Historic Colorado photos: Louis Charles McClure’s documentation of Denver’s romantic City Beautiful era

Louis Charles McClure captured Denver’s transformation under the influence of the City Beautiful movement.

View of snowy Sherman Avenue towards Central Presbyterian Church (17th and Sherman, formerly called First Presbyterian). 1913. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1905)historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View of snowy Sherman Avenue towards Central Presbyterian Church (17th and Sherman, formerly called First Presbyterian). 1913. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1905) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View of snowy Sherman Avenue towards Central Presbyterian Church (17th and Sherman, formerly called First Presbyterian). 1913. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1905)

The year was 1893 and the World’s Columbian Exposition (or the Chicago World’s Fair) was opening its gates, beckoning Americans to visit with the elaborate White City. The temporary fairground architecture, built by the likes of Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., was a grand Parisian-styled city the likes of which America had never seen. It kicked off an architectural movement known as “City Beautiful” that would soon make its way to Denver.

View of Voorhies Memorial with Christmas decorations, Civic Center, Denver, Colorado, shows wreaths and garlands on gateway and colonnade, "Merry Christmas" sign, Christmas trees, and Santa Claus with reindeer atop gateway. 1927. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-2872) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View of Voorhies Memorial with Christmas decorations, Civic Center, Denver, Colorado, shows wreaths and garlands on gateway and colonnade, “Merry Christmas” sign, Christmas trees, and Santa Claus with reindeer atop gateway. 1927. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-2872)

In 1904 Robert Speer was elected mayor of Denver and brought with him a City Beautiful vision of his own: a grand park by the Capitol that would serve as a civic hub for the Mile High City.

This would become the Civic Center Park we know today.

View from Colorado State Capitol roof across Civic Center to unfinished white granite Denver City & County building, masterpiece of City Beautiful period. 1932. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-3116) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View from Colorado State Capitol roof across Civic Center to unfinished white granite Denver City & County building, masterpiece of City Beautiful period. 1932. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-3116)
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As his vision came to fruition, the ideas behind the City Beautiful movement, a “holistic and multipurpose approach” (and perhaps gaudy, too), took hold in other parts of Denver.

The White City, later called Lakeside Amusement Park, during a summer evening, Lakeside, Colorado near Denver; night time view of amusement park area with illuminated rides, sidewalks and buildings, people at ticket gazebo, the Big Splash, Casino Theater and Cafe. Between 1908 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-888) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
The White City, later called Lakeside Amusement Park, during a summer evening, with illuminated rides, sidewalks and buildings, people at the ticket gazebo, the Big Splash, Casino Theater and Cafe. Between 1908 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-888)

A White City amusement park of our own sprung up and would eventually become known as Lakeside. A grand boathouse was built at City Park, a columned pavilion was constructed at Cheesman Park and the light-encrusted Denver Gas and Electric Building illuminated 15th Street.

Exterior view of Cheesman Memorial Pavilion, Cheesman Park (formerly Congress Park), Denver, Colorado; designed by Marean & Norton firm (Willis A. Marean & Albert J. Norton), completed in 1909 as memorial to Walter Scott Cheesman using Colorado Yule marble. Circa 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1251) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Exterior view of Cheesman Memorial Pavilion, Cheesman Park (formerly Congress Park), Denver, Colorado; designed by Marean & Norton firm (Willis A. Marean & Albert J. Norton), completed in 1909 as memorial to Walter Scott Cheesman using Colorado Yule marble. Circa 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1251)

These projects defined a new era in America, one marked by industrial fervor and a new prosperity. Through it all, Louis Charles McClure was there to document the fruit of this new American labor.

Though the photographer is “relatively obscure,” says Denver Public Library reseacher Randel Metz, “his cityscape pictures of Denver are among the most accurate and artistic depictions of any American city during the City Beautiful era.”

