Open space won big in the 1967 election, but not as big as the repeal of Boulder‘s long-standing law against alcohol.
Boulder‘s prohibition lasted a whopping 60 years, from 1907-1967.
Although the thought of prohibition seems overly strait-laced these days, at the time it was considered a forward-thinking measure. It was the height of the Progressive Era (1890-1920) in America and citizens were interested in creating a better society through social reform. Anti-saloon activists were concerned with the devastating toll that alcohol took on families.
With help from the local chapter of the Women‘s Christian Temperance Union, the Better Boulder party swept the election in 1907. Boulder went dry and saloons were forced to close their doors. The state of Colorado enacted prohibition in 1916. By 1920, the whole country was dry with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. In March of 1933, a change to federal law allowed the sale and consumption of beer and wine that was up to 3.2 percent alcohol, an amount considered to be “non-intoxicating” (regular beer was 5-6 percent alcohol).
National Prohibition was repealed later that year, but Boulder voted to remain dry. By 1950, both Tulagi and The Sink, clubs on University Hill, had licenses to sell 3.2 percent beer and a lively college student scene of drinking and music ensued.
During the dry years, several “liquor islands” developed where alcohol service was permitted, surrounded by properties still bound by prohibition. One of those liquor islands was the Harvest House Hotel. In the late 1950s, the Murchison Brothers from Texas decided to build a world-class hotel in town, but they staunchly refused to run the business without a full liquor license. The Harvest House property, at 28th Street and Arapahoe Avenue, was outside the city limits but needed city water service to operate, which required annexation. As the city was highly in favor of the hotel development, this predicament occupied many hours of city council time. The hotel finally won its city water with a deal that allowed it to stay outside the city limits to be able to serve cocktails, according to newspaper reports.
Boulder voters were sharply divided on the liquor question. Since 1907, repealing prohibition was defeated 14 separate times, according to compiled records at the Carnegie Branch Library for Local History in Boulder. After narrowly losing, by only 129 votes, in 1963 the issue went to the voters for the 15th time in 1967 and won big.
“Liquor, Sales Tax Issues Carry City Election By Large Margins,” read the Daily Camera front-page headline the following day. Boulder became wet with 71 percent in favor, while the greenbelt/transportation tax won with 64 percent, the newspaper reported. Turnout was one of the highest in the city‘s history with 80.5 percent voter participation. Some credited the population boom following the establishment of Federal Labs in town for turning the tide. Boulder grew by nearly 30,000 residents from 1960-1970, according to U.S. Census numbers.
At last, there was the promise that restaurants could offer regular beer, wine and a selection of hard liquors and retailers could sell them. But first the new provisions hit a speed bump. City officials were surprised by the election outcome and quickly put a 90-day moratorium on liquor licenses in order to set procedures. An application from Thomas Lacey for a liquor store on Pearl Street was returned.
One of the first recommendations by the mayor and city manager was to annex the liquor islands into the city limits. Nearly a decade after opening, the Harvest House Hotel became part of Boulder proper.
Lacey reapplied after the 90-day waiting period and his new store, Liquor Mart, received Boulder‘s first liquor license in 60 years, on May 1, 1968.