Washington Park is a place we have all chosen to call home. Whatever has landed us in this neighborhood, one thing is for sure, our park is the gathering place that gives us all a feeling of connection. John Waller is your neighbor and he just published a coffee table book, filled with images of our beloved park. We took the opportunity to learn more about him and his book, Washington Park: A Jewel Among Peers.
John, can you share with us how you found yourself in Wash Park?
When my wife and I moved back to Colorado after being absent from the state, for 20 years, we knew that this would most likely be our last move. Therefore we wanted a home in a neighborhood that would suit our needs for much of the rest of our lives. We searched for a location close to features that we deemed important, like access to public transportation, dining options, health care access and cultural attractions. We honed in on Washington Park because it satisfied our criterion and offered the additional advantages of well-kept homes, leafy tree lined streets, diverse architectural home styles and friendly, conscientious neighbors. And then, of course, there is the park itself of which is a short five or six minute stroll away.
You didn’t start out as a photographer. How did this hobby turn into a passion?
Photography became a hobby of mine as early as my high school days. Having completed all of my required course work by my senior year, I filled my schedule with elective courses, photography being one of them. I was immediately taken with a camera’s ability to permanently archive life’s events. Many of my better photos decorate the walls, hallways, tables and shelves of my residence; it’s a perfect way to transform a house into a home. As put forth by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in their song Bookends; “I have a photograph. Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left you.”
We’ve been in the neighborhood for over twenty years, and we’ve seen many changes. What do you think of the evolution of Wash Park?
I have mixed emotions about the evolving state of Washington Park. When my wife and I settled here in 1998 the ‘gentrification’ of Washington Park had not yet begun. Each of the 24 homes on my block were all original dating back to 1929. Now, near half of the homes have been razed and rebuilt with structures that are two –and sometimes three – times larger than the homes they replaced. And as I outline in my book many of the homes have been designed and constructed to pay homage to the historical charm of Washington Park while others have not.
As some may know, Denver adopted a “brick ordinance” re-quiring fire-resistant structures in reaction to a fire that wiped out a huge portion of the downtown area on April 19, 1863. This is why many homes in Denver’s older neighborhoods, including Washington Park, are made of brick. This building code has been relaxed, however and homes currently being constructed in the neighborhood are mostly wood framed structures sometimes clad in siding or stucco. Not that these homes cannot be erected with good taste –there is a shake sided home on my street that is quite attractive. However, one views the current state of our neighborhood, though, we only have to look back to the late 1970’s when our neighborhood, and the park itself, were in a state of neglect and decline to appreciate the money being invested into the community. And the result is a charming, if not magical, place to call home.
A portion of book sales will go directly to FANS (Friends and Neighbors) of Wash Park. Can you tell us a bit about this organization?
The Friends and Neighbors (FANS) of Washington Park Inc. is a grass roots effort to help support and preserve our park, a vital resource to our community and the city at large. It was organized to give a public voice to Washington Park in the care, use and maintenance of the park space. The organization was first conceived in 2006. The over 100 volunteers of FANS undertake significant activities in the park that benefit its preservation, such as spring cleaning of the City Ditch, painting the Boathouse and turning the ﬂower gardens over to ready for winter. FANS hold meetings on most months at the Dos Chappell bath house.
As a retired neighbor, how do you enjoy your free time?
Writing a book, even a seemingly simply formatted coffee table volume like mine, required a tremendous amount of time and energy. From conception to publication it took eight months of mostly full-time effort to bring the project to fruition. Some of the major production issues to be considered were page layout, cover artwork, copy editing and, of course, the years it took to accumulate the abundance of photographs that are contained within the book itself.
So, writing consumed much of my days and nights for the past year, but retirement still allows me ample time to engage in other meaningful activities. I read several books each month, play ice hockey at the Denver University ice arenas twice a week and golf with friends in the warm months. Many hours a week are spent maintaining the lawn and gardens of my home and enjoying the preparation of nice meals for my wife and occasionally for close friends. Then there are the countless joys of living in a house that will soon turn 100 years old; the constant opportunities for the do-it-yourselfer to repair, replace or maintain the myriad of issues that arise from owning a vintage dwelling. But the sense of satisfaction that comes from completing these projects is part of the joy of home ownership.
What can we expect from you in the future? Do you aspire to write and photograph for any future books?
Another book is in my future though it will take on a more challenging format; I would like to write a novel. I already have a concept in mind and have created and developed many of the important characters of the story. But as I discovered from my first attempt, writing a book is a laborious, time-consuming, albeit a rewarding, pastime. But I can think of no finer drop back for all of the things still in store for me than the lifestyle afforded by our comfortable neighborhood.
Thank you for sharing your story with us and your fellow neighbors, John! We hope that you all have a chance to flip through this beautiful book as the days get shorter and the temperatures drop. You can find his book on Amazon, and a portion of your proceeds will go to help the good people of FANS, Friends and Neighbors of Wash Park, who prioritize the preservation of our park. Something we should not take for granted.