When neighborhoods melt away, so do the people who had lived there.

That’s what prompted a new Facebook page titled Northeast Denver Love & History. Calvin Williamson had grown up in Denver, but moved to New York while creating that Facebook page. As a teenager, he spent a lot of time looking at photographs in the downtown library that showed those who lived in predominantly black neighborhoods. Shops, people, schools, what people do, and where they go. 

Apparently, more than 6,500 people have “liked” that Facebook page, after the stories online and on television, I would imagine that more people are liking the page (like I have done). Other pages I look at all the time are Oldskool Denver, with almost 40,000 members, and Denver FUGLY, with almost 10,000 members. 

The caption of the photograph at the top of this post notes: “Montbello High School and its campus [in] its conceptual rendering in 1976. … Up to that point, it was the first high school built in the far Northeast Denver suburb and the newest on the Eastside since the new Manual HS building in 1953.” Credit: Denver Public Library / Western History Collection / WH1990.

This is how we learn about Denver, which the population has shifted because of gentrification and the escalation of rents and mortgages and higher property taxes. And face it, way too many of buildings that told a story were scraped for boxy mini-unit buildings and incredibly expansive (and expensive) one-family homes (that many people apparently can afford). 

So when a coffee shop on Larimer Street, and a sign said this in November 2017: “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014,” that’s when the crap hit the fan.

Northside, Westside, Swansea, Elyria, Globeville, Cole, and especially Northeast Denver: Things had been melting away.

Williamson was featured in a conversation with a reporter at Denverite yesterday, and last night, Next with Kyle Clark on 9News was featured, too – and both are worth your time. 

What really intrigued me was about last summer that a farmhouse in Park Hill also was melting away. Denver’s Landmark Preservation Commission was sued by the people who want to tear down the farmhouse because the landmark staff cautioned commission members that there was not enough information to support a nomination; commission members voted instead to approve the nomination. 

There were sorrow and concern from those seeking a reprieve from the probable demolition of the Park Hill farmhouse, but the case was lost.

As noted by commission members – who earlier had approved the application for landmarking against the advice of their staff– both sides of the issue were thinking about the future of Park Hill.  One of the original applicants, Rae Hunn, was saddened to see so much black history being swept away in redevelopment and Denver’s massive changes in central neighborhoods.

The commission had been sued for approving the application at an earlier meeting. Hunn told the commission that she had been sued by the trustees for asking what was going to happen to the land around the farmhouse. The farmhouse was part of a dairy operation, and a rare example of dairy farms that once dotted Park Hill.

The home was owned by a trust established by Palecia Lewis and her late husband Lawrence; Ms. Lewis attended the meeting. Their relatives spoke to the commission. The farmhouse was built by the Quinn family more than 100 years ago, but eventually it sold and had tenants.  Still, when one of the trustees came to the table, she made it clear that the family loves Park Hill. And another trustee said he knew his grandfather would want the property to be developed to its fullest use.

It came down to this: The application for landmark designation was missing sections and just didn’t have enough information. And because everything is now in the past tense, that farm house is gone. I drove by and saw an empty lot. The people who submitted the application to save that house understood what was going on in that part of Park Hill.

And, of course, there is a boatload of buildings that are up for grabs, as applicants (and developers) ask for Demolition and Certificates of Demolition Eligibility, which is a mouthful. In this case, it is a building at 2001 York Street. There are two buildings together, melding a home from the 1920s with a building constructed in the early 1990s. If you’ve driven by it, you’ve seen a newer part of the building and it sports bubble windows. 

What is important here is that the architect of the newer building was Bertram A. Bruton, the second Black architect licensed in Colorado. The application to scrape this building apparently doesn’t understand that the architect was well-known and worked a lot. 

The application to save the building notes that Bruton’s firm designed “large-scale public projects in Denver: including Wellington Webb Municipal Building, Mile High Stadium, the Colorado Convention Center, and Denver International Airport. Bruton worked in a variety of contemporary styles during his career. Design influences included Formalism (Sakura Square and City Park Manor), Brutalism (Sakura Square and East Side Health Center), Neo-Mansard (Payne Chapel Apartments and Whittier Apartments), and Neo Traditional (Park Hill West). 

“With a career focused largely on subsidized/affordable housing and government projects, Bruton was generally dealing with tight project budgets with limited scope for experimentation. For Bruton, 2001 York St. provided a rare opportunity to design in whatever style he chose. His choice was a bold Postmodern design that completely altered the traditional character of his Foursquare office building.”

He certainly is still remembered.

But, from the person who wants to get that certificate of demolition (which can last for five years), this leads to the usual eye-rolling plea:

“Reasons the structure does not meet minimum criteria for designation are as follows: 

“Per DRMC 30-3 (1) The structure does not maintain its integrity: more than 50% of the original 1926 building is obscured behind the 1992 addition. In the course of constructing that addition the original front porch, stairs and porch roof were demolished, historic windows were removed and re-sized, and additional openings were added. 

“Per DRMC 30-3 (2) The structure is not more than 30 years of age or of exceptional importance: while the original structure is more than 30 years of age, the 1992 addition is 28 years old, and thus does not meet criteria established by DRMC 30-3 (2). I have no reason to believe that the addition is of “exceptional importance” from either a stylistic, or historical events-based viewpoint to the point the preservation is required. Construction documents for the 1991/1992 addition have been included as an attachment to this submittal.”

So, if some people decide to fight to save that building, it will cost some money and create a full application to keep Bruton’s building intact.

And, just as Calvin Williamson had noted when talking about the Facebook page:  

“. . . I actually would say the main purpose was to educate people on the historic integrity of northeast Denver. As time has gone on, I’m very happy to see other people from other areas, from other towns, other demographics – let’s say Caucasians that’s in the east Denver area. It’s a useful tool. It’s useful for them to be part of the journey to learn what is Northeast Denver. And when I say northeast Denver, I’m talking about northeast Denver then, northeast Denver now and, hopefully, this could be one whole northeast Denver again.”

The links here lead to the NEXT with Kyle Clark on 9News, Denverite, the Facebook page on Northeast Denver Love & History, and the documents that deal with Bertram A.  Bruton’s endangered building at 2001 York Street.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/497946584033986

2 Replies to “When neighborhoods melt away, so do the people who had lived there.”

  1. People here in the US, always want bigger, better & newer. They will tear down a building to build a new one, when the old one was just fine. Soon, there will be no history left.
    If you go to Europe, the buildings are thousands of years old, & no one would think of tearing one down.
    I hate that Denver is tearing down all of the old bungalow houses, just to build these horrid huge townhouses. Some who sit there empty for a long time.
    It’s all very sad. I wish I had known about that farm house, I would have loved to have seen it.

    Like

    1. Thank you! That farmhouse was a Four Square brick home, and I was sad, too. Denver has changed so quickly over the past several years. Adaptive reuse is the key, but most developers want bigger and more expensive. At some point, things will have to change.

      Like

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