COWTOWN TO CURBATION: New exhibition shows Aurora’s growth in the 20th century

An aerial view of development in Aurora’s Hoffman Heights neighborhood in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of the Aurora History Museum

M.Most 2021 Aurora residents may not know the name Sam Hoffman, but they have no doubt seen his work.

A Russian immigrant and plasterer by trade, Hoffman and his sons were the masterminds of one of the first meticulously planned subdivisions that emerged in the area in the late 1940s and early 1950s when thousands of military officials and their families hit the city with GI Bill funds in the hand. The Hoffmans and their company F&S Construction – short for “father and sons” – have helped shape the look of western suburbs in communities from Thornton to Phoenix, according to a 2011 report on the growth of the Denver area after World War II, published by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Hoffman’s eponymous neighborhood north of Auroras Del Mar Park began as a detached town known as Hoffman Town, complete with a fire station, school, and park system. It was annexed and became part of Aurora in 1954, adding about 7,000 new residents to an agricultural community that quickly became a true castle, according to Christopher Shackelford, the Aurora History Museum’s exhibition curator.

Flanked by Fitzsimons Army Medical Hospital to the north, Lowry Air Force Base to the west, and what was then Buckley Field to the east, it was ideally located for defense workers looking for a piece of white picket fence life.

Sam Hoffman, a Russian immigrant and plasterer, and his sons were the masterminds behind some of Aurora’s oldest neighborhoods, which grew fivefold from 1940 through the 1950s. Photo courtesy of the Aurora History Museum

“Subdivisions like Hoffman Heights, Del Mar Park, Morris Heights, and other neighborhoods that have grown over time really became the foundation and foundation of what Aurora eventually grew to be,” Shackelford said.

Aurora’s Cold War transition from cow town to metropolitan area is the focus of Shackelford’s latest exhibit at the museum adjacent to the Aurora Municipal Center.

The exhibit shows how the city’s population grew at a time when duck-and-cover exercises and nuclear explosion simulations were the order of the day at the nearby Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

Shakelford combed hundreds of microfiched issues of Aurora Advocate and Rocky Mountain News to prepare for the exhibit, which is decked out with a replica 1950s kitchen and a replica nuclear bunker. The display is also peppered with personal anecdotes from Aurorans of the time.

“We offer local stories about the experiences of the residents of Aurora during the Cold War, to enrich our understanding of this great phase of the city’s growth, while expanding what happened here as the nation focused on the threat of a potential global nuclear holocaust prepared, “T Scott Williams, director of the Aurora History Museum, said in a statement.

Though definitions of Cold War length vary, Shackelford said he wanted to focus on the roughly 15-year span from the late 1940s to the early 1960s when developers like Hoffman, Sam Sclavenitis, FP Loulakakis, and Forest Ross Builds across ran the city at a breakneck pace. Using assembly line methods, Hoffman’s workers built 12 houses a day in the area north of East Sixth Avenue until 1950. A shingle-roofed shingle-roofed and no-garage shingle store in the neighborhood started at $ 9,250, and a deluxe brick model fetched an additional $ 2,000.

Shackelford, 32, said he wanted to highlight the peculiar dichotomy of the booming housing market and the constant red paranoia of fear that pervaded the zeitgeist.

“It’s this juxtaposition between this post-war economic boom and suburban growth and this kind of looming global annihilation,” he said.

Aurora’s population grew nearly five-fold in the 1950s and had a population of around 50,000 by 1960, according to US census data. According to census figures, only 3,437 people called the city home in 1940.

Much of this surge was attributed to the annexation campaigns that Aurora officials aggressively pursued in the 1950s.

“Aurora began vigorous annexation efforts in the 1950s and moved unincorporated areas to the east, north and southeast into the city,” said the CDOT report, which uses data from the National Park Service. “… The city started a campaign in 1952 called the“ City of Hospitality ”to attract businesses, builders and residents to the community. One result of this campaign was that small builders built new houses in older residential areas and thus prevented decay and decay in these areas. “

The strategy resulted in hundreds of new homes and thousands of new residents in areas like Boston Heights and Gateway Park, with most residents commuting to work at nearby military hubs, Stapleton Airport, or Denver commercial centers.

“Aurora thrived as an urban suburb with modern administrative government and an economy that depended heavily on its military facilities,” the CDOT report said.

Shackelford said he wanted to go back to that time, to which many longtime residents still have a connection.

“Those jobs in the defense industry brought a lot of people into this community and changed that community in many ways,” he said. “… I think a lot of people have a lot of memories of their parents or their neighbors who work in these places.”

The exhibit, titled “The Rise of the Aurora Suburb during the Cold War,” opened to the public earlier this month and is scheduled to be on view at the museum on East Alameda Parkway until next spring. The facility is open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reservations are recommended.

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