Published: March 1, 2018 By

The Hill riot

It was the worst Hill riot ever.

It lasted three days.

Three police cars were overturned.

Jones Drug lost $23,000 in merchandise to looters.

The Colorado Bookstore sustained $25,000 in losses. It bricked up its signature two-story windows rather than replace them.

Cops in riot gear cleared the streets with tear gas — twice.

There were so many arrests a tent jail had to be set up.

The spark was struck Thursday, May 20, 1971.

Boulder police executed a version of what today is called broken-window policing — arresting 30 street people (aka transients, hippies and freaks in the parlance of the day) on mostly minor charges like blocking sidewalks, disorderly conduct, jaywalking and talking dirty in public (yeah, you could get arrested for that back then).

On Friday, May 21, a large crowd congregated on The Hill, “angry and looking for trouble,” leading Hill merchants to call the cops.

Fourteen more arrests ensued.

A larger, angrier crowd gathered Saturday night.

Dennis Dube (Jour’71), who covered the riot for a local magazine from a nearby rooftop, reported that around 9:30 p.m. about 50 people surged across College Ave. from the Charcoal Chef toward five cops alongside the Hilltop Building, where the police had a new substation, “with one freak running full speed across College and round-housing an officer in the face.”

Things deteriorated fast from there.

By 10:45 p.m. the police gave up trying to control the crowd, which had grown to 600, and retreated to 13th and Euclid as rocks, beer bottles, taunts and fists flew.

From 10:45 to 11:30 p.m. the rioters “systematically trashed The Hill,” especially targeting the businesses most hostile to street people.

Looters raced across Broadway to hide their loot under campus shrubbery, and cops lay in wait to nab them.

At 11:30 p.m. police in riot gear and gas masks marched down 13th Street from Euclid drenching The Hill with tear gas.

Sunday night a crowd of about 300 returned to The Hill for another round. This time 140 police officers fired tear gas and repeatedly charged the rioters, who dispersed into the surrounding residential neighborhoods, where clashes continued for the next four hours. It wasn’t totally over until Tuesday, May 25.

Hardly any CU students were involved.

The thing about the riot that made the most lasting impression on me was the bricking up of the Colorado Bookstore. To this day I still feel pangs about that when I walk past the building, which is now a Walgreens. For me it’s an epitaph for the counterculture.

Since 1971, the riot has faded from memory, even legend. Chances are most alumni have never heard of it. The Hill has reinvented itself two or three times (and is currently doing it again). The businesses change. Continuity comes from the customers who, thanks to the time machine across the street, remain forever young.


Photo from 1972 Coloradan yearbook