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As early as 1959 Denver began considering a downtown pedestrian mall, but the idea was not given serious consideration until 1971. Following years of planning and construction, the 16th Street Mall opened on October 4, 1982. This month the Downtown Denver Partnership, Denver Story Trek, Historic Denver and all the mall users are celebrating the 30th birthday of this unique icon.
The internationally renowned architectural firm I.M. Pei & Partners of New York designed the 16th Street Mall. The chief designer was Pei partner Henry Cobb. In 2009 Henry Cobb recalled that there were two inspirations for the paving pattern- both relevant to the American West- navajo rugs and diamondback rattlesnakes.
All the fixtures and furniture along the mall were custom-designed for Denver- and the lighting fixtures had a series of functions that allowed them to dim as the sun set. While not functioning as they once did, the lights are still one of the most distinctive elements of the design.
The original mall spanned 13-blocks from Broadway to Market and was built at the cost of $29 million. The LoDo portion of the mall was constructed in 1992 and extended the mall to Union Station- making it a mile long.
Now, decades after it was built, the 16th Street Mall has evolved into the veritable “heart and soul” of downtown Denver. Its free shuttles serve an average of 55,000 commuters and tourists per day, creating significant wear and tear that jeopardize the original design and materials. However, in May 2008 a panel of experts from the Urban Land Institute declared the 16th Street Mall to be “public art of the highest international quality.” The Downtown Denver Partnership has led an effort to identify ways to upgrade the mall while respecting its design.
Photo Credit: Tom Noel Collection

Audio Stories

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Story Site #41- 16th Street Mall History

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Story Site #42 16th Street Before the Mall

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Story Site #43 16th Street Mall Architecture

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Oral History #44 told by Chuck Berry

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Oral History #46 told by Laurie Olin

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