In 1904, David Dobbins purchased approximately 170 acres of land from Boulder County with the intention of subdividing it. He platted and renamed a portion of this land in 1906 (which had previously been referred to as "Jackass Gulch" and "Skunk Hollow") - "Floral Park" - in honor of his wife, Flora. The platted land, now often referred to as Lower Chautauqua, included an area extending from 15th Street to 20th Street between Baseline Road and Bluebell Avenue.
In 1938, a group of young faculty members at the University of Colorado began holding a series of evening meetings to find solutions to the high cost of housing in Boulder. Ultimately, the group landed on the idea of pooling their resources and purchasing land for the construction of eight residences for their growing families. Professors Weihofen, Garnsey and Geck inspected a site near University Ave. and 24th Street, but ultimately decided on Floral Park, which was within easy walking distance to the campus and available for purchase through back taxes. In 1939, the block bounded by 15th Street, 16th Street, Mariposa Ave. and Bluebell Ave. was purchased and the area which was originally platted for ten houses was reorganized to accommodate eight. The City of Boulder agreed to vacate the alleyway. The faculty owners intended to create a privately owned "housing project" for the enjoyment of their families. At the philosophical core of the plan was the concept of a shared open space. A drawing was held to decide who would own which lot and an easement was obtained from each family for the creation of the central commons area, 90 feet wide and running the entire length of the block.
The group hired architect Glen Huntington to design the houses which, according to one of the original owners - Francis Geck, "resulted in a sort of combination of the California Monterey style and old Colorado ranch house architecture." The design of the houses has since been attributed to Boulder architect, James M. Hunter, then employed by Huntington. A single contract was awarded to contractor John Nelson, bringing about a substantial savings on the cost of each house. While the interior design of each residence reflected the tastes and priorities of each individual family, kitchen appliances, many household fixtures and finishes were purchased in bulk to further lower expenses. Huntington's firm also provided a landscaping and recreational area plan for the Common area, but homeowners quickly embarked on their own projects.
The original eight families formed a close bond, including baby-sitting for one another's children. Block business meetings often began with a short musical performance or poetic reading by one of the homeowners.
A Daily Camera article dated January 1, 1940 boasted that "local Boulder labor will be employed in the construction of the model homes and the entire plot is to be landscaped in the latest modern fashion."
The project aroused a great deal of curiosity during construction and traffic on weekends was often bumper-to-bumper along Mariposa and Bluebell Avenues. Construction costs averaged around $6,000.00 per house - which included the purchase of the entire block, construction of the homes, all household appliances, and the community garage.
The first house was occupied on January 1, 1940 and the last one to be completed was available on April 1, 1940. The new residents soon began landscaping the common space and constructing a community shelter house and outdoor fireplace. Handball, tennis, and badminton courts, which were originally included in the Hunter/Huntington design, were never built; an organic community garden now graces the area envisioned for the handball courts. The gently-sloping site was originally dry, rocky, and treeless but today, many varieties of mature trees and foliage can be found - in large part due to the foresight of the original owners and the ongoing stewardship of the current resident. Over the years, picturesque rock walls and pathways have been created that link residences and subtly define the perimeter of the Commons.
When the block was designated an Historic District, in 1978, the only original owners still living in the complex were the Garneys (1505 Bluebell Avenue) and the Gecks (407 16th Street). In a letter written to the Landmarks Board at that time, Morris E. Garnsey stated that, " I am certain that thirty-five years from now a third generation of owner-occupants will look back upon the origins of this area with gratitude and admiration."
Over the years, the Floral Park Historic District has played an active role in the community life of Lower Chautauqua. For more than four decades, the eight families hosted an elaborate Easter Egg Hunt and Brunch for residents, their guests, and neighbors. The 1975 Easter Brunch menu consisted of: Bloody Marys, Baked Ham, Scrambled Eggs, Rolls, Fruit Compote, Pastry, Coffee and Hi-C.
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