Mike McPhee and Dana Crawford: Chronicling the woman who saved “the soul of a city”

Dana Crawford with retired journalist Mike McPhee, who wrote a book on the visionary and preservationist, at their book signing Tuesday at Union Station. (Lynn Bartels)
Dana Crawford with retired journalist Mike McPhee, who wrote a book on the visionary and preservationist, at their book signing Tuesday at Union Station. (Lynn Bartels)

When I moved to Denver in the summer of 1993 to work as the night cops reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, my editors occasionally dispatched me to an abandoned flour mill where hobos had started yet another fire.

I already found the streets around downtown confusing and the poor Denver Fire Department would take my calls and try to guide me to the location in the dark, where I would finally arrive only to find that police had already shooed away the transients.

You can imagine my shock in 1997 when preservationist Dana Crawford announced she was turning the flour mill into condominiums.

I wasn’t the only one who thought the idea was “just shy of insane,” as author Mike McPhee says in his new book, “Dana Crawford:  50 Years Saving the Soul of a City.”

“In the late 1960s, it was shut down, emptied of most of its heavy steel machinery and left to the pigeons, the homeless and the graffiti artists,” he wrote of the mill. “Dana’s close friend and colleague, Jeff Shoemaker of the Greenway Foundation, attended the press conference announcing the project and fell into disbelief.

“This is completely non-salvageable. No one will live down here. I’ll buy the dynamite  and I’ll push the plunger,” he told her.

The condominiums were a huge success.

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