The “Fine Arts Critic” of the Denver Post is very upset. A lot of money was spent restoring Denver’s old Union Station in the city’s center, and it’s beautiful. But the people going to the Station’s restaurants, bars, and shops are too white.
The Post ran a piece titled, “Did diversity miss the train in Union Station’s architecture?” The subtitle is, “The urban playground at Union Station isn’t drawing people of color and it may be the building’s fault.”
It’s written by Ray Mark Rinaldi, who writes, “…if my recent counts of people in the restaurants, bars and shops in and around Denver’s rehabbed, reopened Union Station are even close, it’s an overwhelmingly white place. How can the new cultural jewel of our city — where 47 percent of the population is minority — draw a crowd that is 98.2 percent Caucasian on a bustling, buzzed Saturday night?”
So what’s the reason for his quick head-count racism discovery? Rinaldi thinks it the building itself, its design reminder minorities of a racist past they weren’t alive for.
Let’s start with the building itself, the actual architecture. Union Station is a neo-classical mix of styles — European styles. The symmetry, arched windows, ornate cornice and stacked, stone walls have their roots in the glory days of France, England, Greece and Rome, in empires that were nearly absent of ethnic minorities and who felt fully at ease invading, exploiting and actually enslaving the people of Africa, subcontinent Asia and South America.
Yes, that’s all in the past; things have changed. But the $54 million renovation of Union Station doesn’t take that into account. It restores the symbols of an old world with no updates. The gilded chandeliers have been rewired, the marble polished, but there’s no nod to the present, no interior walls in the bright colors of Mexico, no Asian simplicity is in the remix. There are no giant sculptures by African-American artists bonused into the lobby, no murals on the basement walls.
According to the Denver Post, minorities are disinterested in, or even turned off by “symmetry, arched windows, ornate cornice and stacked, stone walls” in architecture.
“The present restoration,” Rinaldi writes, “harkens back to Union Station at its height, in the first half of a 20th century when many Americans suffered the social indignity and economic disadvantage of a segregated America.”
He ends his review with, “This really was a chance to define today’s Denver, to show off to the world, to say we are as interesting and relevant as anywhere you can name. But this project has defined us narrowly, darkly, negligently. There is danger in that, too.”