The History of University Hills
As you can see, our neighborhood has a lively history! We're still fortunate to have neighbors who've lived here since the beginning, and many others who were born and raised here. If you have stories to share of the old days in UHills, contact the UHNA! We'd love to add them to the newsletter or the history section of the website!
In 1945, as World War II drew to a close, more than 12 million Americans were enlisted in the various branches of the U.S. military. The end of the war meant that literally millions of soldiers were returning home, victorious, to start their lives in the postwar world. They were optimistic and hopeful, looking forward to a future for which they had fought hard for and seen so many of their fellows die. New technologies developed for the military during the war showed great promise with applications in mass production of consumer goods that the public could soon afford to buy. But for many Americans in the years right after the war, there was a hitch: they had nowhere to live. The end of the war found the nation with an unprecedented housing shortage.
Soldiers qualified for important benefits under the GI bill, including borrowing the full amount of a home's appraised price without a down payment. But it would be several years before the number of available houses caught up with demand. The Great Depression of the 1930s had seen very little home building, and after the war broke out, critical national resources-including homebuyers-were diverted to the war effort. Returning GI's found themselves and their new families living in improvised dwellings, sometimes even rehabbed chicken coops and Quonset huts.
By the late 1940s, developers across the country were beginning to turn mass production techniques to housing, building houses for the middle class. New subdivisions were built to accommodate the influx of residents in urban areas-the metro Denver population increased 146% from 1940 to 1965. One of the most important subdivisions that answered the housing crisis in Denver was University Hills.
Beginning in the 1940s, the city hurried to annex enough land to meet the needs of the growing population. Residents who came to work in the metro area did not necessarily want to live in the surrounding suburbs, but wanted the perks that came with living in Denver itself. The land that is now University Hills was part of Arapahoe County, and was annexed to Denver in 1944 and 1946. University Hills was the project of developers Ted Hutchinson and Lou Carey. A multiple-filing subdivision, meaning it was built in stages over the course of a few years, construction began in 1951. It was the outer reaches of the city: since before the turn of the century, the City and County of Denver's city limits stopped at Colorado Boulevard to the east and Alameda to the north. In 1952, Hutchinson and Carey ran award-winning ads that declared "A Home for You in '52!" and touted the four designs built in University Hills-the Columbine, Suburban, Modernaire, and Belfour. The houses cost around $10,000, and the ads noted the development had city water, utilities, fire and police protection, and a modern shopping center. These amenities were underscored by the slogan, "Beautiful, spacious homes at a price you can afford."
Although the original University Hills homes may not be spacious by today's standards, growing young families of the '50s found that they met their needs just fine. Hutchinson and Carey built 2,200 houses in the development by 1953, leaving an entire block for Bradley Elementary School. The city added the Mamie D. Eisenhower Park along the Highline canal in 1956. The park was designed for active families, with designated space for a football field, tennis courts, swimming pool, and even a bathhouse where the rec center now sits. In 1960, the Ross-University Hills branch of the Denver Public Library was constructed.
University Hills drew businesses to south Colorado Boulevard, and soon the area was booming. In a 1975 article in The Denver Magazine, noted newspaper columnist Gene Amole wrote:
The city actually ended at east Hampden Avenue. To the south were pheasant-filled fields waiting for what we thought was progress. There were no telephones in University Hills then, but there was a shopping center. It had a hardware store, Yarbro Drug, and soon was to add a King Sooper's.
There was no Valley Highway then. South Colorado Boulevard was the main thoroughfare to and from downtown Denver. Everybody worked in town. The young men in charcoal gray suits formed car pools to get downtown and their wives stayed at home and waited for the babies to come (The Denver Magazine, October 1975, p. 14).
Prior to the 1950s, consumers shopped in small local shops close to home, or visited downtown department stores like the Denver Dry. As more families moved to the city's periphery, developers realized that shoppers wanted services in a more concentrated location, with easy parking. The University Hills Shopping Center was the first regional center to open in Denver in the postwar period, but by the end of the decade there were 15 more in the metro area. It was then that traffic along Colorado Boulevard became the perplexing clog it remains to this day, and although the city planners envisioned an elevated rail line along the thoroughfare, the citizenry didn't take to the idea; it would be many more decades before light rail became a reality.
The University Hills Center began as an open shopping complex, and was completed in 1955. It was anchored by a May Co. department store, as well as a Woolworth's, a Fashion Bar, and a Dave Cook's Sporting Goods. In 1957, the May became May D&F (following a merger with Daniels and Fisher), and continued to anchor the center when it was renovated into the enclosed University Hills Mall in 1975. But in 1990, May D&F moved to the newly built Cherry Creek Mall and the University Hills Mall was left anchorless. In the mid-1990s, the mall was demolished and replaced by the University Hills Center we know today.
The neighborhood has seen many changes in the 61 years since ground was broken on the first house in University Hills, and no doubt many more are just around the corner. But one thing's sure: the neighborhood is as fresh, innovative, and friendly as it was in the beginning. If you haven't joined UHNA, now's the time to join us, and ensure your place in the next chapter of the history of University Hills!
"Beautiful Spacious Homes at a Price You Can Afford"
A brief history of University Hills
"Historic Residential Subdivisions of Denver, 1940-1965" National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form. Prepared by Front Range Research Associates and Bunyak Research Associates, 2007.
"Denver Malls and Major Shopping Centers," Mall of Fame. http://mall-hall-of-fame.blogspot.com. Accessed February 18, 2014.
Amole, Gene, "Swinging South Colorado Boulevard," in The Denver Magazine. October 1975, pp. 14-17.
Mamie D. Eisenhower Park Development Plan. Denver Public Library Western History and Genealogy Digital Collections.
Accessed February 18, 2014.
Ross-University Hills Library. Denver Public Library Western History and Genealogy Digital Collections.
Accessed February 18, 2014.