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.
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.