DENVER If you want to see some classy history, Denver's got that, like the custom-crafted table where Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin and other global big shots sat during a 1997 summit at the public library.
But if you crave tawdry tales of back-room deals and naked political power, Denver's got that, too.
There's the City Hall War of 1894, when the state militia was poised to blow the building to smithereens because some political bosses wouldn't come out.
And there's the City Auditorium, site of the 1908 Democratic National Convention, whose extravagant construction costs helped grease the gears of a political machine.
Denver may be hip, healthy and a Mile High, but it's also had some political low points that will make for great historical slumming during this summer's Democratic convention.
"We have one foot in the wild and wooly West and one foot in a burgeoning Western metropolis," said State Historian Bill Convery.
The city has been rough-and-tumble from the start. It was founded in 1858, in what was then Kansas Territory, when William Larimer "jumped" a claim took over land claimed by another would-be settler, Convery said.
Both Larimer and his victim ignored the fact that the land wasn't theirs to take, since it belonged to the Arapaho Indians by treaty. But in Denver and elsewhere across the West, that didn't stop the incursions by non-Indians.
Larimer named his new town after James Denver, governor of Kansas Territory. Colorado didn't become a state until 1876.
The 1894 "war" took place in Denver's original downtown, only blocks from the Pepsi Center, home of this year's convention. City Hall is no longer there, but a bell from the old building is mounted on a shady street corner.
The showdown started when reform-minded Gov. Davis Waite tried to fire three members of Denver's police and fire commission, which the governor then controlled, Convery said.
When they refused to give up their jobs, Waite called out the militia, which trained its cannon on the building. The confrontation ended peacefully after federal troops were called in.
Also near the Pepsi Center is the City Auditorium, completed just in time to host the 1908 convention. It's now the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
At $600,000, the auditorium cost about three times what it should have. The extra cash helped Mayor Robert Speer pay for the patronage and kickbacks that kept his political machine cranking out jobs and public projects, Convery said.
The auditorium was denounced as a boondoggle and Speer was accused of building it for his own glory. His response is etched in the building's cornerstone: "The People of Denver by Popular Vote Commanded the Erection of This Building."
Speer made no bones about being a boss, but he insisted he was a good boss.
"Denver was a city run by city bosses, really from the 1880s through Mayor (Ben) Stapleton, which means in the 1940s," he said. "Whatever you can say about it, mayors could get things done. The price was, it was not a very democratic way of doing business."
Mayors weren't the only ones making back-room deals. While Democratic delegates were nominating William Jennings Bryan at the City Auditorium in 1908, party bosses were holed up in the Brown Palace and other downtown hotels, brokering the deal that made John Kern the vice presidential candidate.
"A lot of the real decisions were not made in the convention but at the Brown Palace and at the Albany Hotel," Convery said. "It's difficult to underestimate the significance of smoke-filled rooms in making political decisions."
The Albany is gone but the elegant Brown Palace is still operating. It's an attraction in itself, with so much lore that it has a part-time historian on staff.
Theodore Roosevelt went to the Brown in 1905, becoming the first president to stop there. He spoke at a banquet where businessmen burned through an amazing 1,500 cigars, hotel spokeswoman Shannon Dexheimer said.
Since that visit, nearly every U.S. president has stopped at the hotel, including Dwight Eisenhower. He left a dent in a fireplace mantel while honing his golf game, but nobody knows whether it was caused by an errant putt or Eisenhower's back swing.
The presidential divot is still there, in what's now known as the Eisenhower Suite. It's shown on public tours unless the suite is occupied which it will be during the convention.
Dexheimer said Democratic Party officials booked the room but haven't said who will stay there.
Visitors in pursuit of more traditional history can check out the subtly inlaid, 12-foot-diameter table that President Clinton and other world leaders used for the 1997 Summit of the Eight.
Clinton hosted the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom in the downtown Denver Public Library's spacious, sunny reference room encircled by a round balcony.
The first-floor room is now back in regular use. The table has been moved to an upper floor conference room and is available for public viewing if no meetings are in progress.Also within easy reach of the Pepsi Center are the house where Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, lived for a time as a teenager with her sister; the Molly Brown House Museum, home of the famously unsinkable Titanic survivor; Civic Center park, surrounded by the state Capitol, the City and County Building, the Central Library and the Denver Art Museum; and the Byers-Evans House Museum, home to William Byers, the founding publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, one of Denver's two daily newspapers.
If you go
DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION: Aug. 25-28, at the Pepsi Center, Speer Boulevard near Interstate 25, Denver, www.pepsicenter.com.
BROWN PALACE HOTEL: 321 17th St., 303-297-3111, 800-321-2599, www.brownpalace.com/. Free public guided tours Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m.; reservations required. Private tours available for groups of 10 or more.
BYERS-EVANS HOUSE MUSEUM: 1310 Bannock St., 303-620-4933, www.coloradohistory.org/hist_sites/Byers_Evans/byers_evans.htm. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.- 3 p.m., with tours at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. Admission $5; seniors and students $4; children 6-12 $3, children under 6 free. Current display: "Promoting the Parks: Images, Brochures and Postcards of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park."
COLORADO STATE CAPITOL: 200 E. Colfax Ave., 303-866-2604, www.state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/lcsstaff/Scrollpages/TourScroll.htm. Tours 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Reservations required for groups but not for families and individuals.
DENVER INFORMATION: Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, 303-892-1112, www.denver.org/.
DENVER CITY AND COUNTY BUILDING AND CIVIC CENTER PARK: 13th Avenue at Broadway. Self-guided tour information at www.denvergov.org/AboutDenver/today_walking_civiccenter.asp.
DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY: 10 W. 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1111, denverlibrary.org/. Open Monday-Tuesday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Wednesday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 1-5 p.m.
ELLIE CAULKINS OPERA HOUSE (City Auditorium): 950 13th St., 720-865-4220, www.artscomplex.com/index.asp.
GOLDA MEIR HOUSE MUSEUM: 1146 9th Street Parkway, 303-556-3291. Tours by appointment.
MOLLY BROWN HOUSE MUSEUM: 1340 Pennsylvania St., 303-832-4092, mollybrown.org/. Guided tours only. Tours every 30 minutes starting at 10 a.m. Monday-Saturday, noon on Sunday. Last tour at 3:30 p.m. daily. Admission $7; seniors $6, children 5-12 $4. Current exhibit: "No Pink Tea," on the controversies and passions of 1908 with special focus on women's role in politics.
OLD CITY HALL SITE: 14th and Larimer streets, near Larimer Square dining and shopping district.