There's nothing quite like driving down South Santa Fe Drive toward downtown Denver between Alameda and 12th avenues.
The bright colors, the unique art, the historic buildings — the area is all about bringing the arts to life, and it shows.
From its origins: Lincoln Park-La Alma Neighborhood
The neighborhood today's Arts District on Santa Fe calls home is Lincoln Park-La Alma, one of Denver's oldest neighborhoods.
93 percent of its residential blocks were half or more developed before 1900 and the remaining seven percent developed between 1900 and 1914.
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The neighborhood is home to seven locations on the National Register of Historic Places and four Denver Historic Landmarks.
It grew as most Denver hubs did, with the gold rush, and especially the rise of the railroad.
First known as "West Denver," the neighborhood was home to Denver's working class families.
The threat of flooding in the area stigmatized the neighborhood as one for the lower class: no mansions here!
Smelting, milling and brewing industries thrived along the South Platte River, and soon many immigrants called West Denver Home.
At the turn of the century, many Mexicans arrived, fleeing the revolution of 1910.
A history of the neighborhood describes the influx of immigrants as the foundation of today's Santa Fe.
These generations and their descendants not only addressed the labor shortage but flourished in the visual and performing arts, literature, architecture, education, and entrepreneurship of Colorado.
As the 1950s arrived, more urbanization "blighted" the neighborhood, causing the community to be slated for redevelopment in 1966 by the Denver Urban Renewal Authority.
By 1973, redevelopment forced Hispanics and the Latino community to relocate to nearby La Alma, and set the table for longtime resident fears of gentrification and displacement.
2006's Neighborhood Assessment led to the 2010 development plan, by which the community is developing today.
Redevelopment has taken decades, and in 2014, the Arts District on Santa Fe helped La Alma-Lincoln Park to be named a "Great American Neighborhood" by the American Planning Association.
The Creation of an "Arts District"
Since being formed the Art District on Santa Fe in 2003, membership has grown from the 12 initial organizations and industry members to more than 60 now.
PHOTOS: The colorful, creative Santa Fe Arts District
In 2012, the city of Denver officially designated the Art District on Santa Fe as a creative district, districts that are specially designated as areas to participate and invest in the arts.
Once considered a "rough-and-tumble" area, as noted by Jack Pappalardo, the former president of the Art District on Santa Fe, has garnered national attention as an example of how a district can be revitalized, with creativity as the central theme.
One only has to look as far as the Denver Art Society to see why. The cooperative's mission is to give people of all ages a community to view, learn about and exhibit local art.
And just down the street, Artists on Santa Fe houses a gallery and connected studios to showcase local artists' pieces, everything from sculptural ceramics, to acrylic, to mixed media and more.
Evolution of "First Friday"
Every first Friday of the month, the Art District on Santa Fe comes alive for its "First Friday" art walk. Each month, 5,000 patrons take to the district to enjoy open doors at galleries, shops and restaurants.
With a free guided shuttle, art lovers can experience the neighborhood without having to walk too far.
The coach runs from the Osage Street light rail station to parking at West High School at Galapago Street, with stops along the way at galleries along Santa Fe. It runs from 5:30 - 9:30pm on the First Friday only.
The art walk has gained increasing popularity in recent years as the redevelopment of the neighborhood as a whole becomes a national model for success.
Enjoy the more than 100 galleries, restaurants, theaters and specialty shops and make it a culturally diverse night out!
New Developments Planned
Along with the art, the district is home to a wide range of businesses, including boutique furniture and antique stores, yoga and fitness studios, architects, book stores, coffee shops, museums, galleries and restaurants.
And there may soon be more. In 2014, property owners in the area voted to create a business improvement district, a vision that calls for widening sidewalks and beautifying the area.
Keeping with that goal of revitalizing the area is the development of The Yard, a new retail district located between 900 and 924 W. 1st Ave. on the way through the district.
Seven retailers have already made their homes in the development, including a brewery and a distillery.
Among the retailers is Renegade Brewing Company (925 W. 9th Ave.). The microbrewery, founded in 2011, plans to open a second tap room in the development, eventually taking up a full 15,000 square feet. It has some fun brews, such as its 1916 Colorado Lager, Coffee & Pancakes, Lemonwheel and many more.
Outside of The Yard, there's plenty of places worth a visit along the Santa Fe Drive corridor, particularly for people interested in Spanish culture.
Embracing Hispanic Culture
Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center (721 Santa Fe Dr.) focuses on "homegrown productions that speak to the history and experience of Chicanos."
For example, this season, patrons can experience the "best in Latino World Cinema" during XicanIndie, a tragic comedy (yes, that's a thing) with "Divorcées, Evangelists & Vegetarians" or enjoy the 21st annual Chicano Music Festival.
Museo De Las Americas is another place to visit. The museum presents a fine arts collection showcasing Latin American culture, with rotating exhibits such as its current "Tornaviaje/The Return Route," an exploration of the Spanish galleons who sailed across the Pacific Ocean in 1565 in search of goods and spices.
Keeping true to that Spanish heritage, El Noa Noa (722 Santa Fe Dr.) is a longtime Mexican restaurant serving up all the classics.
Directly next door is El Taco de Mexico (714 Santa Fe Dr.), a bare-bones counter join serving authentic Mexico City-style plates.
Dining and More
Just down the street, Arada Ethiopian Restaurant (750 Santa Fe Dr.) is a family-operated spot to grab the spicy, authentic cuisine native to the African country.
iSushi (801 Santa Fe Dr.) is an airy Japanese spot with inventive rolls.
And for people who are more into American fare, Interstate Kitchen & Bar (1001 Santa Fe Dr.) serves up creative comfort food, cocktails and beer in fun retro digs.
The Molecule Effect (1201 Santa Fe Dr.) is another place to visit: calling itself a "hip haunt for wine, coffee and light fare."