Ruby Hill Park – Kathleen “Mack-the-Knife” MacKenzie’s Last Stand

As you may know, the imbroglio with regard to Ruby Hill Park involves Xcel’s desire to build taller power transmission structures near the park in Southwest Denver. Unsightly power transmission towers–in my memory (and I was raised in Southwest Denver)–have always been there, and the plan is to build even taller structures that, apparently, would require the Denver City Council to grant Xcel the authority to impose on the “view plane” (established by ordinance) of the said neighborhood. Kathleen “Mack-the-Knife” MacKenzie’s histrionics with regard to this issue, her last stand (Monday night was her last appearance as a City Councilperson), are captured by this posted to YouTube by Dear Denver which, if you take a look at the site, and others, is obsessing a wee bit about this issue. Also check-out Denver Direct, which provides a pretty in-depth, on-site (8×10 glossies and all) look at this issue.

This post isn’t about “view planes” or the dastardly machinations of public utilities and their hired help (CRL & Associates — Maria Garcia Berry) or, indeed, about the cutlery missy Kathleen will slice you with in a New York minute or Charlie Brown’s inappropriate intrusion into what is an issue affecting MacKenzie’s district. No, this post will wax nostalgic. Ugh! you say. Sorry, but I’m in a nostalgic mood, this morning.

Okay. Here’s the City and County of Denver’s description of Ruby Hill Park.

Located at S. Platte River Dr. & W. Florida Ave., this park features a lighted baseball field, outdoor pool, sledding, and lighted softball field.

Ruby Hill Park, named for red garnet colored stones found in the adjacent Platte River, provides popular year round activities. These include snow sledding, baseball, softball, outdoor swimming, and a playground designed for accessibility by children with disabilities. Ruby Hill Park is a favorite spot for picnics and kite flying. From the park’s high bluff, used years ago by Native Americans as a lookout point, Denver’s vast expanse is a memorable scene.

Let me give you another perspective.

When I was young, very young, (I’m thinking on or about 1960), I recall walking from our home–perhaps a mile or more–to what was then a city dump located on a rise that bordered, to the east, the South Platte River and Overland Park, and from which, in those days, you could see the full spread of downtown Denver–surely still that proverbial “cow town”and–if memory serves–the jut of the First National Bank building topping out the skyline.

On that day, on that trek to Ruby Hill I was with my father, who was then a sergeant with the Denver Police Department and intimately involved in the investigation of cops gone bad–what would eventually be called the Denver Police Burglary Scandal. Our jaunt to Ruby Hill (then a city dump) was for the expressed purpose of looking for discarded meat that had been stolen by cops from a meat market which, I believe, was somewhere on West Colfax. I remember my father trudging through the dump, looking for wrapped meat, while I concentrated on the exquisite view of downtown Denver and the browned, aged skull of what was probably a cow (or an elk), nestled within the detritus of people’s lives that all dumps eventually accumulate. The stolen meat not found, my father and I began our hike back home, with the admonition from my father that, no, I could not take the skull home–it was garbage, useless, unwanted. Suffice it to say, I wanted that skull and I wanted to hang it on the wall in my bedroom. But, my father, the cop, said no and that was that. One did not argue with my father.

My next memory of Ruby Hill–probably beginning to look like the beginnings of a park–was in 1965, when the South Platte flooded, and the view of the destructive force of that event was best seen atop Ruby Hill. We arrived at Ruby Hill to see the spread of flood-waters over Overland Park and their ferocious meander further down the way, destroying what was then a trucking company and other businesses which had had the misfortune to establish themselves along the flood plane of the South Platte. It was–in the vernacular of a later generation–awesome.

Now we’re somewhere around ’69-’70, when the 25 meter swimming pool first opened atop Ruby Hill. I was the first Pool Manager at Ruby Hill, supervising a staff of about six or seven lifeguards and pool attendants. Two things really, really awesome (I know, there’s that word again) about that summer (Summers?? I may have been there two summers) were the kids–mid to low income, mostly Latino–and the weather. There was/is really no other place in Denver where incoming summer thunder storms are more impressive, more ominous, more beautiful. And, of course, if the thunder storm happened/happens to settle upon Ruby Hill, or even pass over it, I swear the resulting tempest was/is consistently–to understate–mean-spirited, which, of course, was/is nothing but totally kewl.

