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"Dad" - Donald B. Robertson Sr.

by Don Robertson (Jr.)

     Dad was the one who got me interested in trains, which were so much a part of my youth.
     He was a lawyer for the Denver Tramway Corporation that ran the buses and streetcars in Denver. His father, my grandfather Howard S. Robertson, was the president of the corporation. When I was a 8-years old, Dad took me to Golden and back on one of the old interurban streetcars. He then sponsored a special going-away trip for my second-grade class at Grayland Country Day School during the final days of streetcar operation in 1950. Three years later, during the final week of freight trains on the Tramway’s D&IM Railroad (Dad was on the board of this railroad that had been operating freight trains on the interurban trackage to Golden), he drove me to the D&IM “barn” at West 13th Avenue and Zuni Streets and handed me over to the capable hands of trainmaster Cype Matthews for an unforgettable trip to Golden and the clay pits of the Morrison branch on one of the last D&IM freight runs.

Dad and Me
That's a train car that I had painted on an old sheet.
Electric Motors on the D&IM Railroad
Trainmaster Cype Matthews

     Dad was born on October 8, 1913, in Denver. He graduated from Colorado University with a law degree in June 1937 and went to work for the Denver Tramway Corporation right away. He had followed his father’s footsteps through law school and then into the Tramway, but his own interest eventually turned away from courtroom law to other business matters, and he became involved in many other activities, all of them very important, meaningful, and consequential, while still maintaining his position with the Denver Tramway Corporation for many years.
     He was an assistant attorney-general for the State of Colorado from 1950 to 1973, as well as a member of the Denver Aviation Commission, the State Aeronautics Commission, the Denver Civil Service Commission, and a charter member of the board of Directors for the Regional Transportation District (RTD), where he was the architect of the procedures that govern RTD board meetings.
     Dad was also a presidential elector for the Republican Party in 1950, and he and Mom attended the Eisenhower inauguration and inaugural ball. He had been the secretary for the Republican Central Committee from 1948 and would continue to hold that position until 1954.

The National Banks

     I believe his most distinguished credits, however, are the ideas that sprang from his extremely fertile mind. His ideas led to the establishment of some very successful business enterprises. One of these was the Cherry Creek Bank.[1]
     When his friend Temple Buell bulldozed a city dump in 1949 to make way for one of the first shopping centers in America, the Cherry Creek Shopping Center that opened in 1953, Dad had an idea. Why not put a bank there in the new shopping center? And that he did. He called it the Cherry Creek Bank, and it was the first bank to be located outside of the downtown area. Cherry Creek Bank became the Cherry Creek National Bank and grew to become the largest independent banking institution in the state. In 1963, he helped found another bank: the South Denver National Bank, located on Colorado Boulevard, just south of Cherry Creek. It became a part of Wells Fargo Bank West.
     During the 1960s, after many years of trying to convince Howard Johnson to expand his huge East-coast motel chain to Denver, he finally succeeded. A new Howard Johnson motel, the first “HoJo” ever to cross west of the Mississippi, opened with 115 rooms on Hampden Avenue at I-25 in 1965. That business was so successful that in the early 1970s, Dad put together an idea for a multi-storied luxury hotel located at Stapleton Airport, where no such establishment previously existed. The beautiful Stapleton Plaza Hotel, with its adjoining Office Building, was opened for business in October 1974.

[1] It became the Cherry Creek National Bank. then in 1990 it became the Bank of Cherry Creek. In 2002 it merged with the Western National Bank of Colorado Springs. At the time of this writing has been acquired by the ANB Bank.

Founder of Castle Pines, Colorado

     Another of Dad’s inspirations was a town that he envisioned building in the hills between Denver and Castle Rock. He came up with the name Castle Pines, and he put a group of friends together and they bought the land on which the town of Castle Pines would one day stand. The family used to drive down there on Sundays, and he would show us where a beautiful golf course would one day be spread out among the pines, where a large residential area with many large, beautiful homes, would be located, and where the shopping center would someday be located. 

Castle Pines, Colorado

     It took twenty years, but Castle Pines became a reality and today, it boasts one of the finest golf courses in the world, designed by the famous golf pro, Jack Nicklaus. At the turn of the 21st Century, Castle Pines had a population of 6,000. It was over 10,000 in 2022.

First Trust Corporation

      His last great vision was the First Trust Corporation, a company that Dad founded to sell a prototype pension plan that he had invented. Dad obtained a trust company charter from the Colorado Banking Commission and the doors were opened in 1962 for the first independent company to receive such a charter in Colorado, and perhaps in the USA. At first, the Colorado legal community was against his prototype plan, but soon they acquiesced on their stand when they saw how correct his vision was. First Trust was eventually merged into the conglomerate, Fiserv, Inc.

Last Years

     Dad passed away in 1989. He was ill during his last years and was forced to retire. By the mid-1980s, his work was attending board meetings mostly, the way that I understand it.
     I would come to town on Saturdays and we would ride up to the foothills outside of Denver.
     Hey Dad: “Hats off! You were a very special guy.”