(Editor’s note: This is the last story in a five-part series that focuses on the past 50 years of Jefferson County, which has been featured every few months the past year. We published a special section commemorating the 150th anniversary of Jefferson County in 2011 and then decided we wanted to shine a brighter spotlight on the past 50 years. Richard Gardner, a native of Golden and an expert on local history, agreed to tackle the series, which will proceed decade by decade, starting with the 1960s. Gardner also serves on the Jefferson County Historical Commission and the Golden Landmarks Association).
At the dawn of the 21st century, Jefferson County achieved something its founders undoubtedly dreamed of — becoming the most populous county in Colorado. About 527,050 citizens lived in Jeffco, with many newcomers living in the growing subdivisions of Arvada, Westminster and south Jeffco.
Many new places were constructed across Jefferson County to greet the turn of the millennium. Recreation had a big start out of the gate with the Apex Center in Arvada and the Wheat Ridge Recreation Center in 2000, the latter designed to mirror the landmark historic barn in front of it. Landmark bridges once again began to define the Jeffco landscape, starting with Golden’s Washington Avenue Bridge across Clear Creek in 2004, and over Highway 58 in 2008.
More innocuously Jeffco’s first new power plant in many years was built by Xcel Energy, tucked away in 2002 in the vicinity of Leyden, which once fueled power across the region. Also tucked away was the Red Rocks Visitors Center, placed in 2003 beneath its upper landing. Not far away along C-470 another new landmark very much announced itself when the picturesque little Vineyard Chapel rose on a prominence at Coal Mine Avenue in 2003. New schools also rose across Jeffco, including Ralston Valley High School (2000), D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High School (2001), and the fourth incarnation of its first high school, Golden High (2007).
In 2002, the Colorado Mills mall, built by the Mills Corporation owning a chain of malls across the country, opened at 14500 W. Colfax Ave. where a mall had been envisioned since the Wide Acres Mall of the 1960s. Totaling 1,100,000 square feet, it features 91 stores with 10 acres lining its oval racetrack layout and Jeffco’s first art deco styled movie theater since 1948.
Nearby at Colfax and 6th, upon land first claimed during the gold rush by future famed railcar industrialist George Pullman, the first Jack In The Box of the chain’s return to Colorado was built in 2007. One of its prior locations at 490 Wadsworth Boulevard was a 1969 store that had since become Einstein Bros. bagels, one of the Boston Chicken chains that made Denver West its headquarters during the 1990s.
In Golden the Fossil Trace Golf Course opened in July 2003, designed by Jim Engh and named after remarkable finds of dinosaur and plant fossils at its western edge. In 2001 Lakewood Commons was built by Opus Group, featuring a new Lakewood City Hall, Cultural Arts Center, stores, townhomes, and the Belmar Library uniquely shaped like an open book. Across Wadsworth almost all of Villa Italia was torn down, making way for Belmar, built by Continuum Partners. Opening its first phase in 2004, it was a 103-acre, 22-block urban neighborhood featuring stores, restaurants, offices, parks, residences, an ice skating rink and more.
Much new development took place along Colfax, where once the sign of Davies’ Chuck Wagon Grill was threatened now embraced neon as never before, including what may well be the world’s first art deco Walmart, built at 7455 W. Colfax in 2004, as well as the nearby Home Depot and Clock Tower Plaza in 2006. In 2009, the Solterra development of picturesque Tuscan-styled homes by Design Studios West on the southwest slopes of Green Mountain took shape, bringing the Parade of Homes back to Jeffco for the first time since homes on the northeast slope of the same mountain were featured in the 1960s. On the 10th anniversary of the school shootings the Columbine Memorial was dedicated, recognized by an Honor Award by the Colorado Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
A pitched battle erupted over Lake Cedar Group replacing the Channel 7, Channel 9 and Channel 4 towers atop Lookout Mountain with a new digital tower for the three, prompting great outcry over health concerns among canyon area and Golden residents while a federal mandate to switch to digital broadcasting loomed. After much fighting the United States Congress passed a law to favor the Lake Cedar Group.
The Channel 4 tower, which from 1955 to June 1, 2010, stood as the tallest structure in Jeffco history at 834 feet, along with the others went down, leaving the original Channel 2 tower, built in 1952 as the first television broadcast mast in Colorado, as the sole remaining pioneer there. In 2003, the last transaction was made to preserve North Table Mountain as open space and it was soon opened to the public. Plans to complete the 470 loop through the northwest corridor revived as well as proposals for development along the corridor, pitting Golden and others against Arvada and its allies, a battle which continues to this day.
The Coors industries had grown to become international giants, with Coors Brewing acquiring United Kingdom-based Bass Brewery in 2002, merging with Canada-based Molson to become Molson Coors Brewing Company on Feb. 9, 2005, and combining United States operations with SABMiller to form MillerCoors on June 30, 2008. After 125 years Coors was once again an equal partnership, sharing with the even more historic Molson family whose brewing roots date to John Molson in Montreal in 1786, and also with Miller whose operations began with Frederick Miller in Milwaukee in 1855. Respect for their elders was why the Golden-based brewers, who began in 1873 with Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler, decided for the others place their names first.
