Legend goes that George Cranmer became fascinated with a small Chinese timepiece while visiting California. Cranmer brought the idea back to Denver, says Denise Sanderson. He envisioned something more grand -- a person-sized sundial that went up in 1941 at the park that was eventually named after him.
The sundial and the sandstone plaza upon which it sits at Cranmer Park has fallen into bad repair in recent years. The sundial is chipped and cracked and the plaza is sinking in places because the foundation is shifting.
Last year, Preservation Colorado Inc. listed the sundial as historic and one of several treasures “endangered” around the state.
More than $1.5 million is needed for repairs on the park plaza east of Cherry Creek North, says Sanderson, who leads Save Our Sundial. The City and County of Denver has agreed to provide about a third of what’s needed for the repairs, leaving the group to raise the rest. So far, they’re off to a modest start -- two contributions of $25,000 with a challenge for benefit concert goers to match this Sunday. There will be local music, including odes to the sun.
Alison Koff, a Kent Denver School senior, is helping to organize the event. “I have lived half a block away from the park my whole life, so I grew up talking nightly walks there with my parents and my sister,” she says.
The park isn’t just a community jewel, Sanderson says, but it's an icon for the city. For decades, she notes, Gray Line tours have delivered flocks of senior citizens to Cranmer’s plaza to show them the vista of the Rocky Mountains -- a view that extends from Longs Peak in the north to Pikes Peak in the south, with etchings of the shapes of the specific mountains in the sandstone.
The sundial wasn’t the only time Cranmer thought big. He was a businessman appointed to by Mayor Benjamin Stapleton to head Denver’s parks. Cranmer envisioned Winter Park and Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
The sundial at the park off 1st Avenue and Clermont Street was near Cranmer’s house. Back then, the park was called Mountain View Park. Today, locals often call it “Sundial Park.”
The plaza at the park was created as a Works Progress Administration project, part of the government’s New Deal amidst the Great Depression to create jobs for millions of unemployed people.
Yet the sundial being saved is not from that difficult era. The original sundial was blown up with dynamite in 1965 -- and nobody has ever stepped up to admit the crime, Sanderson says. A replacement sundial came about a year later, when local residents rallied to raise the funds for it.
Cranmer reportedly once said the sundial is “just 17 seconds of time” east of the 105th Meridian on which Mountain Time is based. That would roughly line up with streets west of the park, blocks west Broadway. Thus, in Cranmer’s era of wind-up watches, he asserted the sundial was accurate enough to set a watch by.
“You’ll often overhear people go, ‘But wait! It’s wrong by an hour,” Sanderson says.
She notes that what some visitors forget to do is adjust for Daylight Savings Time.