Guest Columns


Goodstein’s new book evokes memories of South Denver’s colorful politicians

Phil Goodstein. The Haunts of Washington Park. Denver: New Social Publications, 2009. vi + 302 pp. ISBN 0-9743364-4-0. $19.95. maps, illustrations, index.

Reviewed By John Davoren

As a boy, I sometimes traveled across town from my home in North Denver to visit Washington Park. Particularly exciting was plunging off the high-diving tower, about 30 feet above the water, into Smith Lake. After splashing into the water, I remember sinking down, the mud encompassing my ankles. Phil Goodstein’s new book, The Haunts of Washington Park, brought this to mind and many other memories of the people and places that have made South Denver what it is.

Among the people I encountered in the volume was my old boss, Bill Grant, when I was a news writer for Channel Four in the 1960s. He lived directly south of the Denver Country Club close to Ellie Weckbaugh and other high-society figures. In 1963, despite the endorsements of the Post and News, Grant lost in his run for mayor. He was subsequently chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Grant’s close collaborator at Channel Four, Ralph Radetsky, lived a couple blocks away. According to Radetsky’s ex-partner, Gene Cervi, Radetsky was the “silent mayor” of Denver from 1947 to 1955 when he was close adviser of Mayor Quigg Newton. Radetsky’s wife acted as the inspector general when she came to the television studios. She was subsequently a major advocate of school busing and a lobbyist for Common Cause.

In a particularly fascinating chapter, The Haunts of Washington Park focuses on the politicians of South Denver. I suddenly again seemed to be in the legislature, working with and against such figures as Joe Shoemaker, Robert Wham, Carl Gustafson and Don Friedman. All were South Denver representatives and senators in the 1970s and 1980s when South Denver was still a Republican bailiwick. The volume tells how this changed. In the process, it also focuses on Denver city politicos, looking at the careers of such controversial characters as Don Wyman (who got stabbed by John Carr in 1977 for fooling around with Carr’s wife), Carl DeTemple, the head of the effort to bring the Winter Olympics to Denver in 1976, and Ed Burke, the longtime councilman from West Washington Park. This chapter alone makes The Haunts of Washington Park worth reading for anyone interested in the state’s political past and present.

The Haunts of Washington Park additionally explains the evolution of Bonnie Brae, examines the fights over zoning in Washington Park neighborhoods, looks at the problems with McMansions, and chronicles the stories of the area’s churches and schools. The book seemingly leaves no stone unturned as it reports the highlights and lowlights of greater South Denver.

Author Phil Goodstein is a Denver native who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado. He has conducted numerous tours of the city while writing widely on all aspects of Denver. The extremely well illustrated The Haunts of Washington Park is part two of a trilogy, The Haunted History of South Denver. Volume one, The Spirits of South Broadway appeared in 2008, dealing with the South Broadway corridor from Cherry Creek to Englewood. The third part, The Ghosts of University Park, Platt Park, and Beyond will come out in 2010. I look forward to the latter, appreciating books that go beyond public relations gloss to help residents appreciate their past and shape their future.

John Davoren is a retired Denver journalist who wrote for wire services, radio/TV news, and the National Farmers Union. A veteran of the Marine Corps during World War II, he is a former state representative from Adams County.