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Stapleton Airport: Yesterday and Today

Growth often kick starts change and development. In 1929 Denver first opened as a small municipal airport and eventually Stapleton airport helped put Denver on the map. Some of the airlines that flew into it are long gone. Remember Braniff, Western, Continental? Today the old tower is one of the few remnants left of the airport. But what’s old is new again as an aviation themed brewing company gets ready to land in the shadow of the old tower this summer. But first a nod to history.

The old Stapleton Neighborhood in Denver and it’s namesake airport, were named after former Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton after World War II.  It was renamed to Central Park after the Stapleton Master Community Association voted in favor of the name change in June of 2020 because of Mayor Stapleton’s connection to the Ku Klux Klan. But for 65 years it was Stapleton Airport and people have memories (albeit noisy ones) of watching the planes land only three miles from downtown.  

Gregg Looker, who previously worked at the Stapleton Airport and was a long time resident of the area, said that he got his start at the airport when his job working for the city and county of Denver ended. 

“My position was being abolished and the day it was going to be abolished, a person in the mayor’s office decided to create a temporary position for me to do a new accounting system for public works,” Looker said. “Stapleton used to be a division of public works, so I jumped at the chance.”

He started on November 1, 1982. He began implementing a large word processing network that eventually evolved into the first local area network in the city and county of Denver.

Looker worked at the Stapleton Airport until it closed and then moved to Denver International Airport (DIA) when it opened in 1995. He said his favorite part during his time working at Stapleton airport was watching the expansion and growth. 

Looker joyfully recalled a story about a fourth-floor bar that was a part of the Stapleton Airport and how it became a closing-time hub for airport employees. 

“I remember that there was a portion of the terminal on the fourth floor that had a bar that was run by the maintenance center employees. After Friday was done, they go kick back in their own bar,” he said laughingly. “On city property!”

The proximity to downtown made Stapleton International Airport extremely popular, but as Denver expanded, the city was forced to relocate the airport to the east. Some wish that the airport was still the same distance from downtown, but Looker said that relocation was inevitable. 

“It never was a problem for me. I knew that the airport needed to move. I was living, for 22 years, at 16th and Adams so every 30 seconds I would see a plane landing on 26th Avenue,” Looker said. “So, the airport needed to be built.”

Today, the original airport buildings are gone, except for the control tower which has become a relic in Central Park. Looker said he enjoys being able to see the control tower still and it allows him to reminisce.

“Well, you know, when I worked in Stapleton, you’d walk past the FAA front door when you went into work. And that was the control tower. The FAA building was the base of the control tower,” he said. “I just loved it. It’s two blocks away from me to walk to, I like the lights that they use to light it up now.”

FlyteCO Brewing, a local aviation themed brewery, recently acquired the property that stands on the old airport grounds right next to the control tower and they plan to open their second location there this summer. 

FlyteCO Brewing was started in 2008 when owners Eric Serani and Jason Slingsby were engineering students at the University of Colorado Boulder. They were both drawn to the science and process that it takes to make beer. In 2013, Morgan O’Sullivan moved in next door to Jason. Their shared passion for beer led to Morgan joining the two Buffs and helping to establish FlyteCO. 

In the beginning, before FlyteCO was established, the trio hosted backyard barbeques to showcase their brewing expertise. Their barbeques quickly escalated into hundred person tastings. 

“I said, hey, this beer is pretty good. We should invite some people over and try it. And so, we did. We would just have, you know, get togethers we would have everybody over in the backyard. We would make all the beer. We’d make all the food, didn’t charge anybody anything. Just wanted to, you know, throw the most epic summer barbecue we possibly could,” said O’Sullivan. “And it started to grow. I mean, it went from 20 people to I think at its peak, we had about 200 people in the backyard.”

After having a ton of backyard success, the trio created a business plan in 2014. After roughly five years of planning and fundraising, FlyteCO Brewing was created. Their first location, which is located at 4499 W 38th Avenue in Denver, is solely a brewery. After acquiring space at the old Stapleton Airport, they will be expanding to serve food too. 

“I thought this was such a unique opportunity, because we are an aviation brand and to have the opportunity to take over a building that already suited our existing brand, it was just an interesting take” said O’Sullivan. 

Central Park is now estimated to be home to over 30,000 residents. The residents are responsible for creating a tight-knit and lively feeling to the community. Farmers markets, concerts, and a variety of small businesses populate the landscape. FlyteCO will be joining other local businesses and hopes to capture the attention of both Central Park and Denver residents. 

“We’ll have a full arcade inside, darts, giant Scrabble, all of those fun things. It really allows us to express the experiential side of our brand that has always been there, but just taking it to a new level.”

Looker said that Central Park is full of references that remind him of the old Stapleton Airport. He said that FlyteCO’s theme and location at the old control tower should become a hot spot for north Denver residents.

“I’ll be there as soon as it opens.”

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