Local life

What's in a sign? Street signs carry little-known history in metro Denver counties

Signs in different areas offer a door to knowing more about where you live

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If you’ve ever sat at a red light in rush-hour traffic in the Denver metro area, you may have wondered about the meaning behind the different logos and colors on nearby street signs.

In the City of Denver, the signs are simple enough — the logo of mountains and the sky sit above the name “Denver.” But some signs have a different logo even though they’re also in Denver.

In the southeast suburbs, drivers might think they’re in Aurora until the green signs on side streets start to look a bit different.

And in Adams County, the signs sometimes feature an American flag image to discourage people from firing gunshots at the signs.

Street signs can clear up confusion about what jurisdiction someone is in, but they also can reveal deeper stories about a particular area. Here’s a look at some of the eye-catching signs across metro Denver counties and what you might not know about the history behind some of them.

Denver mansions

In east Denver, there are many normal-sounding street names: Elm Street. Birch Street. Cedar Avenue.

And then, there’s Shangri La Drive.

A tiny, tucked-away road that almost forms a half loop off of Leetsdale Drive near Colorado Boulevard, Shangri La Drive was apparently named by Harry Huffman, a movie-theater and liquor-distribution magnate who had a mansion built on the hill.

The road was named to honor the impressive home, which was modeled after the Shangri-La lamasery — a monastery of lamas — featured in the popular 1930s movie “Lost Horizon.” That’s according to the book, “Denver Streets,” by local historian Phil Goodstein, as cited by Denver city staff.

And that’s not the only mansion in that area. More difficult to see from the street is the mansion known as "Cableland" on Shangri La Drive. It's the former home of Bill Daniels, the wealthy cable-television businessman and philanthropist.

Before he died, Daniels donated Cableland to the City of Denver in 1998, partly to serve as the official Denver mayor's residence. No mayor has ever chosen to live there, but the mansion is used for official city events and city meetings and is made available for other events, including fundraisers and other gatherings held by nonprofits and qualified charitable organizations.

Denver’s dual logos

The use of Denver’s newer logo for certain street signs — the “D” logo with a building, the sun and mountains within the D — doesn’t carry any particular meaning that's different from the old logo, which is two red mountains outlined in white, with a blue sky and yellow sun, all above the word “Denver.”

Denver began using signs with the "D" in 2010, according to Vanessa Lacayo, a city spokesperson. The city still has some signs with the older logo on them.

“We try to be good stewards with city dollars, so we don’t replace things that don’t need to be replaced and try to honor the life cycle of the material and replace things as they fail,” Lacayo said.

Don’t mistake Adams County

A large chunk of the map directly north of Denver — roughly north of 52nd Avenue — contains buildings that may have addresses that are listed as being in Denver even though they’re in unincorporated Adams County.

“Unincorporated” means an area is not within a city or town and is generally overseen by a county government.

The addresses are marked as “Denver” because the city listed with a property’s mailing address is based on zip codes that are used by post offices rather than being based on city boundaries, said Christa Bruning, Adams County spokesperson.

In those unincorporated areas north of Denver, you’ll see street signs with the A-shaped Adams County logo.

In some parts of Adams County, street signs bear images of the American flag to deter people from shooting signs with bullets.

“American flags are placed on signs in some areas as a mitigation measure where we have experienced issues with signs being shot,” the county said in a statement. “The flags have been successful as many residents seem disinclined to shoot signs displaying the American flag.”

A previous Adams County logo was established in 1985 and was the logo used on street signs until the current logo was designed and implemented in August 2009, according to the county.

A community with gates in Littleton

If you drive far enough northwest in the City of Littleton, you’ll run into an area called Bow Mar South, near the small Town of Bow Mar.

But Bow Mar South is a neighborhood, not a municipality, even though it has its own logo on street signs.

For example, the logo of a bird at Bell Flower Drive and Bowles Avenue denotes the area is within the Bow Mar South Homeowners Association, according to Tim Weaver, traffic analyst for Littleton.

“We used to put different items on signs when a neighborhood asked for them,” a statement from Littleton city staff said.

Decades ago, Littleton annexed land in Bow Mar South, meaning it brought it into the Littleton city boundaries.

Littleton annexed the area that is managed by the Bow Mar South homeowners’ association in 1973, according to Littleton city staff. A small part of the association area is outside of Littleton, including a few lots in the northwest part of the subdivision, Weaver said.

The area isn’t just another neighborhood. It includes gates on Blue Sage Drive that close to block traffic. 