Bird's eye view of Denver, Colorado from Daniels & Fisher Tower, 16th & Arapahoe southeast down 16th towards Colorado State Capitol building & grounds, Colorado State Museum (Colorado State Historical Sociey) at East 14th Avenue & Sherman Street under construction, Arapahoe County Court house, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, edge of Brown Palace, Y.M.C.A. 1912. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1655) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Bird’s eye view of Denver, Colorado from Daniels & Fisher Tower, 16th & Arapahoe southeast down 16th towards Colorado State Capitol building and grounds, Colorado State Museum (Colorado State Historical Society) at East 14th Avenue and Sherman Street under construction, Arapahoe County Court house, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, edge of Brown Palace, Y.M.C.A. 1912. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1655)

The library possesses over 4,000 of McClure’s plates and negatives.

Within his collection is documentation of many buildings that are iconic even today in the city. But since many were photographed nearly a century ago, the scenes surrounding these familiar structures illustrate a much younger version of Denver. A photograph of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, for instance, shows the church dwarfing a much lower neighborhood in an ocean of trees.

View of Immaculate Conception Cathedral (Colfax Avenue and Logan Street) under construction, Denver, Colorado (also called Basilica of the Immaculate Conception). Formal dedication of Cathedral was on October 27, 1912. Scene also includes Saint Joseph's Hospital, Temple Emanuel, residences surrounding the cathedral, Denver Museum of Natural History, and Clayton College (East 32nd Avenue and Colorado) in the distant center left. 1912. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1432) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View of Immaculate Conception Cathedral (Colfax Avenue and Logan Street) under construction, Denver, Colorado (also called Basilica of the Immaculate Conception). Formal dedication of Cathedral was on October 27, 1912. Scene also includes Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Temple Emanuel, residences surrounding the cathedral, Denver Museum of Natural History, and Clayton College (East 32nd Avenue and Colorado) in the distant center left. 1912. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1432)

McClure’s body of work is fascinating in both the differences and similarities evident in the city from 100 years ago to today, proof that Mayor Speer’s legacy in Denver was a powerful and lasting one.

Be sure to check out Randel Metz’ entire collection of Acclaimed Western Photographers.

