Medallion NameGRIDLOCK

Significance – Just about everyone is aware of downtown Denver’s diagonal street pattern – and how it collides with the standard U.S. geological survey-aligned grid of the surrounding metro area, creating a corridor of five-pointed intersections and triangular blocks along Broadway.

Inscription – The five-pointed intersection at 17th and Broadway is the result of shifts in Denver’s street grid.

The grid shift created the triangular-shaped block upon which the Brown Palace Hotel is located. Here, the original grid which runs parallel to the South Platte River meets the later north-south and east-west pattern or Jeffersonian grid.

Location – 39°44’36.1″N 104°59’15.6″W

Details – When you really dig down into the details of urban design, street grids can be fascinating to the point of way too much information.

The extremely curious street system of Denver, Colorado reflects the citys early geography and evolution converging with government standards. Modern Denver merges two street grids. The first streets in Denver were mapped in what was then the town of Auraria, founded in 1858. The streets were laid out parallel to the south bank of Cherry Creek near its confluence with the South Platte River, with perpendicular cross streets. A grid based on Cherry Creek.

Back in 1858, Denver was called St. Charles, and it was part of the Kansas Territory. General William Larimer and early settler William McGaa collaborated on their towns street grid, laying out the streets parallel to the South Platte River with perpendicular cross streets. A grid based the South Platte River.

Curiously, because Cherry Creek and the South Platte meet at nearly a 90? angle, when the two settlements were united in 1860, there street grids were relatively easy to merge. “They’re slightly different. Take a close look at what the downtown grid does at Cherry Creek, and you’ll notice that all the named streets like Larimer and Curtis and Lawrence, when they cross Cherry Creek, they do a slight jog, about one degree, observed planning consultant Ken Schroeppel. That’s because one grid was laid out to be parallel with the creek; the other was laid out to be parallel with the river.”

But, since Denver streets followed the flow of a natural body of water, the streets were diagonal to the established Jeffersonian Grid which relies on the four cardinal directions – north, east, south and west. The geography-based street grid of early Denver became the exception as the city grew around it.

“The country was expanding, and to avoid disputes as the land was split up, a governmental survey was created, and the whole country was surveyed this way,” noted Patrick Armbrust, founder and director of the Armbrust Real Estate Institute. “Our street patterns in Denver are laid out on these survey lines.”

The conventional north-south grid pattern began to emerge in 1864, when developer Henry C. Brown laid out the first streets outside the original downtown parallel to the cardinal directions in accordance with federal government survey guidelines.

Denver grew so rapidly in its early years; areas were developed with little direction from the government of the young city. Instead, each developer platted streets at their whim, largely independently of others. As a result, many streets do not line up with one another. The askew layout has both drawbacks and benefits.

Didja know, while there are 40 city blocks between Broadway and Colorado Boulevard south of East Colfax Avenue, there are only 39 blocks along the same stretch on the north side?

Lets throw another wrench or two in the confusion of Denver city streets. Denver has no universal system for define terms like street, avenue, road, way, lane etc. In wild, wild, west style, street names were chosen with no consistency; the same road designation might have as many as ten different names in different parts of the city, and many different roads shared the same name. The Denver Union Water Company intervened as this chaotic street system was making it difficult to provide service and bill their clients. A bookkeeper named Howard Maloney, collaborated with the city to impose an orderly set of names to the roads, with each unique name designating exactly one road. In most areas, these streets are named in alphabetical order. The numbered streets are said to run north and south, and that the named streets are said to run east and west.

There is so much more minutia about how the Denver street grid is named and numbered. When you find out some of these facts, please do share them with us.

Quiz Questions

What was Denvers original name?

The city is formed around the confluence of what two rivers?

What is unique about downtown Denvers street layout?

How are city streets traditionally organized?

How do we use directions to figure out where we are going?