Deep roots at the National Western Center

Posted in: Cultural Resources

fairgrounds-largeSince 1881, the historic Denver Union Stock Yards have occupied a weedy, dusty expanse by the South Platte River in Denver, at I-70 and Brighton Boulevard. This year begins the groundbreaking, massive redevelopment that will transform the yards into the home of the National Western Stock Show and the National Western Center. This will be a premier, year-round educational agribusiness and tourist destination, bringing valuable revenue to the local community.

The Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center hired Mead & Hunt to inventory the historic buildings, prepare three Denver landmark nominations, and research the stories of the people who lived and worked there. This project was particularly exciting to me because it allowed me to dive into the history of the site and enhance my understanding of my own family’s connection to the stock yards.

two girls outside of a tall brick building
Visiting the Livestock Exchange Building with my daughters during the National Western Stock Show, January 2019.

As a Denver native, my family and I try to attend the Stock Show every January. We attend the livestock auctions and 4-H competitions to soak in the buzz of activity. Our favorite activity is walking through the livestock pens to watch the ranch families blow dry and coif their animals to get them ready for sale or display. But my personal history with the stockyards goes deeper than that—my extended family owned and operated Litvak Meat Packing near the stockyards for more than 50 years.

The Litvaks were Jewish immigrants who came to Denver from a small village in Ukraine in the early 1900s. Hyman Litvak started the business by processing one or two cattle a day and selling the cuts as a street vendor, using his Old Country skills to support his family. Hyman’s sons never graduated high school or went to college, but they built the company into a busy enterprise that, at its peak, processed more than 1200 cattle a day.

This is just one family’s story. Ranching and meatpacking supports countless other families associated with the National Western Center and the stock yards. The industry is a vital economic engine for Denver and Colorado as a whole.

This groundbreaking redevelopment will make the stockyards a more vibrant and accessible part of Denver. After researching my family’s roots in the area, this prospect is even more exciting. Working on this project has really highlighted for me the importance of preserving the personal histories of redeveloped areas. I am eager to see how the stories of those who have lived and worked at the yards will be preserved and told.

Dianna Litvak

About the Author

Dianna Litvak is a public historian who specializes in surveying overlooked historic properties such as irrigation ditches, railroad grades, and roads. Her favorite recent projects include writing about building I-70 through Glenwood Canyon and Vail Pass, and researching the history of meatpacking at Denver’s Union Stock Yards. When she isn’t reading or writing about history, Dianna loves to hike, cook, and travel.

Read more posts by Dianna Litvak

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *