City Park is an urban park and neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. The park is 330 acres (1.3 km2) and is located in east-central Denver. The park contains the Denver Zoo, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Ferril and Duck Lakes, and a boathouse. City Park is also the name of the neighborhood that contains the park, though the park is the vast majority of the neighborhood. To the immediate north of the park is the City Park Golf Course. City Park is the largest and most notable park in Denver.
The park is located in east-central Denver slightly more than a mile east of Downtown. The park is a mile long and three-quarters of a mile wide. The park’s boundaries are:
- West-York Street
- South-17th Avenue
- East-Colorado Boulevard
- North-23rd Avenue
The City Park neighborhood has the same boundaries except for having Colfax Avenue as its southern boundary, which is two blocks south of 17th Avenue. Therefore, the entirety of the neighborhood is only two blocks wide, but about a mile long. The area in the southwest corner of the neighborhood consists of East High School and a green area called the City Park Esplanade, which in some ways extends the park south two blocks to Colfax Avenue. The eastern part of the neighborhood around Colfax Avenue (along with parts of the Congress Park neighborhood across Colfax) is also known as the “Bluebird District,” for the Bluebird Theatre located on Colfax and the urban developments around that area. In addition, there is also a neighborhood called “City Park West,” which is located just west of the park to Downing Street and commonly known as Uptown. It has the same southern and northern borders as City Park, and has York Street as its eastern border.
When Denver was founded in 1858, it was little more than a mining camp. By the 1870s however, Denver had gained a substantial permanent population, and many residents were clamoring for parks. In 1878, the Colorado state legislature passed a bill to allow Denver to acquire 1,280 acres (5.2 km2) of state land to build parks. City Park became the largest of tract turned into a park. The initial park layout was designed by Henry Meryweather in 1882 in the tradition of both English pastoral gardens and Central Park in New York City with a flowing, casual design. The 1893 World’s Fair started the City Beautiful movement, which further developed the design. The park was irrigated with water from the city ditch.
By the turn of the century, Ferril Lake, the Denver Zoo, and the landmark boat pavilion, with a Spanish-style design by architects John Humphreys and William Fisher were all developed in the park. Reinhard Schuetze, a German immigrant who was the head landscaper for Denver, formalized the design of the park through the planting of formal gardens, the East High School Esplanade onto the park, and graceful carriage-ways. In 1908, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science was built on the eastern edge of the park on the highest elevation in the park (now famous for its views of downtown and the mountains behind them).
On April 23, 1916, The Shakespeare Elm was planted near the intersection of 17th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. A plaque at its base reads “Shakespeare Elm: The scion from which this tree was grown was taken from the tree at Shakespeare’s grave at Stratford-on-Avon”.
City Park sat a mile away from the rest of Denver when it was first opened. Competing trolley companies took park-goers along the undeveloped roads into the park. The neighborhood developed around the park, starting with farmers and squatters who used the city ditch to irrigate their crops. It wasn’t until the turn of the century with better trolley connections that housing development occurred en force. The neighborhood includes East High School, a landmark built in 1925, which is Denver’s first high school (moved from downtown). The neighborhood also contains many historic brick residential buildings, including many Denver square style homes and several historic brick commercial structures, especially along Colfax Avenue.
The area around Colfax Avenue has a reputation for grittiness, especially for prostitution and illegal drugs. However, Colfax in the City Park neighborhood in particular, has become a popular area with many hip restaurants, stores, and other businesses, including the newest location of the Tattered Cover bookstore and Twist & Shout record store, just across from the neighborhood. The neighborhood has also seen new residential and commercial developments, including at the former site of Mercy Hospital.
City Park itself is still the premier park in the city. Thousands of visitors continue to see not only the park itself but the cultural institutions contained within. The park holds a free summer concert series and a recently built interactive fountain attracts many people to cool off in the water. The park has boat rentals, both standard paddle-boats and some shaped like various water creatures like pelicans and ducks.. People can also rent the boathouse for events.