The kids.

I began my eight or nine summers with the Department of Parks and Recreation Aquatic program, first as a pool attendant (the young’uns who check your clothes, clean the toilets, hang-out, fool around), at Barnum Pool, in West Denver. I moved from there–becoming a lifeguard–to the now defunct (replaced with some Aztec or Inca canopy–I’m architecturally challenged), Columbus Park Pool at 38th and Pecos. Because my father was Chief of the Denver Police Department at the time, and because information from someone at the Northside Community Center (or, so I was told by my father), presaged my death in retaliation for something or everything my father’s minions happened to be doing at the time–this was the late ’60s when the entire country was undergoing a tremendous cathartic social upheaval–I was then moved to 20th Street Recreation Center and a short stint at Overland Golf Course as a Ranger (the guys who tool around in golf carts and tell you to replace your divots, and please let the twosome behind you play through). Then on to Ruby Hill and, later, to Congress Pool.

At Barnum, Columbus and Ruby Hill, I interacted through each of those long hot summers with kids, teenagers, adults, mostly Latino, mostly middle to lower income. My immersion into the Latino culture (for much of the time, back then, the preferred moniker was “Chicano”), was enlightening, rewarding, actually joyful, at times, actually a real pain-in-the-ass, at times. Such is the nature of public swimming pools. But, it was the kids, ten and under, who provided the still cherished moments from those summers. Suffice it to say–I won’t bore with the sentimentality of those yonder times–the Latino culture, then as now, is robust, raw, raucous, loving, charming, humble, gregarious. Yes, not unlike most indigenous cultures–Italian, Greek, German, Irish–Latinos pursue life within the confines of primordial road-maps, honed by their particular trudge through time, tempered by some little imperative to “Americanize” themselves because, yes, after all, is that not the point of the melting pot?

Back to Ruby Hill.

Harry Ukulele, back in those Ruby Hill days, had, by 1970, taught thousands of Denver’s children how to swim, usually through YMCA programs. Harry’s daughter, Lelani, worked as a lifeguard at the pool. By that time, Harry was well into his seventies (eighties?)–a sun-weathered Hawaiian-American–who kind of adopted Ruby Hill as his own–lavishing food and Kool-Aid upon the staff and the kids about every other day. He was a wonderful, certifiable character, who had given decades of his life to Denver’s children, assuring the essential skills of mastering water would, one day, save their lives, not to mention provide them with endless hours of unadulterated fun.

Came the notion that “Harry Ukulele Pool,” would be a good name to replace “Ruby Hill Pool.” Shouldn’t such a man be honored for his service to Denver’s children? That was the argument. I won’t detail the effort we made to rename the pool, except to say that the answer was, “No. You can’t name a public structure after a person who is still living.” Period. End of discussion. (Hmmm…. One observation: Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building. Big shots get the exceptions. Little guys get the shaft.)

After Ruby Hill, I moved on to Congress Pool at 8th and Josephine. And, that is another story altogether!

Okay. So, Monday night the Denver City Council postponed the Ruby Hill Xcel deal until the wee lass’s replacement on Council can have a chance to review the issue. That’s fine. I’m not really engaged by this thing. Huge electrical transmission towers have crossed that view plane for a very, very long time. I know, I know. It’s kind of a Wal-Mart thing with most people. Joe Citizen vs. Big Ugly Corporate Asshole. But, to call this MacKenzie’s finest hour begs the question what other “fine hours” has she produced on Council? Methinks the little darlin’ just couldn’t turn that Irish off long enough to get much of anything done. She alienated most councilpersons by her swift-slice personality, thus assuring that happy bus–the art of politics, compromise–rarely saw her aboard anything of substance.

Anyway… My Ruby Hill rambling narrative is hereby finished…for whatever it was worth.

