It’s so easy to say “Those were the days.” The older you get, the more you hear that comment. Fact is, you can’t turn back time.
While “live in the now” may be a better mantra, there’s nothing wrong with looking back. And that’s exactly how it went in May when Boulder’s Sesquicentennial Celebration invited five long-time Boulder citizens to think about the past 50 years in a discussion called “Legends of Progress and Loss.”
I’ve been a Boulder resident now for 36 years, but can’t claim the rare Boulder “native” status of both Harold “Sonny” Flowers, Jr., who has practiced law here for some 30 years, and developer Bill Reynolds, who founded the W.W. Reynolds Companies in 1966.
They were joined by Al Bartlett, professor emeritus in nuclear physics at CU, where he started teaching in 1950; Doris Hass, a community activist who’s lived here for 52 of the past 58 years; and Dorothy Rupert, a state legislator from 1987 to 2001 who’s been in Boulder since 1962.
CU’s Patty Limerick, chair of the Center for the American West, moderated.
Their memories of Boulder went back to how much easier it was to settle in a small town, buy a house, perhaps on a professor’s salary, yet still be caught up in the emotions of a city entering years of long debate about growth and the environment. At least that hasn’t changed much.
Hass remembered how the Carnegie was the best library in town, 28th Street was a dirt road and everyone shopped at Joyce’s Supermarket (now the home of LiquorMart.) She and her husband briefly left Boulder until a friend called to tell them there was one lot left on Bluebell and 22nd … for $10,000. That’s where they returned to build their home.
Bartlett, a founding member of PLAN-Boulder County, left little doubt where he stands on the matter of growth. “Sustainable growth is an oxymoron,” he said. He bemoaned a “loss of local control of our economic destiny.” Most employees now work for people who don’t live here, with decisions being made in “distant board rooms.”
Listening to Bartlett, you’d think Boulder isn’t a slow-growth city at all. The area has had “50 years of successful promotion of growth,” he said. “The changes we have seen in the last 50 years are irreversible.”
When Bill Reynolds looks back, a Boulder High and CU graduate, he sees the past 50 years in a different light. Did you know that one of Reynolds’ earliest business ventures was running Tulagi on the Hill? “We sold a lot of beer,” he told me later that evening.
As Boulder seeks to grow its business base but has fewer affordable option for housing, it has little choice but to continue to face “contentious land issues,” Reynolds said. He said the city must continue to help the University of Colorado – where Reynolds was a founding member of its Real Estate Center -- grow and prosper.
So what do you say to those who believe this is the People’s Republic of Boulder?
“I deal with this all the time,” Reynolds quipped. “I think they are all jealous.”
Rupert was working on her master’s at CU in the ‘60s when students were rioting and protesting the Vietnam War. She remembers the activism, but also things like shopping at the Green Mountain Granary, buying herbs from Hanna Kroeger and when Boulder elected its first and only African-American mayor, Penfield Tate. Before the students and police tangled in the streets, she pointed out, the Hill’s Colorado Bookstore had huge plate glass windows.
No matter how hard it tries, Boulder still struggles with diversity. “I guess there is more diversity,” Flowers said, “but I don’t feel it very much.”
He agreed with others that most of us don’t know our neighbors as well as we once did. “There is a sense of nationhood, but I don’t know if there is a sense of neighborhood.”
Gone are many of the small, friendly gathering spots like Tom’s Tavern, Potter’s or the Broken Drum. (Reynolds remembered hanging out at the Twin Burger in college.) And Flowers reminisced, “I miss the Pow Wow Rodeo and the parade.”
Is Boulder the most liberal city in Colorado? Flowers took issue with that. “I find Boulder to be very conservative, and I have since I was a child.” When people have the wealth to live in homes of 8,000 square feet, he said, they have more influence on state and local politics than many realize.
So what do you think has been the biggest change in Boulder in the past 50 years? Tell me your memories here. It’s OK to look back to the good ‘ole days.