year-old Chevrolet, which would surely have blown her chance, which didn’t actually exist, at the also-present Denver Post society columnist putting McClintock in boldface type.

It was in this job I learnt of the two-tier party, wherein the B-list were invited until the explicit hour by which they were to be gone. Then there was a half hour’s hiatus during which we cleaned and shined the venue and rolled out much more expensive food and alcohol, then the A-listers would arrive to booze and schmooze as long and as late as they pleased. Those were the assignments to get if you wanted to eat twice (very well and then even better), but working a non-Society party meant eating still quite well and getting a tip; the two-tier types didn’t tip their caterers any more than they tipped their toilets.

The vehicle fleet comprised six hard-used Chevrolet G-vans that smelt—surprisingly faintly—of their years carrying meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. There were also a couple of Chev high cube trucks for the larger jobs. These vehicles got bare-necessity maintenance, and to be diplomatic they were unsafe; also, water is somewhat damp and the weather is sometimes a tad brisk atop Mount Everest. One of the vans tried to kill me as I drove it to and from the Phipps mansion. It had grabby brakes and carburetor problems, amongst others, and idled at about 1,800 rpm; it was all but impossible to control on the ice-rink roads. Luck, schmuck; I had to use the force.

One of the job requirements was a subservient, sycophantic smile. Shit is widely known to run downhill, and cater-waiters are pretty near the bottom of the hill. It was like it or lump it: big smile and no backtalk, or big mouth and no job. This caused a buildup of stress.

I think now of a big expensive party at Neiman-Marcus (“Needless-Markup”, we servestaff called it), a gig big enough for one of the high cubes. We’d’ve left it at the loading dock; the party took place well outside delivery hours. But N-M’s flunkies suddenly had someone beneath them to boss around, so—just because they could—they ordered us to park it clear across the vast car park. We got kicked around by supervisors, N-M flunkies, and partygoers alike (yes, Tom “Now you have a friend in the diamond business!” Shane really does sound like Bert—the Muppet—on Nyquil, whether he’s babbling on the radio about diamonds or ordering another drink) for five or six hours, and finally it was time to clean up, pack out, and vacate the premises.

Somebody—I’m sure I don’t recall who; thanks for asking—had to go fetch the truck and bring it to the loading dock, so they hoofed across the car park, got in the truck, and keyed the engine, so drained and used up that they couldn’t muster the energy or presence of mind to let go the key and lift foot off accelerator for awhile, until the crackleSPASH! of a starter motor armature throwing its molten solder and embedding little bars of copper in the brush plate might have jarred them back to situational awareness. I guess that noise was therapeutic; they probably felt better after driving across the car park (back within earshot of coworkers) carefully backing up to the loading dock…and switching off the ignition. We packed out, but for some strange reason when it was time to head back to homebase, the truck wouldn’t crank. It was still there the next morning when N-M had want of their loading dock.

My last assignment in that job was down in Castle Rock: a smallish event for some smallish people with largeish bank accounts. Afterward, while we were packing out, about an inchlong tear was noticed in the back of the driver’s seatback upholstery of the van in an out-of-the-way corner seam that wasn’t readily visible. The kind of tear that a quick finger jerk could’ve enlarged such that most of two beef filets, a pork loin or two, most of a fancy cheese-and-coldcuts platter, and a considerable amount of fresh fruit and veg could’ve fit through the tear and dropped irretrievably to the bottom of the interior of the seat before the van was all packed and ready to go, all without the rip being any more apparent.

The next day started a long stretch of temps well into the 90s. The vans were parked outside, and a couple weeks later when I went to pick up my last check I noticed there was a new van amongst the oldies. I wondered—surprisingly faintly—which one got replaced. Didn’t make no nevermind to me; I’d left to go work at the wrecking yard.

Alright, that’s probably about enough of a Virginia Street diversion; let’s head back out to Colorado Boulevard and proceed northward.

Here’s a pic from not long after—or, blank sign panel, maybe not long before—great big Celebrity (first Lanes, then Sports Center with big tubular water slides and that, then Fun Center) opened in 1960, bankrolled by Disney. Plenty of cars for the spotting; here again, most of them beat me, so please shout ’em out. What really catches my eye about this pic is the sparse traffic on the boulevard, and the sparse sign clutter alongside it versus the first two pics in this post. What a difference a few blocks and years make, eh!

See the BELCARO sign, the nearest one on the other side of the boulevard? That’s the Belcaro shopping centre. Let’s zoom in…

…and forward about six years or so, to the grand opening of the Belcaro King Soopers grocery. The newest cars I see here are the ’66 Chevs, one under the “KING” to the left of the ’61, and the other at the right edge of the pic, bearing one of those weirdly brief licence plate numbers one occasionally saw under Colorado’s old AB-1234 plate number scheme. They didn’t use leading zeroes, so early-issue plates in the sequence looked like this what appears to say “AA-9” rather than “AA-0009”. There’s a ’65 Dodge under “Delicatessen”; what else do we see here?

Now we’ve done our shopping; let’s keep heading north:

Bob’s Place was a gasoline station put up in the 1930s with a fab sign at the corner of Colorado and Alameda (say the third syllable as “me”, not “may”, or people will know you’re from away). Bob’s sold its last gallon of fuel long before I haunted the vicinity, but the place still saw some use as a Christmas tree shop and a garden centre until it was bulldozed to make way for progress in 1994. The sign—or half of it—was saved by a gearhead private collector. Is that a Colonnade car of one kind or another I see photobombing this pic?

That’s about as far north as this lot of photos will take us; let’s head back down south, and forward some more years. Hey, look what’s become of Celebrity:

Many more people and many more cars. What year do we make this by scrutinising them? I think that’s a 1970 or ’71 Camaro, and a similar-vintage Celica; do we see anything newer? I’m happy to pore over pics like this, but I sure don’t miss the stench of lots and streets full of cars like these.

All this back-and-forth lurching through time is reminding me of Disco Stu’s test drive, so let’s cross Hampden, go about halfway towards Quincy, make one more stop and call it a day:

Here’s Village Heights Elementary School in all its midmod glory, shortly after its completion in 1962. Those butterfly rooves are impressive but impractical; the school was less than 20 years old when I started kindergarten there, and I thought it was just normal for there to be buckets and trash barrels all over the place to collect the steady drips. Of all the pics I’ve posted so far, I recognise(?) the most cars in this one. Left to right we’ve got a ’60 Chev, I think a ’56 Plymouth, a ’61(?) Corvair, a Beetle of one year or another, a ’59 Edsel, and another ’60 Chev.

When I went to school there, cars generally didn’t pull right up to the schoolyard like that; they parked in what is the foreground of this pic and the area populated here with cars was for school buses—but those are for another episode of Story Time With Uncle Dan.

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