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19 Responses to Ruby Hill Park – Kathleen “Mack-the-Knife” MacKenzie’s Last Stand

  1. Howard says:

    Great story nonetheless, sir.

  2. georgeindenver says:

    Hey, Howard. Sir? Now that would be my daddy. ; – ]
    Thanks for your comment.

  3. Suz at Large says:

    Great stories, George. Thanks!

    Re City Council: *yawn* – just can’t get excited about those people right now for some reason. She said, as she filed her latest monthly retirement benefit confirmation form. 🙂

  4. georgeindenver says:

    Ditto, Suz! Bowing and scraping, no more. Don’t it just feel so good!

  5. A little desultory, but enjoyable none the less. Thanks for your interesting comment on my Walt Whitman picture.

    PS: What attracted you to working at pools?

  6. georgeindenver says:

    Ah, Jeffrey, but pretty much everything I post is a little desultory.

    Working at pools? The logical step for one who, 1) needed money for college, and 2) swam since he was probably three or four years old.

  7. takeonxcel says:

    While any elected official will and should be criticized, the characterization of the departing City Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie as someone who could not garner support on the Denver City Council is not only unfair but inaccurate. Sure, MacKenzie was at times controversial, since she took on issues that no other City Councilmember would touch. She was a relentless advocate for neighborhoods and for labor. Her successful opposition to a Wal-Mart store in West Denver, her successful effort to set up a fair process to allow workers to organize at Denver’s convention center hotel, her insistence that the Louisiana Light Rail station be something more than a box, her constant oversight of the Gates Development and the T-Rex project, her arranging of the compromise over the Deboer historic property, her work in negotiating numerous neighborhood compromises involving the University of Denver, her brilliant shepherding of the changes to the City Charter, and her courageous sponsorship of a successful resolution expressing concern over constitutional abridgements by the Patriot Act show that she was clearly one of the most effective City Council members when it really mattered and could win when not all the cards were stacked against her. She was also at times an unabashed fiscal conservative who railed against wasteful spending and was sometimes alone in voting with Hackworth or Faatz, the only openly Republicans on the Council. It might be easy to be perceived as being able to get other Councilmembers to go along when you serve as a spokesperson for CRL and other lobbyists who tightly control too many members of the Denver City Council, but that was not MacKenzie’s role or her nature. Her more recent stand and highly publicized positions concerning the controversy with the Perk ‘n Pub in which Charlie Brown intervened outside his district and against the wishes of the neighborhood organization and the need for dialogue with protesters over how things should be handled at the Democratic convention showed that she was not afraid to stand up and be counted, even when the prospect at winning was not at her doorstep. We need more MacKenzie’s in the future to make the City Council accountable. Yes, her legacy will be felt and the last week was her finest hour.

    George would probably agee with little that MacKenzie did, but don’t mischaracterize her record. He should be more careful about comments when they have no basis in fact. Let’s see if you post this.

  8. georgeindenver says:

    Ah, the wee lass shall forever live in the memory of some as a “brilliant” star amongst slugs. That’s fine. I have a bias (obviously) that transcends what little she accomplished on council. I suspect the fact she never achieved consensus amongst her peers to serve as president of council, is seen by her admirers as an honorable legacy; something that speaks to her courageous rejection of consensus…fueled (in her eyes), no doubt, by the machinations of lobbyists and special interests. I see it as a fundamental flaw; an inability to understand the give and take of the political arena.

    She was better than some, worse than others. Maybe now she can head back to labor causes from which she sprang. The labor movement is in dire need of the wee lass.

    P.S. Why wouldn’t I post your articulation of what you believe to be the other side of the coin? George is, if nothing else, eternally pleased that anyone takes the time to comment on his desultory meanderings.

    Thank you

    P.P.S. By the way, I know of one charter issue the wee lass failed to shepherd to fruition because, well, her opposition bettered her and her fellow council members understood the illogic of her banshee baloney. But, then, that’s another story altogether, isn’t it.

