The county seat (1859, 5,363 feet) is insulated by greenbelts from the suburban sprawl of metropolitan Denver. Boulder's ongoing debate over building limits began early, with the original, 1859 town plat. Town founders staked out a community stretching two miles along Boulder Creek. Instead of the standard 25-by-125-foot lots, lots measuring 50 by 140 feet were offered to buyers at $1,000 each.
Amos Bixby, a booster and the editor of The Boulder Valley News, complained that this town plat was the work of those who wanted “to make a ‘big thing’ for themselves.” Bixby favored “giving away alternate lots to those who would build on them, or doing most anything to attract population and capital. Unfortunately,” he complained, “the high-priced party prevailed, but the lots were not taken at $1,000 each,” thus crushing “the hope and reasonable expectation … to have centered here the men of money and enterprise and thus to have made Boulder what Denver afterward became, the leading town of the territory.”
Ultimately Boulder is indebted to English city planner Ebenezer Howard, author of Garden Cities of To-morrow (1898). Howard, shocked at London's cancerous growth, argued that communities should limit their growth and decide on an optimum size. Growth could be curbed through communal ownership of a surrounding “greenbelt.” To implement such a plan, Boulder began acquiring the state's earliest mountain park system in 1898, and later augmented it with more acreage, including farm and ranch lands on the plains.
The town hired Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., America's premier landscape architect, to provide a master plan, The Improvement of Boulder (1910), and pursued Olmsted's suggestions for a park system, to include a floodplain park along Boulder Creek and an “urban forest” in the foothills. One city park is named for Olmsted. Another, Flagstaff, displays fine Civilian Conservation Corps craftsmanship in its roadway, picnic facilities, and outdoor arena. The Flatirons, massive, tilted stone slabs that have become Boulder's emblem, are also preserved as a mountain park.
The town grew slowly but steadily by balancing mining and agricultural interests and by donating land for the University of Colorado, founded in 1876. Seventh Day Adventists chose Boulder as the site of their third “sanatarium” during the 1910s, following the original in Battle Creek, Michigan, and a second in St. Helena, California. These health resorts had their own dairy farms, food factories, and bakeries. Not only the infirm but people wishing to maintain their health were welcomed for treatment and education. This sanatarium, at the base of Mt. Sanitas, became the Boulder Memorial Hospital in 1961.
Expansion of the University of Colorado's scientific research programs after World War II helped to attract large plants such as IBM, Ball Aerospace, the National Bureau of Standards, the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. A giant U.S. West Advanced Technologies Research Center and other federal and private industries continue to seek out Boulder, giving the city a steady, prosperous job base. The post–World War II population of 12,000 has increased to some 84,000 today, not including most of 25,000 students at the University of Colorado.
At 5,354 feet, Boulder has imagined itself closer to heaven than the rest of metropolitan Denver. Not only in careful planning, but also in emphasizing parks and historic preservation, Boulder pursues a higher quality of life. One result is a number of striking public, commercial, and residential buildings, often designed with open space, the city's solar energy ordinance, and a view of the surrounding greenbelts in mind. A handful of notable local architects, including Charles Haertling, James M. Hunter, and Hobart Wagener, have contributed to Boulder's rich contemporary architecture.
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