Recognizing the Contributions of the Denver Press Club, a National Treasure Celebrating its 150th Anniversary
Mr. Speaker, one year after Colorado became the 38th state, in 1877 a group of Denver journalists formed the nation’s first press club. Now celebrating its 150th Anniversary, the Denver Press Club is significant to our community and our country in a number of ways.
What started as a means for frontier-town rival reporters to play poker, tap into a barrel of Taos Lightning whiskey and debate the news of the day became a magnet for some of the most famous names in the field, defenders of the First Amendment and strong advocates for the values of journalism that are so critical to our democracy.
In its early years, the club met in various spots, including the “cyclone cellar” of Wolfe Londoner’s grocery store before he was elected mayor of Denver, a term cut short due to a scandal that his journalist friends covered with gusto. He was later elected president of the Colorado State Press Association.
As the club grew, it met in local hotels, among them the prestigious and famous Brown Palace. The club’s own prestige increased as it brought national speakers and performers to Denver, awarded honorary membership to several U.S. presidents, brought the International League of Press Clubs to Denver in 1906 and served an instrumental role in elevating Denver’s profile and meeting the needs of national media when the city hosted the 1908 National Democratic Convention.
A permanent home for the club was built with the help of an architect team that included the designer of the Denver Public Library, Daniels & Fisher department store and Red Rocks Amphitheater. In 1986, this structure was named a Historic Landmark, and the Society for Professional Journalists designated the club a “significant historical place in journalism” in 2008. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places this year.
Oh, and of course the building includes a card room, home to one of the oldest card games in Denver.
But the Denver Press Club’s nearly 500 members do a lot more than play games and socialize. They work to strengthen and promote journalism while educating the public on matters that reflect the importance of empowered and free media.
Through the years, the membership has included renowned reporters, editors, cartoonists, and authors, several of them Pulitzer Prize winners, who made their mark in the pursuit that has long been the watchword of many journalists: comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
Among the luminaries on The Denver Press Club’s historic roster was Damon Runyon, for whom the club has named its cornerstone award, given to people whose careers have embodied his style and verve. Recipients have included Molly Ivins, Tim Russert, Jill Abramson, Frank Deford, Katie Couric, Carl Hiassen, Bob Costas and many others.
The club also awards scholarships in Runyon’s name to Colorado’s top journalism students, as well as a separate award in coordination with the University of Colorado Boulder for outstanding crime reporting that’s named for the late Al Nakkula, who was on the police beat for decades. These activities and others serve to raise awareness of what good journalism means to Colorado and the United States. And that cause is more relevant now than ever, amid vast changes to the media landscape in recent years and new, unexpected challenges.
The Denver Press Club has long played its part in shining a light on our city and helping democracy thrive. As it celebrates its sesquicentennial, I am proud and honored to congratulate the club’s members on its legacy, and to wish you all the best in the future.