Washington Park is a neighborhood and public park in Denver, Colorado.
Washington Park is located in south central Denver. The park is long and rectangular and is bordered by Virginia Avenue on the north, Downing Street on the west, Louisiana Avenue on the south, and Franklin street on the east. It covers 165 acres making it one of the largest parks in Denver.
The neighborhood generally referred to as “Washington Park” is often broken down into eastern and western sides: not only do both have their own neighborhood organizations and quite-different historical trajectories, but since 1972 official city statistics have tracked Washington Park West as separate from the easterly “Washington Park.” The (eastern) Washington Park neighborhood has borders defined by the city of Denver as Downing Street, Cherry Creek, I-25, and University Boulevard. The public park is located within the neighborhood.
Confusion over the borders in Washington Park are more imagined than real. The only statistically significant division is that made by the City of Denver in 1972, between “Washington Park West” and “Washington Park” as discussed above. The two “Registered Neighborhood Organizations” in the area do not respect this division, more for reasons of choice and politics than anything else. For instance, the western side boasts the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association (as opposed to “Washington Park West”) which includes the entire Speer neighborhood to the north. Similarly, the Registered Neighborhood Organization for the eastern side is called “Washington Park East Neighborhood Association,” despite the fact that no “Washington Park East” is officially created. Nor do any of these boundaries coincide with City Council District 7 in any enduring way.
Washington Park was initially designed by the German landscaper architect Reinhard Schuetze between 1899 and 1908. His design remains fairly intact and included Smith and Grasmere lakes, and the Lily Pond, all fed with a city ditch that Shuetze had edged with Russian willows and other trees. Other pieces of his design remain intact and include the large meadow edged with a grove of trees to the south of Smith Lake, and the carriage-ways that meander through the park.
Later landscape architects, such as Saco Rienk DeBoer and the Olmstead brothers have added their own contributions to the park, adding the elegant boat house, an evergreen grove on the north side of the park and other additions.
Washington Park as a neighborhood started development soon after the founding of Denver though it was still fairly rural in nature. By 1886, there was enough population to create Denver’s first suburb, South Denver, which by the silver bust of the 1890’s was annexed into Denver due to financial difficulties. Development hastened with the creation of the park in 1899. Most of the houses were built of brick between 1900 and 1940
Denver poet, Eugene Field lived in the Washington Park neighborhood. His cottage, where he lived from 1881-1883, was moved to the northwest corner of the park, and serves as the home of the non-profit Park People organization. A statue featuring Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, characters from his famous poem “Dutch Lullaby” sits near his cottage.
Recently, Washington Park has become a very popular urban neighborhood because of its central location, its closeness to the park, and its access to several commercial business enclaves. This has led to a transformation of the neighborhood, which worries some residents because of an increased density, more traffic, and the propensity of some developers to scrape historic homes and replace them with denser luxury duplexes, town-homes, or other development.
The park includes several trails, including one that goes around the perimeter of the park, tennis courts, a lawn bowling/croquet field, and two playgrounds. A recreation center with an indoor pool, free weights, and other athletic facilities is also located in the park. Smith Lake has a boathouse that can be rented out for various events.
The park is also known for its flower gardens, which include 54 flower beds in an informal arrangement. One garden is an exact replica of Martha Washington’s garden at Mt. Vernon.
The Washington Park neighborhood is one of the oldest in Denver and includes many early twenieth century brick houses. There are several commercial enclaves in the neighborhood such as South Gaylord Street, Alameda Avenue, Pearl Street, and others.
The neighborhood borders I-25, which is currently undergoing a massive expansion project known as TREX. This will bring light-rail to the south part of the neighborhood where Louisiana Avenue crosses the highway.