Northwest facade of old Union Station, Eighteenth and Wynkoop streets. Opened in 1881; this view prior to the 1894 fire, after which a larger clock tower was added. Between 1880 and 1900. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-3281) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Northwest facade of old Union Station, 18th and Wynkoop streets. Opened in 1881; this view prior to the 1894 fire, after which a larger clock tower was added. Between 1880 and 1900. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-3281)
Northwest view of downtown Denver, Colorado, taken from dome of State Capitol Building. Between 1929 and 1933. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-3057) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Northwest view of downtown Denver, Colorado, taken from dome of State Capitol Building. Between 1929 and 1933. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-3057)
Night view of snow-covered Christmas display in Civic Center. Between 1920 and 1931. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-3356) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Night view of snow-covered Christmas display in Civic Center. Between 1920 and 1931. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-3356)
Welcome Arch at Union Station in Denver, Colorado; view of 17th (Seventeenth) street, street railway car number 248, men and women walking towards Union Station (not in view). Between 1906 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-835) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Welcome Arch at Union Station in Denver, Colorado; view of 17th Street, street railway car No. 248, men and women walking towards Union Station (not in view). Between 1906 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-835)
Ice skating on City Park Lake, Denver, Colorado; view east to Museum of Natural History building under construction in 1901; shows edge of City Park bandstand far left and groups seated on park bench on sandy shore. Circa 1901. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-410) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Ice skating on City Park Lake, Denver, Colorado; view east to Museum of Natural History building under construction in 1901; shows edge of City Park bandstand far left and groups seated on park bench on sandy shore. Circa 1901. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-410)
Exterior view of Saint Luke's Hospital, 19th (nineteenth) and Pearl, Denver, Colorado; constructed in 1891 at cost of almost $100,000 by the Episcopal Church. Between 1891 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-825) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Exterior view of Saint Luke’s Hospital, 19th and Pearl, Denver, Colorado; constructed in 1891 at cost of almost $100,000 by the Episcopal Church. Between 1891 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-825)
Exterior view of Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks, Lodge Number 17, 14th (Fourteenth) & California. Between 1912 and 1917. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1670) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Exterior view of Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks, Lodge Number 17, 14th and California. Between 1912 and 1917. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1670)
Interior view of Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, 12th (Twelfth) and Lincoln. Between 1890 and 1900. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-396) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Interior view of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, 12th and Lincoln. Between 1890 and 1900. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-396)
View of 15th (Fifteenth) and Lawrence Streets. Businesses include John Thompson Grocery Company, Dr. Grant Seely (dentist), Grand Butchers, Tabor Opera House, and rooms for rent. Between 1898 and 1915. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-593) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View of 15th and Lawrence streets. Businesses include John Thompson Grocery Company, Dr. Grant Seely (dentist), Grand Butchers, Tabor Opera House and rooms for rent. Between 1898 and 1915. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-593)
Exterior view of International Trust Company building (17th & corner of California). Between 1912 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1654) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Exterior view of International Trust Company building (17th and California). Between 1912 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1654)
Exterior view Empire Building, 16th (Sixteenth) and Glenarm, Denver, Colorado, completed in 1907. Between 1907 and 1913. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-631) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Exterior view Empire Building, 16th and Glenarm, Denver, Colorado, completed in 1907. Between 1907 and 1913. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-631)
Exterior view of St. John's Cathedral (also known as Saint John's Church in the Wilderness and Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist), 14th and Clarkson. Between 1911 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-2031) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Exterior view of St. John’s Cathedral (also known as Saint John’s Church in the Wilderness and Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist), 14th and Clarkson. Between 1911 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-2031)
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Interior view of the nave of the St. John’s Cathedral  at 14th and Clarkson. Between 1911 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-2033)
Interior view of El Jebel Temple, local Masonic order of El Jebel Shriners. Circa 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1267) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Interior view of El Jebel Temple, local Masonic order of El Jebel Shriners. Circa 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1267)
Exterior view of Denver Athletic Club including section added in 1892, 1325 Glenarm Place, Denver, Colorado; originally built in 1890, second part added to right of door. Between 1900 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1870) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Exterior view of Denver Athletic Club including section added in 1892, 1325 Glenarm Place, Denver, Colorado; originally built in 1890, second part added to right of door. Between 1900 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1870)
View southeast at Tremont Street and Seventeenth Street to Brown Palace Hotel. 1916. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-3278) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View southeast at Tremont Street and Seventeenth Street to Brown Palace Hotel. 1916. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-3278)
View towards Trinity Methodist Church, Hotel Metropole and edge of Brown Palace on Broadway from 17th (Seventeenth) Avenue, Denver, Colorado. Between 1911 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1055) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View towards Trinity Methodist Church, Hotel Metropole and edge of Brown Palace on Broadway from 17th Avenue, Denver, Colorado. Between 1911 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1055)
