Independent dances through the decades

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It was the best night of 2013, declared South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce president John Brackney.

“And there’s a reason for that,” he told the crowd of nearly 200 who attended the Littleton Independent’s 125th birthday bash at in the Garden Pavilion at Hudson Gardens Sept. 27. “Look around. Everybody who’s anybody, absent vacation or illness, is in the room tonight.”

It was a notably diverse group, with Littleton City Council incumbents sharing the spotlight with their challengers, the city manager getting his photo taken with two former city attorneys, the mayor mingling with ordinary folks, and current reporters getting face time with Garrett Ray, a former owner and editor of the Independent.

“Nina and I lived here from 1961 till 1984, so we were here during some of the most rapid and wrenching changes in life in Littleton and the Independent,” Ray told the audience. “But we all had some fun as well.”

He went on to share some favorite memories — Western Welcome Week parades waiting for the train before the tracks were lowered; roundtables at the original Abe’s Cafe hosted by Houstoun Waring, the Independent owner who hired Ray; the community spoof “Fiasco,” when Littletonites made fun of themselves. Then there were the infamous concrete pods along Main Street, meant to modernize downtown.

“Ridiculed as concrete toadstools, people cheered when a few were knocked down by tall delivery trucks,” Ray recalled. “The city, downtown merchants and residents didn’t miss them when they were taken down, but the other part of the project, the trees, worked very well, fortunately.”

Ray was an unabashed Democrat in what was a Republican-dominated community, but he said it wasn’t his political editorials that drew the most criticism. The top three were when he said the death of Elvis Presley was no big deal; when he suggested that maybe Inter-Faith should find another way to raise money after hundreds of kids shivered through a cold, wet 25-mile walk; and when he endorsed the opponent of the very popular county clerk, Marjorie Page.

“Marj won, of course,” he said. “She forgave me, but some of her admirers are probably still mad.”

Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman, who has a degree in journalism, noted the city has the longest-held subscription to the Independent, though nobody else in the room could beat community activist Paul Bingham’s 50 years.

“It really tells the history of the community,” said Brinkman. “It keeps the thread of the community vibrant.”

After the speeches were over and people kicked up their heels to tunes from across the ages by the Ultraphonic Jazz Orchestra, Jerry and Ann Healey, today’s owners of the Independent, watched the revelry like proud parents.

“It’s about the people of Littleton that makes this place so special,” said Jerry Healey. “It’s all about our connection to you.”