I remember visiting Denver Union Station in the 1980’s when I was a little kid. My dad would bring us on Sunday mornings. The space was quiet, empty, and the only way you knew it was still being used as a train station was the operating arrival board. The ticket window was guarded by old brass cages and it stood where the bar is now. The main room was filed with rows of old, high back oak benches. I remember sun beams filled with dust shining through the rooftop windows onto the marble floor. The stature of the light caused the shadows to feel darker, so they looked like paintings. I felt the emptiness of the space and my disappointment of what had been lost. In that emptiness were 100-foot ceilings, rusting brass fixtures, peelings paint and a grandeur, a dignity to what was hiding under the surface. I could easily close my eyes and imagine what the Station looked like 50 years earlier. I envisioned well-dressed passengers with bowling hats and leather suit cases scrambling to catch the two o’ clock California Zephyr on its way to San Francisco. There were business men sipping an espresso or gin gimlet with the Rocky Mountain news tucked under their arms. I imagined a young child with a teddy bear racing around with his parents. I imagined a meeting place for all of those folks experiencing the Paris of the West, Denver, Colorado.
My siblings were always with me and we would ask my dad what it was like in the old days? I remember feeling lucky that we had discovered a piece of the past hiding in the middle of a city. What an odd thing for such an enormous, magical place to be hiding in the middle of Denver? Being there felt nostalgic in a sad way because this place had been forgotten. I always wondered if this gateway to Denver would ever see glory days again?
After college I left Denver for 7 years to start my career on the East coast. When I returned in the Fall of 2014 Denver had grown up and that wise old beautiful train station had been brought back to life. The first time I walked into Union Station in the Fall of 2014 I felt like the dream I had imagined as a kid had come true. The station was bustling with folks catching the 4pm train, getting a cappuccino or meeting for an afternoon cocktail. The 100-foot ceilings were gleaming in a fresh coat of paint, the balconies were now adorned with hotel rooms and fixtures shining with polished brass. As I walked around, I found the old benches I sat on years before. Most of their friends were gone but a lucky few were still there to represent the magic of the past and to see the next generation of Union Station. That day the sun also poured through the windows painting lines of shadows on the marble floors.
Last Christmas, Maroon Bell Outdoor took part in the Holiday Market on the door steps of Union Station. That month I stood next to a proud shined up Union Station and brought my company to the streets of Denver. Like two partners with a secret, Union Station and I told our story and together we wrote another chapter in the history of this great place, Denver.
- Jeremy Dougherty
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