Boulder's Embattled Historic Bandshell

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Every ten years or so, our local city government, the City Council and some folks in the Planning Department, get the notion that the downtown civic area needs to be revitalized.  So Master Plans are created, consultants are hired, public meeting are held and more often than not, the public has clearly expressed the desire to leave beautiful Boulder as it is.  There is a lot to be said about the hubris of power and the desire for change, but I am going to limit myself to a single, small, but vitally important aspect of the latest plans.

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To be clear, the area we are talking about is largely a park-like setting of trees and lawns on both parts of Boulder Creek.  It is beautiful and a great resource for the city.  It is also the preferred gathering area of the local transient population and many Boulderites avoid the area due to their presence.  Sitting in the middle of this area is the historic Glen Huntington Bandshell, designed and built in 1938 by local architect Glen Huntington and sited by prominent civic planner and landscape architect Saco DeBoer.

1951 Bandshell
1951 Bandshell

The Bandshell is a rare example of Art Deco architecture and a fitting arts sibling to Huntington's Boulder County Courthouse.  That pair, the courthouse and the bandshell, were and should continue to be, focal points of local pride as the civic embodiments of the citizen's respect for the rule of law and governance and the importance of the arts.  However, the current Master Plans by planning staff, consultants and given nodding approval of City Council either moves the Bandshell or demolishes it outright.

Many argue that the Bandshell is not in the right place - too close to the noise of Canyon Boulevard.  Or too under-utilized.  Or too attractive to the homeless.  Or ugly.  Or whatever.

1963 Bandshell with Santa 2
1963 Bandshell with Santa 2

It seems to me, and to legions of Boulder citizens in the past and hopefully the present, that the Bandshell is a beautiful building and a vital and beloved part of Boulder's history.  Its imminent move or demolition should be strongly protested and loudly denounced as it has been in the past.

In the early 1970's City Council and some on planning staff wanted to demolish much of the civic area and build a grand civic center, a hippie-free zone of governmental grandeur.  They held an international competition and awarded prizes.  When it was placed on the ballot for citizen approval it was denied and denounced.  And the Bandshell and park remained.

Daily Camera bandshell 2
Daily Camera bandshell 2

In the late 1980's City Council and some on planning staff wanted to demolish much of the civic area, including the Bandshell, and build a grand civic center.  The citizens of Boulder responded in a grassroots campaign to save the Bandshell and it was duly Landmarked by the City and approved by the City Council.  And the Bandshell and park remained.

In the 1990's City Council and some on planning staff wanted to demolish much of the civic area, including the Bandshell, and build a grand civic center.  The citizens of Boulder responded in a grassroots campaign to save the Bandshell and it was duly Landmarked by the City and approved by the City Council.  And the Bandshell and park remained.

Daily Camera bandshell 1a
Daily Camera bandshell 1a

In the early 2000's City Council and some on planning staff wanted to demolish much of the civic area, including the Bandshell, and build a grand civic center. And the Bandshell and park remained.

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Now, starting in 2013, City Council and some on planning staff want to demolish much of the civic area, including the Bandshell, and build a grand civic center. And the Bandshell may not remain.

Most cities fight valiantly to save and restore their historic bandshells.

bandshells

They are the pride of their communities.  They are the center of civic and arts events.

As was Boulder's Bandshell before City Council grew bored with it:

1963 Bandshell with Santa
1963 Bandshell with Santa
1951 Bandshell concert
1951 Bandshell concert
1937 Bandshell with speaker
1937 Bandshell with speaker
1941 Bandshell at Christmas from Boulder Lions Club
1941 Bandshell at Christmas from Boulder Lions Club

As an architect, it is unimaginable that the powers that be would try to remove this remarkable building that has witnessed so much of Boulder's history.  It is a fine work of architecture, and with programming of events and policing of its property, it could continue to be a great asset to the City.  Any plans for the civic area ought to include it in the plans, in its current location, and design the park areas around it as a centerpiece.   I think we should consider removing the awkward benches and install a gradually sloping lawn that could serve both the bandshell and be a beatitful picnic spot for the nearby Farmer's Market.  It is only a lazy, or incompetent designer that can't seem to make it work in current plans.  Or maybe, like grand plans in the past, it simply isn't part of someone's vision for the future.

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But it is, and has been over many decades, in the citizens of Boulder's vision of the future - a future that includes the very best of the past and integrates those landmarks into a vision of the future.  I desperately hope that the Bandshell does not get washed away in the latest enthusiasm to re-imagine Boulder and that the next generation of Boulderites won't have to raise awareness and money to build themselves a beautiful bandshell in Boulder. It's already here, thanks to the generosity of our grandparents.

(thanks to the Carnegie Libray for images of the Bandshell and their commitment to stewardship of Boulder's history)