Construction of the traffic gates was partly funded by the City of Littleton, and the city and HOA operate the gates together, according to city staff.

Other gates that restrict or block traffic to or within neighborhoods in Littleton sit in Coventry and The Greens, according to city staff.

Some areas in Littleton have street signs that are white and include the City of Littleton logo. Littleton first began installing the white street signs with the logo in 2015, according to staff.

The city decided to install the white street signs with the logo in an effort to help people tell which areas are in the city and which are not, Weaver said.

The new signs were also rolled out in an effort to “show our new branding,” Weaver said.

Similar to the case of Denver addresses popping up in Adams County, it can be confusing to tell what is and isn’t in Littleton because many properties’ mailing addresses in south Jefferson County are listed as being in “Littleton” even though Littleton is mostly contained within Arapahoe County.

Asked whether Jefferson County has considered putting its county logo on street signs in unincorporated areas to help clear up that confusion, the county said in a statement:

“The county has the capability of putting logos on street name signs; however, there is a significant cost in terms of material and labor to this effort. Each of the cities within Jefferson County utilize logos on their street-name signs, helping a traveler to know when they are within a municipality within the county or within an unincorporated area within the county.”

Arapahoe County distinguishes land

It can also be difficult to tell when you’re in Centennial and when you aren’t. Centennial’s boundaries twist and weave throughout much of the city to create a complex map.

Parts of east Centennial are sandwiched between parts of Aurora, and some portions of unincorporated Arapahoe County sit in that area too.

Some streets that sit outside of city boundaries have been getting marked with the county’s logo, generally in recent years, said Luc Hatlestad, county spokesperson.

“There may have been logos on signs here and there prior to 2012, but putting logos on street signs wasn’t county procedure until around 2012,” Hatlestad said.

‘Identity’ in Englewood

Englewood updated its official city logo in recent years from the green circular symbol to the new symbol with leaves — a change that led to some street signs in the city having the new logo and some still having the old one.

“The current logo was adopted in late 2015 following input from the 2014 citizens survey and from citizen input received through the Englewood Forward process,” said Christopher Harguth, city spokesperson.

Englewood Forward is the city’s 2016 comprehensive plan. In general, a comprehensive plan can affect a city's priorities for housing, parks and open space, and transportation.

“Results indicated many residents were looking for an updated community identity,” Harguth said.

Updating the city logo on overhead street signs, such as those on traffic signals, will be complete in 2022, and the updating of all the ground-mounted streets signs was completed in 2021, according to Harguth.

One of the notable areas with street signs that don’t bear a local government’s logo is the Arapahoe Acres neighborhood in Englewood, which has wooden street signs that are unique to that neighborhood.

A small exception in Centennial

Drivers in the east Centennial area may notice another area that could add to confusion about boundaries — the Greenfield neighborhood along Smoky Hill Road.

The neighborhood has its own logo on street signs even within Centennial’s city boundaries.

The signs are connected to the local metro district, according to Anna Bunce, Centennial traffic engineer. 

“The original street signs installed with the construction of this neighborhood (or) metro district, which included the kites (logo), predate the city’s incorporation. Our best guess is that the signage was installed around 1996 (to) 1998,” Bunce said.

Centennial was legally established as a city, or “incorporated,” in 2001.

In general the city of Centennial started installing Centennial-logo street signs that are blue rather than green in 2013, according to Bunce.

When asked why the city made that change, Bunce said, “This predates existing (city) staff, but our best guess is related to more effective branding and differentiation for Centennial. With the nature of Centennial’s boundaries, this is an effective way to communicate and reinforce where someone may be in terms of jurisdiction.”

Douglas County adds logo

Douglas County had no logo on street-name signs prior to an in-house competition for a new Douglas County logo that occurred in the early to mid-1990s, according to Wendy Holmes, county spokesperson. The winning logo was the early “DC” and “ribbons” design seen in the county’s logo today.

“We place logos on most of the street-name signs in unincorporated streets and roads maintained by Douglas County,” Holmes said. “Logos on street-name signs are also useful as they indicate ownership of the roads for law enforcement personnel and road maintenance crews throughout the metro area and Douglas County.”

Different in Weld

Weld County doesn’t typically put a logo on road-number signs in unincorporated Weld County, according to Jennifer Finch, spokesperson for the county.

“However, some of the signs — older signs — are a particular shape and will say ‘WCR’” and a number, Finch said. “There are county logos, specific to the project, found on some Highway 85 signs — also called the Centennial Highway in Weld County — and there are signs with the Weld County Road 49 logo along that road as well to commemorate that special project.”

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