Thursday, March 12, 2020

Denver's Welcome Mizpah Arch

Before "Blucifer the demon horse" of DIA neighed its welcome (of sorts) to visitors driving in and out of the world's largest airport, there was a public art installation that welcomed Denver's visitors in a singularly unique way that has never been duplicated since. Denver's Welcome Arch, also known as the Mizpah Arch, stood for years a century ago outside Denver's Union Station at 17th and Wynkoop Streets.

Photo: DPL-WHG
Dedicated on Independence Day, July 4, 1906, the arch was "to stand for the ages as an expression of the love, good wishes, and kind feeling of the citizens to the stranger who enters our gates," according to Mayor Robert Speer. On installation, both sides read "WELCOME" in big bold letters. After the dedication, it seemed that folks approaching the station from the city were being welcomed to leave. Rather than leave that parting impression of good riddance, the letters on the city's side of the arch were changed in 1908. Rather than say goodbye or the like, which again could be a dubious parting word, the word selected was "MIZPAH," a salutation in Hebrew taken from Genesis 31:49, which says,
It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other...
The idea was to invoke a blessing on those saying goodbye to Denver and a hope of a return.

Photo: DPL-WHG

History of the arch itself is not very plentiful, but Denver's Railroads by Forrest and Albi has a small section from which a lot of this post is based. The arch had a double tracked Denver Tramway line passing through it from the outset. When the second terminal building was obliterated in September 1914 to make room for the current structure, the track was apparently re-routed to the west. The entire arch was supposed to be removed with construction of the center terminal, but it stayed on for 15 more years, and in the 20s was lit with electric lights in keeping with the times.

During its brief existence, the arch was not above being used for commercial use. Of note, the Struby-Estabrook Mercantile Company, before national--let alone international--grocery chains, used the Welcome Arch as a trademark for its line of products. Everything from macaroni to coffee and tea to oats and canned goods rolled out the doors of the mercantile stores with a likeness of the arch on it.

Alas, by 1929, the arch was showing its age. It had not been well maintained, and with the stock market crash that October and the ensuing Great Depression, an overhaul was not in the cards. Charles D. Vail (of Vail Pass), working for the city at the time, wrote that the arch would have to be completely rebuilt if it were to stay in the same spot, and as Vail had seen the future of Colorado in the automobile, the arch was cited as a traffic hazard and a blight on the station. The arch was removed at the city's expense on December 6, 1931.

It has not been completely forgotten, either. I remember my friend Ira, a New Yorker and proud Jew pointing to signs in a newly revitalized LoDo after a Colorado Rockies game emblazoned with Mizpah as a nod to the arch 70 years after its passing. It's a good memory of a friend now long past.⚒

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