In 2000, the Coors porcelain company, began by John J. Herold in 1910, became a fully independent company, CoorsTek, now led by the fourth generation of the Coors family. Better known globally than even the beer, its operations now spanned the world, with plants and subsidiaries manufacturing porcelain and more across four continents. They began the 21st century with the Coors family’s unique homecoming to Korea, where CoorsTek Korea, founded on Dec. 17, 1999, expanded in Gumi City to serve Asian and American customers with operations in Asia. Korea historically was the first international Coors market, where Coors beer was first sold in Chemulpo, now Incheon, in 1908, making Coors the first Colorado brewer to ship internationally.
The Coors family’s unique relationship with Korea began when Adolph’s daughter Augusta married Herbert E. Collbran, a Colorado School of Mines graduate and son of Henry Collbran, the transportation advisor to the throne. The Collbrans were prominent in developing and modernizing Korea through railroads, streetcars, mining, telephone, water and electricity, with Adolph himself investing in the Kapsan copper mine and the Suan gold mines where Herbert worked.
The world not being enough for Jefferson County, its industries set their sights on Mars. Lockheed Martin built the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the first two of which would hold the record for longest operating orbiting satellite outside Earth. They also built the aeroshell enabling the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to reach the Red Planet on Jan. 4, 2004, from which Opportunity still operates today.
By the end of the decade the company was under contract for the Mars Science Laboratory, from which the rover Curiosity now captivates audiences worldwide. They also began developing the next generation of American manned spacecraft, the Orion capsule, which is testing today. Also taking part in many space ventures was the Ball Corporation, which had relocated its headquarters to the outskirts of Jefferson County airport in 1998.
By this time Jeffco’s airport had become the fourth busiest in Colorado, serving general aviation with more than 163,000 arrivals and departures per year, ranking it in the top 1 percent nationally. 475 aircraft were based there with three runways, control tower, 126 T-Hangars, 2 Fixed-Base Operators selling fuel and avionics, and maintenance shops. U.S. Forest Service fire protection aircraft staged from there, along with aircraft from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Jeffco Sheriff’s Department. There were three flight schools, charter services, aircraft sellers and overhaul services, and patrons could eat at the terminal’s Tailwinds Deli. The facility was renamed Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport on Oct. 10, 2006, emphasizing its regional appeal.
with Flight 93
One Jefferson County pilot, Capt. Jason Dahl of Ken Caryl Ranch, took command at the controls aboard United Airlines Flight 93 the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Not yet known to him and the other crew and passengers was that the United States was under attack, with terrorists of Al Qaida hijacking other planes to slam them as missiles into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. However, unlike the other aircraft, Flight 93 was delayed 40 minutes from taking off. At 9:28 a.m. four men commenced hijacking Flight 93, corralling passengers in back while storming the cockpit where Capt. Dahl and First Officer LeRoy Homer Jr. were.
During the struggle over the controls Dahl was twice able to shout Mayday transmissions to the outside world. Before he was overpowered it is believed Dahl placed the airplane on autopilot and rerouted its radio frequency so that cabin communications would instead be heard by air traffic controllers, which could cause delay and alert the outside world.
In the meantime because of the earlier ground delay passengers, calling outside for help, were alerted to the other attacks that were by then completed. Sensing a similar fate, they voted to counterattack the hijackers and take back the plane, and the hijackers fearing they would succeed crashed the plane near Shanksville, Pa., 20 minutes away from Washington, D.C., and the intended target, the U.S. Capitol. In America’s deadliest day since the Battle of Antietam, those of Flight 93 had successfully defended the nation’s capital in as real a way as soldiers had defended it during the Civil War.
Today Jason Dahl is remembered with the others of Flight 93 upon the white tablets of the Wall of Names at the Flight 93 National Memorial, upon Panels S-67 and S-68 at the South Pool of the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, and individually by the bronze eagle memorial at Tarnarade Drive and Valley Parkway at Ken Caryl Ranch. He is also remembered by the Captain Jason Dahl Scholarship Fund, established Sept. 12, 2011, which provides scholarships for students wishing to attend commercial flight training schools in the United States.
Throughout the 2000s, Jefferson County citizens joined many others fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places around the world, against Al Qaida and others believed to threaten the United States. Among those lost in war from Jefferson County include Justin McNeley of Wheat Ridge, Brandon Pearson of Arvada, Grant Wichmann of Golden and Duncan Crookston of Lakewood in Operation Enduring Freedom, and Benjamin Hoffner of Wheat Ridge and Kenneth Mayne and Dimitri Muscat of Arvada, Larry Pankey of Morrison and Henry Risner of Golden in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Colorado Freedom Memorial, scheduled to be dedicated on Memorial Day 2013, will remember them and all others from Colorado lost in war since the Civil War.