  9. takeonxcel says:

    Well now that your conservative friends on City Council along with CRL and the corporate lobby have driven DearDenver from Blogsphere, we are left with your dribble. DearDenver announced to today that it is finished. No explanation — just a sudden end. This is a measure of its impact on the local political economy. Clearly, the powers that control this city acted with great malice to stifle dissent.

    Those who believe in change will not be impacted by your defense of the corrupt status quo at City Hall. DearDenver in its short existence had reach and importance far beyond your inconsequential blog. The importance of a blog is measured by the comments that it evokes. The fact that I responded with much more coherent and accurate analysis than you normally receive must have really shocked and upset you.

    MacKenzie is gone, and a new era, somewhat defined by her, may emerge. That’s what we must now pay attention to. Will the new Councilmembers push the city in a less corrupt and more neighborhood friendly direction? Will the pro-corporate City Council majority, which defines the 2003-2007 Council, seek to redefine itself?

    All that being said, thanks for allowing my contrary comments to appear.

  10. georgeindenver says:

    Ah, hit the Madeira a little early, I see. Your mumbo jumbo reads a bit like my desultory meanderings.

    For the record (if anyone is keeping count) Dear Denver and Lisa’s prior site were articulate, witty, informative treasures amongst a broad sea of Denver directed blogs. She mentioned “personal reasons” for shutting down Dear Denver, and I have not jumped to any conclusions about what those reasons might have been. Maybe some day we’ll know. I doubt CRL and that rabble at City Hall could intimidate Lisa in no way, shape or form.

    Now, as to the “consequence” of my blog. You get what you see. Take it or leave it. No aspirations to consequential, influential or any other ential. I keep it up because I enjoy it (most of the time), and it’s anyone’s choice to wade through it if they wish. Apparently, obviously, you “wished” to do that, and, once again, I thank you for your time.

    P.S. By the way, it’s “drivel,” not “dribble.”

  11. mike says:

    I check your blog from time to time and typically find it fascinating and intelligent. But boy were off concerning the Ruby Hill hearing. You apparently didn’t watch it, because it played like a Frank Capra movie with no question as to who were the heroes and the villians. MacKenzie was in the Jimmy Stuart role while Charlie Brown was filling in for Lionel Barrymore. In fact I wondered how Charlie Brown could sleep that night but as Kurasawa said “Only the Bad Sleep Well”. And as for Maria Garcia Berry–we ought to name a surface parking lot for her.

  12. georgeindenver says:

    Thanks, Mike. No, didn’t watch the hearing. As I said in the post, the issue did not engage me. We have our own issues over here in West Highlands that, sadly, linger, linger, linger.

    Too bad MacKenzie left the best for last, huh.

  13. Adam 2 says:

    We waiting to see if Ruby Park neighbors get their way…that way those of us who ilive in Inspiration Point can get rid of our power lines as well.

    Those lines are for someone down the road to use the power. As Ruby Hill neighbors might say, “Too bad for those people who might need the power….I have to look around the darn tower just to see the mountains.”

  14. Keith says:

    Do you know where Ruby Hill got it’s name?

    • georgeindenver says:

      Suspect it was named for the ruby-colored stones found in the South Platte near the site. Please inform if that’s not correct.

  15. Ron Stewart says:

    Well, I just drove by Ruby Hill today and hadn’t done so in decades. I, too, recall going to the dump with my dad. Wasn’t Gene Amole’s KDEN up there, too? We lived in the Barnum neighborhood in the 1940s, then moved to our brand-new house, which my dad, a contractor, built in the Athmar Park ‘hood. Today it’s a nice park. I wonder if people know there’s a heap of trash under foot.

    • georgeindenver says:

      Hey, Ron, yes, Gene Amole’s classical station was up there, too. We moved into the Athmar Park subdivison around 1955, when, to the west, all you could see was undeveloped prairie. Fond memories of terrorizing the Hested’s Five and Dime in the Athmar Park Shopping Center every chance we could get. Good memories.

  16. georgeindenver says:

    We were in the 1500 block on South Perry, Ron.

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