Prior to European exploration of the area, Native Americans, particularly the Arapaho tribe, established encampments along the South Platte River near or in what is now LoDo. In 1858, after the discovery of gold in the river, General William Larimer founded Denver by putting down cottonwood logs in the center of a square mile plot that would eventually be the current LoDo neighborhood, making LoDo both the original city of Denver, as well as its oldest neighborhood. Then, like now, LoDo was a bustling and sometimes wild area known for its saloons and brothels. During the Sand Creek Massacre, it was LoDo where the heads of the slaughtered Arapaho tribe were paraded in victory.
As Denver grew, city leaders realized a railroad was needed to keep Denver a strong city, especially when the transcontinental railroad bypassed Denver for Cheyenne, Wyoming. In 1870, after much cajoling from town leaders, residents passed bonds that brought a 106-mile (171 km) rail spur from Cheyenne. This and later train lines ended up in the Central Platte Valley, adjacent to LoDo. Union Station became the place most people traveled into the city and LoDo would be the first part of the city they would see. This section eventually became Denver's Chinatown from the 1870s to the 1880s, only to be torn down by race riots.
By the mid-twentieth century, what was once a thriving business area had become a skid row. As highways and airports diminished the dominance of passenger railroad transportation, the importance of Union Station, LoDo's most prominent building, waned.
The Lower Downtown Historic District, known as LoDo, was created by the enactment of a zoning ordinance by Denver City Council in March 1988. The resolution's intent was to encourage historic preservation and to promote economic and social vitality in Denver's founding neighborhood at a time when it still held significant historic and architectural value. The status granted by this special designation provided protection to the community's archivable resources and to the 127 contributing historic structures that remained after roughly 20% of Lower Downtown's buildings had been demolished through DURA policies in the 1960s and 1970s. LoDo's historic district ordinance includes zoning that restricts building height and encourages mixed use development. It stipulates strict design guidelines for rehabilitation and new construction.
During this time, the neighborhood began its renaissance. New businesses opened, such as Wynkoop Brewery, developed by future Denver mayor and Colorado governor John Hickenlooper. Gradually LoDo became a destination neighborhood. By the time Coors Field opened on the edge of the LoDo Historic District in 1995, the area had revitalized itself, becoming a new, hip neighborhood filled with clubs, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, bars, and other businesses. Pepsi Center, located on the other edge of the neighborhood, opened in 2000 and further established the neighborhood as a sport fan's paradise. New residential development came to LoDo, transforming old warehouses into pricey new lofts.
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