Jeffco people had plenty to cheer about in 2002 when the Winter Olympics came to Salt Lake City. Three Jeffco citizens including Leroy Brown, Jack Liddle and Nils Christiansen had competed before in the Olympic Games, and now Jeffco’s first Olympic athlete in 66 years and first winter Olympian, J.J. Thomas, was taking on the world. Competing in a sport not yet invented the last time Jeffco athletes competed, men’s halfpipe snowboarding, Thomas won the bronze medal, becoming the second Jeffco citizen to medal in an Olympics.
Jefferson County got a lot more snow when an exceptional blizzard hit on March 18-19, 2003. In a class by itself, below only the unparalleled Great Blizzard 90 years before, this storm dumped 74 inches near Bergen Park, 72.9 inches near Evergreen, 71.8 inches in Coal Creek Canyon, 69 inches near Conifer, 62.6 inches near Chatfield Reservoir, 58.2 inches on Lookout Mountain, 53.2 inches at Evergreen, 50.5 inches near Golden, 48 inches at Buffalo Creek and Pine Junction, 46.6 inches at Ken Caryl Ranch, 46 inches at Deckers, 45 inches at Genesee, 36 inches at Lakewood, 33 inches at Arvada, and 31 inches at Westminster.
Traffic was paralyzed and people were digging out for days and buildings in the metro area collapsed under the snow. In downtown Golden, the main roof beam of the historic Quaintance Block, a veteran of the Great Blizzard of 1913, broke and a fortunate confluence of owners, builders and engineers worked to save its roof from imminent collapse within 12 hours. The beam, made of spliced wood, was originally installed with a supporting post that enabled it to withstand 1913 but was removed in 1946, making for a 57-year time bomb that finally went off.
More snow came in 2006 when an unprecedented double blizzard hit Jefferson County. For over a century many double successive storms had narrowly missed having one or the other punch hit Jeffco, but on Dec. 20-21 and 28-29, the odds finally caught up. In the first storm, 34.5 inches of snow fell upon Golden and 29.5 inches in the second, and the resulting snowcover made for one of the longest lasting snowcovers in Jeffco history, after 1913-14 and likely 1858-59.
More extreme weather came on June 27, 2004, when torrential rain of 3.5 to 4 inches pummeled Jefferson County. At Massey Draw at Meadow Ranch subdivision at Deer Creek, 15 homes were damaged, and the Golden Arapahoe Gulch flooded, which almost completely submerged a home south of Sixth Street. This contrasted greatly with the beginning of the decade, where from June 12-20, 2000, the Hi Meadow Fire at the Park County border destroyed 51 homes and 10,000 acres, threatening to take Pine Grove, Sphinx Park and Wandcrest Park, causing $18.5 million in damage.
On June 8-July 18, 2002, the Hayman Fire roared into Jefferson County and beyond between the Kenosha Mountains and Pike’s Peak. The largest wildfire in Colorado history with at the time the most structures destroyed, it took 133 homes, 466 outbuildings and one commercial building, 138,000 acres, and $238 million in damage.
of political battleground
During the 21st century, Colorado became a key political battleground state in the nation, with bellwether Jefferson County at the heart of it. In the 2004 election, both vice presidential candidates came here, when Vice President Dick Cheney held a rally with wife, Lynne, on Aug. 4 at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and Democratic nominee John Edwards followed with his own rally there 22 days later. On Oct. 11, President George W. Bush and daughter Jenna held a big rally at Red Rocks, which crowd of 9,500 stood as Jeffco’s largest campaign rally until the Romney/Ryan rally in 2012 there took its place. Bush returned on Feb. 21, 2006, Bush returned to visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Then in the 2008 election both candidates electrifying the campaign came to Jeffco, starting when governor of Alaska and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin held a rally with husband, Todd (and infant Trig very likely backstage), at Jeffco Fairgrounds on Sept. 15. In a historical twist she was from the town of Wasilla, situated on the Parks Highway in Alaska named for CSM graduate George Alexander Parks who served as her territorial predecessor. She was followed the next day by Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, who held a rally at Lockridge Arena at Mines. Michelle Obama followed on election eve Nov. 3 at Dakota Ridge High School, actually outdrawing her husband who had chosen a smaller venue.
Jefferson County had a different kind of political event take place when its first secession attempt since 1861 became its first successful one 140 years later on Nov. 15, 2001. Broomfield, incorporated 100 years after the earlier effort in 1961, had grown to straddle four counties and asked Colorado voters to create its own city and county, which they approved. It became Colorado’s 64th county and second city and county.
By the end of the 2000s, the Regional Transportation District was building the West Corridor light rail line in the heart of Jeffco, designing new engineering landmarks that would’ve made its original engineer, Edward L. Berthoud, proud when first surveying its line in 1890. Left to be finished in the 2010s, it will soon become operational, and carry people in three centuries through Jeffco cities. It and more help begin the next chapter in the long history of one of Colorado’s oldest counties