A Brief History of Boulder's University Hill

By Carol Taylor, Boulder History Museum 

At the establishment of the University of Colorado in 1876, Boulder’s town activity was centered at Pearl Street.  Then a group of brothers had the idea that the land just west of the University would make a fine neighborhood.   The Fultons formed the Denver and Boulder Land and Investment Company and proceeded to sell lots for $9.22 each.  They even gave free lots for the first folks who promised to build houses valued over $2,500, hoping to encourage upscale development.   Their dreams were stalled with the silver crash of 1893.  A few public buildings were constructed during this nationwide depression,  Mount St. Gertrude’s Academy and the Sanitarium Boarding House among them.  

Then came the Texas-Colorado Chautauqua, with its requirement for transportation.  The electric streetcar was up and running through the commercial district on 13th street before turning on College and then up 9th to the Chautauqua, just in time for the second season of the Chautauqua in 1899.  This was what the Fulton brothers needed.  Development boomed.  John and Kate Harbeck built a grand summer residence as a respite for his tuberculosis, a common theme in Boulder’s history.  

The commercial district grew with the University Store and the Beach-Johnson commercial building among the first.  Boulder’s prohibition, enacted in 1907, thwarted the establishment of any saloons.  The 1920s saw a boom in the CU student population, spurring a Greek House building boom in a whole host of classical styles.  Craftsman bungalows were all the rage and many faculty members built homes for entertaining near the University.  With the building boom on The Hill in full swing, a zoning ordinance was called for and was adopted in 1928.  

Modernism came to The Hill in the 1930s, adding more architectural diversity.  William Beach gave the neighborhood children their first public park and playground at the height of the depression in 1937. Movies came along in 1950 at the state-of-the-art Flatirons Theater with its fire-proof projection booth and nursery.  An exception to prohibition was made in 1933 for ‘non-intoxicating liquors.’   The Sink received the first license for 3.2 beer on The Hill in 1950, followed soon afterward by Tulagi.    

Rock and roll drew huge crowds at Tulagi with the line to see Boulder’s band ‘The Astronauts’  three blocks long.  In the late 1960s, Hippies congregated on The Hill for the 3.2 beer, concerts and cool leather goods at Phantasmagoria.  

Riots rocked The Hill in the early 1970s which resulted in the Police Annex to keep the peace.  Fraternities and Sororities lost popularity during the counterculture movement and many Greek houses were repurposed.  Buddhists bought an old frat and created Marpa House, an urban meditation community in 1977.  

The Hill continues to evolve as one of Boulder most unique and diverse neighborhoods.