View south on Sherman Avenue towards Colorado State Capitol building during spring snowstorm in April, Denver, Colorado. 1913. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1906) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View south on Sherman Avenue towards Colorado State Capitol building during spring snowstorm in April, Denver, Colorado. 1913. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1906)
Exterior view of Denver (Arapahoe) County Court House built in 1883, located on the block between 15th, 16th and Tremont Streets and Court Place; Denver was part of Arapahoe County until 1904; building was razed in 1934. Between 1890 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-40) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Exterior view of Denver (Arapahoe) County Court House built in 1883, located on the block between 15th, 16th and Tremont streets and Court Place; Denver was part of Arapahoe County until 1904; building was razed in 1934. Between 1890 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-40)
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Exterior night view of illuminated Gas & Electric Building (later Insurance Exchange building), 15th and Champa, Denver, Colorado; opened November 10, 1910, displaying over 10,000 exterior light bulbs decorating building. Between 1910 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1917)
Interior view of Broadway Theatre located in Metropole Hotel on Broadway, Denver, Colorado; shows balcony, private box seats, orchestra pit, stage, and scenery curtain from "A glimpse of India;" theater opened in 1890. Circa 1900. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-6) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Interior view of Broadway Theatre located in Metropole Hotel on Broadway, Denver, Colorado; shows balcony, private box seats, orchestra pit, stage, and scenery curtain from “A glimpse of India.” Theater opened in 1890. Circa 1900. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-6)
Close-up view of main entrance to Elitch's Gardens at West 38th (Thirty-eighth) Avenue and Tennyson Street, Denver, Colorado; artistic statues posed over entrance lead to wrought iron gate; three women and a male Elitch's employee stand in front of entrance. Circa 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1059) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Close-up view of main entrance to Elitch’s Gardens at West 38th  Avenue and Tennyson Street, Denver, Colorado; artistic statues posed over entrance lead to wrought iron gate; three women and a male Elitch’s employee stand in front of entrance. Circa 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1059)
View of main entrance to Elitch's Gardens, West 38th (Thirty- eight) Avenue and Tennyson Street, Denver, Colorado; shows Elitch's Gardens' name in lights over sign. Between 1900 and 1909. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-383) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View of main entrance to Elitch’s Gardens, West 38th Avenue and Tennyson Street, Denver, Colorado; shows Elitch’s Gardens’ name in lights over sign. Between 1900 and 1909. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-383)
Interior view of City Auditorium on 15th (Fifteenth) between Curtis and Champa Streets, Denver, Colorado; soon after completion in 1908 being readied for Democratic National Convention in July, 1908. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1227) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
Interior view of City Auditorium on 15th between Curtis and Champa streets, Denver, Colorado; soon after completion in 1908 being readied for Democratic National Convention in July 1908. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1227)
View of children in rowboats on the lake in City Park, Denver, Colorado; shows pavilion and boathouse in background. Between 1918 and 1919. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-2712) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View of children in rowboats on the lake in City Park, Denver, Colorado; shows pavilion and boathouse in background. Between 1918 and 1919. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-2712)
View of ride called the Chutes (or the Big Splash), "White City" (later called Lakeside Amusement Park), Lakeside, Colorado, near Denver; shows a large crowd of people gathered and watching water ride, edge of ferris wheel, other rides, a penny arcade, a large line by ticket gazebo, and wooden frame residences behind boundary of amusement park. Between 1908 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-943) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View of ride called the Chutes (or the Big Splash), “White City” (later called Lakeside Amusement Park), Lakeside, Colorado, near Denver; shows a large crowd of people gathered and watching water ride, edge of ferris wheel, other rides, a penny arcade, a large line by ticket gazebo, and wooden frame residences behind boundary of amusement park. Between 1908 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-943)
View of a ride called the Tickler, "White City" (later called Lakeside Amusement Park), Lakeside, Colorado, near Denver. Between 1908 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-941) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View of a ride called the Tickler, “White City” (later called Lakeside Amusement Park), Lakeside, Colorado, near Denver. Between 1908 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-941)
City Park Lake and rows of wrought iron benches in City Park, Denver, Colorado. Between 1900 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-938) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
City Park Lake and rows of wrought iron benches in City Park, Denver, Colorado. Between 1900 and 1910. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-938)
View toward Denver skyline from inside pavilion's archways, Sunken Gardens, near Speer Boulevard, Denver, Colorado, with raised pond or lake with cement walls; skyline includes Evans School at Eleventh (11th) and Acoma, Colorado State Capitol with gold dome and rotunda, and residences fronting park. Between 1911 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1944) historic; denver public library; dpl; archive; archival; denverite
View toward Denver skyline from inside pavilion’s archways, Sunken Gardens, near Speer Boulevard, Denver, Colorado, with raised pond or lake with cement walls; skyline includes Evans School at 11th and Acoma, Colorado State Capitol with gold dome and rotunda, and residences fronting park. Between 1911 and 1920. (Louis Charles McClure/Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/MCC-1944)
PREVIOUSLY IN THE HISTORIC COLORADO PHOTO SERIES: Donald Kemp | Sandra Dallas | Burnis McCloud | Charles Lillybridge | Harry Mellon Rhoads

Kevin Beaty

Author: Kevin Beaty

Kevin Beaty is a media producer with experience in a variety of settings spanning Hollywood film sets to international backpack journalism expeditions. He is on a never-ending quest to meld artful imagery, functional design and intimate storytelling. His biggest struggle in any given moment is whether to shoot stills or video.