Denver, CO

Opinion: Finding holiday joy homeless on Denver’s streets

David Heitz
The holiday lights on Denver's City and County Building may be considered over-the-top by some.City and County of Denver

I became homeless just days before Christmas 2018. I had left my apartment in Glendale because I did not feel safe there. I then began to stay in luxury hotels.

I was suffering from extreme psychosis due to a change in medication. Eventually, my money ran out. I blew through the inheritance my dad left me. So, at Christmas, I found myself with nowhere to sleep, nowhere to shower, and nowhere to go to the bathroom.

But I still found holiday joy on Denver’s cold streets. The most impressive display of Denver’s holiday prowess is the City and County Building.

Light show can come off a bit garish

The holiday light display on the City and County of Denver building is spectacular. LED lights morph across the building as a strobe light spins on the spire. The glimmering light show is set to holiday music.

The first time I saw the display I thought it a bit garish. I was homeless, and bitter, and here is this in-your-face display of Denver’s immense wealth. At least, that’s how the holiday display came off to me.

I remember watching officials throw the switch on the lights during a morning news show. I remember calling out loud about how much the electricity bill must be, and how many hungry mouths you could feed with that money.

Now I just find the display stunning. I never have seen anything like it. It reminds me of something you would see at a Disney theme park.
The light show projected onto the Denver City and County Building morphs through different colors.City and County of Denver

The colors cast upon the building shine in vivid tones. Even without lights, the architecture of the Denver City and County Building screams elegance and uniqueness.

City and County Building dazzles without lights

“Denver's neoclassical City and County Building opened in 1932 only after major municipal battles involving the aesthetic, political and legal dimensions of city planning in the United States,” according to Planning Perspectives magazine. “The building now resting serenely on the tapis vert of the Denver Civic Center, and closing its western vista, gives no hint of the struggles over neoclassicism versus modernism, electoral and professional politics, and legal interpretation once swirling about it.”

Few expenses were spared on the construction of the Denver City and County Building. “The Centre followed the baroque pattern, with its axis stretching east‐to‐west, its cross axis running north‐to‐south. Beginning on the east at Grant Street, the grounds of the Colorado Capitol sloped two blocks to Lincoln Street, then another block to Broadway,” according to Planning Perspectives.

Building complements ‘fussily detailed’ Capitol

“On the crest of the hill, a mile above sea level, stood the Capitol, dressed in fussily detailed nineteenth‐century neo‐classicism,” the magazine continues. “The Centre continued another two blocks past Broadway to Bannock Street. The existing municipal structures stood between Broadway and Bannock. On the south, the Colonnade of Civic Benefactors and the Greek Theatre marked one end of the cross axis. Fourteenth Avenue, the Centre's south boundary, swept around the colonnade and theatre in a deep, graceful curve.”

I stood in awe of this building during homelessness, especially during the holidays. Even as a homeless person, I took pride in living in a place that went all out at Christmas.
City and County of Denver

For me, the light display helped create Christmas magic on Denver’s otherwise mean streets.

Denver’s holiday lights display at the City and County Building will cycle through an eight-minute show at 5:45 and 6:45 p.m. every day except Monday through Jan. 23. The building is at 1437 Bannock St.

Visitors must wear a mask and also should bring their vaccination cards.

Union Station, 16th Street Mall lights

Another downtown Denver building that looks cool during the holidays is Union Station. That building is cloaked in red and green lights, among other striking patterns.
The Union Station website describes the transit center's holiday lights show.Union Station

"Beginning with the Grand Illumination and continuing through December 27th from 5 to 10 p.m. each night, this outdoor light show will feature interactive visual imagery created by local Denver artists projected across the station’s historic façade," according to the Union Station website. "With classic holiday music accompanying the joyful imagery, Merry and Bright Lights is a can’t miss holiday experience in Denver."

Visitors must wear masks and bring their vaccination cards.
The Daniels and Fisher Tower on 16th Street Mall in Denver looks grand in any season.Daniel Norris/Unsplash

The clock tower on 16th Street Mall also offers a nice holiday effect. The stately building is photogenic and a favorite of photographers even when it's not the holiday season.

Between the three buildings pictured here, life on the streets of downtown Denver was a little bit brighter around the holidays.


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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at community newspapers in Southern California and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am proof that people can rebound from even severe mental illness with proper treatment. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living in the Mile High City. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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