Thirty Years On, Memories Of The Denver Dry Linger

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Photo: Denver Dry Goods Store
A 1940s view of the Denver Dry Goods Company from the roof of the Mack Block diagonally across the intersection of sixteenth and California Streets. Note the white paint obsuring the original brick and limestone.

Longtime Coloradans may remember going to "The Denver."

It was a downtown Denver department store -- full name, The Denver Dry Goods -- that closed 30 years ago this month. It was an institution. A place not just to shop. But to lunch. To see and be seen.

Mark A. Barnhouse has a love for lost Denver. And he's written a history of the store, "The Denver Dry Goods, Where Colorado Shopped With Confidence."

He took a trip down memory lane with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Holidays at The Denver
Photo: Denver Dry Goods Store Interior 1960s
"​I first became interested in the Denver Dry when I was a small child. Richard Nixon was in the White House, and my mother took me to Breakfast With Santa one Saturday morning," Barnhouse says. "Lots of people have memories like that, along with the festive qualities of the store decorations, the fascinating windows, the free red-velvet bows they'd tie around gift boxes ... "

Where Cowboys Went For Clothes
Photo: Denver Dry Goods Store Western Wear 1950s

"The Denver was unique among major American department stores in having an extensive business in gear for the professional working cowboy," says Barnhouse. "The store had its own saddlery and did an extensive mail order business with ranches and farms all over the West. They rode the cowboy craze of the 1950s, offering Western wear for women and children too — along with ropes, tack and harness, camping gear and so on."

The Tea Room
Photo: Denver Dry Goods Store The Team Room

"Every time I give a talk or do a book signing, the subject of the Tea Room inevitably comes up, even when the subject of the talk is something else," says Barnhouse. "It’s one of the key places older Denverites remember and miss most, along with the old Elitch Gardens and Celebrity Sports Center."

The Denver Dry Chicken a la King

Serves 8

2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups flour
8 cups chicken stock, or more (canned broth may be used)
1 cup half-and-half
1 pound cooked, skinless chicken meat, diced
1 large red bell pepper, cut in 1/4 - inch strips
1 large green bell pepper, cut in 1/4 - inch strips
1/2 pound sliced mushrooms sautéed in butter
salt and white pepper to taste
baked puff pastry shells

Melt butter in large saucepan. Whisk in flour, cooking over moderate heat for a few minutes. Still whisking, gradually add chicken stock. Cook over moderate heat, whisking , until thickened. Whisk in half and half. Cook over low heat for about 25 minutes. Add more chicken stock, depending on desired consistency. Add remaining ingredients. Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes. Serve in pastry shells.

Mark A. Barnhouse/Fred Batchelor, executive chef The Denver Dry Tea Room.

The Denver Closes Its Doors
Photo: Denver Dry Goods Store Closes 1980s
"I was very lucky to meet the store’s last president, Joe Hayes, and through him the store’s last VP of operations, Jim O’Hagen. He and Jim have remained good friends," Barnhouse says. "Jim, when the store closed, scooped up quite a bit of historic stuff so it wouldn’t end up in a landfill — much of which made its way into my book in the form of illustrations."
Photo: Denver Dry Goods Remodel 1980s
"The epilogue is all about the saving of the building, something that didn’t happen with [another department store] Daniels and Fisher (other than the tower, of course)," says Barnhouse. "It was one of the largest single-site preservation projects in Colorado history, and the building thrives today, with its retail, office, and residential uses. It’s a landmark of downtown Denver."

What are your favorite memories of The Denver? Email us: [email protected], or tweet us @ColoradoMatters.