In its early days, Boulder was a supply town for miners seeking their fortune in the gold mines in the mountains west of Boulder. It is thought that Pearl Street is named for the wife of one of the 54 founders of Boulder.
On February 10, 1859 Boulder City Town Company was established on part of the hunting grounds of the Arapahos. Chief Niwot, also known as Chief Left Hand, was said to have proclaimed that the Boulder Valley was so beautiful that people seeing it would want to stay, and their staying would be the undoing of the beauty. Known as Niwot’s curse, this was an early attempt at limiting growth.
The gold seekers stayed. A stake was driven into the present day intersection of Broadway and Pearl. A straight line for Pearl Street was established by surveyors sighting across the stake to Valmont Butte.
Horse drawn freight wagons and carriages created deep ruts in the streets whenever it rained or snowed. Swarms of flies and billows of dust permeated the air during the summer. To entice shoppers into their stores, individual proprietors built wooden sidewalks in front of their shops. However, these wooden structures varied in height and width, making walking on them treacherous. In the 1880’s these mismatched boardwalks were replaced with flagstones.
A horse drawn streetcar was introduced in 1891. Pearl Street was plowed and scraped in order to lay the streetcar tracks. A horse pulled the car in one direction. The horse had to be unhitched, the streetcar turned around and the horse re-hitched to make the return trip. Once customers stopped paying to use this novelty, the streetcar business was finished.
In the early 1900’s the Interurban Railroad carried passengers along Pearl Street from 12th Street (Broadway) to 31st Street. Riders could jump on and off the car at will in downtown Boulder or journey all the way to Denver.
In 1917 Pearl Street between 11th Street and 17th Street became the first paved street in Boulder. Concrete sidewalks flanked either side of the new street.
The Pearl Street and Broadway intersection became the site of Boulder’s first streetlight. In the 1950’s and 1960’s business owners covered many historic buildings with metal facades.
The 1960’s and 1970’s saw great social unrest and political upheaval. The population of Boulder doubled. At the same time crime increased and downtown Boulder deteriorated. The “Committee for the Exploration of the Core Area Potential” later renamed Boulder Tomorrow, was formed.
The “Public Mall Act” was signed by Governor Love in 1970 allowing the construction of pedestrian malls. The Central Area General Improvement District was established that year to provide parking and improvements for the thirty-five block downtown area.
In 1974 the Boulder City Council passed a resolution to build the “Downtown Boulder Mall”. Pearl Street was closed to traffic between 11th and 15th streets in June 1976. Pearl Street Mall was dedicated on August 6, 1977. Restoration of historic buildings began and national and local historic designations were enacted to preserve the historic character of downtown Boulder.
Pearl Street Mall’s success was summed up by Richard Foy, co-chair of Communication Art, INC. “Pearl Street, once Boulder’s commercial artery, has become its cultural heart and soul.”