Lower Downtown District, Inc.

Past Pastimes in LoDo

Jul 26, 1999

Past Pastimes in LoDo
By Barbara Gibson

As we enter into the summer play season and hear about some
of the neighborhood plans in process for fun in the months
ahead, let's take a moment to look back to see what sorts of
outdoor entertainment the previous residents could find.

Denver's first amusement park was located along the Platte
River in much the same location as the newly formed Commons
Park. During the 1880s and 1890s, the area was named
Riverfront Park and it was one of the most popular
entertainment places in Denver. The park extended from 15th
Street to just beyond 19th Street and was bounded by Denver
Union Station property on the east and the river on the

Entrepreneur John Brisben Walker purchased the land in 1887
from prominent owners of the railroad, William J. Palmer and
Nathaniel P. Hill. Walker had grand plans for the inner
city park. Riverfront Park included a one-quarter mile oval
race track, complete with grandstand.

Its stands held 5,000 people, some in box seats, others in
bleachers. The track was the scene of a remarkable variety
of events. Circuses and Wild West shows were frequent
visitors and included Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, the
National Cowboy Tournament Company, Barnum's Circus, and the
Great Syndicate Show and Paris Hippodrome. There were horse
races, foot races and even chariot races which were a great
crowd favorite. Stables sat next to the racetrack and could
house 100 horses in spacious 10- x 12-foot stalls. The
whole park area was illuminated with electric lights.

On one occasion, Walker dammed the Platte near 19th Street
and floated a steamboat on the lake he had created. The
steamboat provided a novel place for musical entertainment
during the summer for Denverites visiting the park.

In the center of the oval track was a baseball diamond where
many teams played, including Denver's professional teams in
1887 and 1888.

Near the 16th Street viaduct, Walker built an exposition
hall that became known as Walker's Castle of Culture and
Commerce. It was built of stone and resembled a medieval

A favorite winter activity at the park was the gigantic
toboggan run. The course began at the top of the
grandstand, and continued for about three blocks to 19th
Street. A toboggan club was started and some members
claimed their wooden toboggans reached speeds as high as 180
miles per hour.

By 1891 Walker's interests had changed, and he offered to
sell the park to Denver for $1 million. The city refused,
citing the park's location as "inappropriate," since the
only way to get to the park was to cross the railroad
tracks, or descend the steps from the 16th Street viaduct.
In addition, they felt that the air quality at River Front
was poor, making the area less attractive for a city park.

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