Residents had ‘foresight’ to save downtown in the era of strip malls
A meandering Main Street flanked by colorful flowers and graceful trees seemed a radical concept for staid downtown Grand Junction in the late 1950s.
Like most small cities, its downtown business center then was a ho-hum expanse of concrete sidewalks and streets, hot in the summer and cold in the winter, unexciting and colorless.
But that concept was to change in the early 1960s.
“At this moment there is a disease called ‘decentralization’ spreading though the United States,” warned then-Publisher Preston Walker in a 1959 Daily Sentinel story. “The main streets of American towns and cities are watching their business as it drains into super shopping centers on fringe areas.”
Walker foresaw a real threat to the downtown area, as a plan was being developed for a “super shopping center” on the east end of North Avenue. It would become Teller Arms Shopping Center, the first such development in Grand Junction.
The Grand Junction City Council OK’d Walker’s suggestion that a seven-person committee be named. Walker then wasted no time organizing a citizens group to outline a plan, based on information from a survey about the ideas, wishes and priorities of the residents.
The committee envisioned that, to ensure survival of the downtown area, the plan had to encompass more than the four central blocks of Main Street. It needed to include the city’s original square mile.
The plan called for ironclad zoning so that an area of existing buildings would not be affected in any way. However, it was suggested that a way should be found to condemn and destroy some old buildings in the area.
Despite the fact that downtown parking was scarce, the committee suggested a few streets be made through streets, with no parking allowed. This idea was nixed.
A second nixed idea was that of closing White and Ute avenues, which run east and west; and Fourth and Sixth streets, which run north and south. Instead, those blocks would be converted into center-street parking areas.
Another suggestion was to close Main Street to automobile traffic. The blocks between Second and Third streets and Seventh and Eighth streets would become parking. The remaining four blocks, from Third to Seventh streets, would become a landscaped esplanade, or parkway, with pedestrian traffic only. This idea was left on the cutting-room floor. Instead the design of a serpentine street with trees, shrubs, flowers and sitting areas was adopted.
This suggestion of closing Main Street to vehicle traffic surfaced again this year, when the plans for the latest Downtown Uplift were being discussed. Again it was nixed.
A committee idea that was adopted in the 1960s was modernization of several Main Street stores. It is important to note here that within the past 20 years there have been attempts to restore some of these stores to their original designs, reversing those modernization efforts.
The committee also suggested widening 27 blocks of downtown Grand Junction streets, which became phase two of the project.
In spring 1962 the Operation Foresight project was started. It was completed later that year. The project would make Grand Junction the All-American City in 1963.
The designers were certain that once the straight four-lane thoroughfare was transformed into a series of gentle S-curves, with pedestrian safety, angle parking, trees, shrubbery and benches, shoppers would come downtown. Their predictions proved correct.
The project was done in three stages.
The first stage was construction of storm sewers so that basement flooding would be eliminated.
The second phase was widening downtown area streets, along with installation of new water mains.
Phase three was off-street parking, which had not been in the initial plan, but at the request of the downtown property owners was done.
Phases four and five were modernizing the stores and constructing the arcade walkways.
Several of the suggestions from the committee were worked into the bigger picture for Operation Foresight. The master plan was one of those, and for many years it did stop some of that patchwork zoning in residential neighborhoods.
Today our downtown shopping park is a beautiful place to shop. There is no doubt that the committee had the “foresight” back in the 1960s that saved our Main Street and the supporting residential neighborhoods from being boarded up like so many main streets across America.
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Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel. She is involved in many local preservation efforts and is on the board of directors for Colorado Preservation Inc.