"I pictured Denver would be people riding horses and walking around with cowboy hats, and I pictured horses tethered up to posts."
When Steve Fisher was first hired to work at DU — shortly after graduating from Case Western Reserve University with a dual master's in history and library science — he knew next to nothing about life in the Mile High City.
"I had never been west of the Mississippi at the time," Fisher says. "I pictured Denver would be people riding horses and walking around with cowboy hats, and I pictured horses tethered up to posts. I was shocked to find when I got here that people dress pretty much the way they do in the Midwest. But that was the stereotype we had."
After 30 years as DU's head curator and archivist, Fisher is much better acquainted with Denver — particularly the area around the DU campus, which is the subject of his new book, A Brief History of South Denver and University Park (The History Press, 2012), which traces the area from the 1890s, when DU relocated to south Denver from its original downtown home, to the present day.
"Back at the very beginning, [DU founder] John Evans and the Board of Trustees were looking for a place that was going to be like a utopia," says Fisher, who will read from and sign copies of his new book May 15 at the Tattered Cover LoDo. "They moved out of Denver because Denver was getting run down, and there were brothels and saloons right next to where the University was.
"They started looking for areas to move to, and they wanted to be away from the city," he continues. "They were positive that the city would never encroach that far south. Of course it did; it grew, but I think people don't understand that [University Park] was meant to be this utopian village where life was perfect."
In the book Fisher also chronicles the development of neighborhood landmarks such as Chamberlin Observatory, Washington Park and Hilltop Stadium, as well as the construction of the Newman Center and the arrival of light rail. In all, the book charts the evolution of a neighborhood that eventually became known as one of Denver's best.
"It's one of the most desirable places to live in the Denver area," Fisher says. "We have one of the lowest crime rates in the city; we're halfway between downtown and the Tech Center; and housing prices have maintained, unlike a lot of other areas."
For Fisher, the book wasn't just a scholarly historical investigation — it also was a way to take a closer look at the part of town he's called home since 1977.
A year after he was hired, Fisher and his wife, Kate, moved into a house on the corner of Asbury and High streets that was one of several buildings the University was selling. He's seen changes to the campus firsthand — including the construction of the Ritchie Center, where Fisher can be found most nights of the school year. He has season tickets to DU hockey, men's and women's basketball, men's soccer and men's lacrosse.
The Fishers also put both of their children through DU using the tuition benefit available to employees.
"I was blessed to find my calling and the perfect job at a young age, and to work with a remarkable institution through many highs and lows, ups and downs," Fisher says. "Over the years I have developed a huge extended family composed of DU faculty, administration, staff, students, alumni and retirees. We all share a love of this crazy and magical place."
Steve Fisher reads from and signs A Brief History of South Denver and University Park at 7:30 p.m. May 15 at the Tattered Cover, 1628 16th St. Visit www.tatteredcover.com for more information.