Developer Dana Crawford’s Mantra: ‘Take Me To Your Pigeons’

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Dana Crawford at Larimer Square, 1966
Dana Crawford in 1966, as Larimer Square begins to take shape.

Fifty years ago, developer and preservationist Dana Crawford transformed a block of Denver's skid row into a popular shopping and dining destination called Larimer Square. Later, she helped revitalize the once forlorn Oxford Hotel. More recently, she led the team that redeveloped Denver’s historic Union Station -- the Crawford Hotel hotel there bears her name. Now, Crawford is the subject of a new biography by former Denver Post reporter Mike McPhee. It’s called, “Dana Crawford: 50 Years Saving the Soul of a City.”

Crawford and McPhee spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. Audio will be available after noon. Edited highlights are below.

Dana Crawford on seeing the 1400 block of Larimer Street in 1964:

“I’d been looking for quite some time since I had moved to Denver for an area where I might bring the affection that I had developed for the city of Boston to Denver, a place where we could mark the history of the community and would be a wonderful gathering place for a lot of people, from all walks of life, all incomes and all backgrounds, to celebrate the city together. Then, when I was shopping [for oriental rugs] at Goodwill Industries on Larimer Street, I drove by the 1400 block, and I was quite fascinated by the architecture. I began to do some research about it, and found that it was in fact the block where everything started.”

On finding hidden architectural gems:

“I’m attracted to beautiful places, and, a lot of times, they happen to be places that have been ignored. When I go around the country on consulting jobs and I get to the towns, I always say, ‘Take me to your pigeons and your pensioners,’ and then I find the beautiful buildings."

On historic Denver Union Station, which she helped redevelop:

“I love to be there, because people come in and they have a good time, even if they’re just on their way to the next bus. They look around and they’re having a good time.”

On Denver’s current development boom:

“Growth and change always bring difficulty. I think that the cost of living has increased, and the thing that I regret that’s coming with it is an enormous amount of growth in the building of rental apartments, and I think so many of them are being constructed from plywood. I say we’re just building a plywood city that 15 years from now isn’t going to hold up. So there are a lot of complications about it, but I think our leadership is trying to resolve some of these problems.”