#9Neighborhoods: The transformation of "Original Aurora"

Aurora: A closer look at Afrikmall. 9NEWS at 4 p.m. 7/22/16.

AURORA - Spanning over 140 square miles and home to over 350,000 people, Aurora is the 3rd largest city in Colorado.

Although it would eventually and quickly expand into the sprawling and diverse city it is today, the original town almost didn’t even survive.

Now referred to as “Original Aurora,” the area between I-225 and Yosemite St and 6th Ave to 26th Ave has transformed from a booming downtown to a struggling crime-ridden corridor to today’s culture-rich neighborhood.

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The town of Fletcher

In 1879 real estate tycoon Donald Fetcher moved to Colorado for health reasons. Being a businessman, he saw opportunity on the undeveloped plains east of Denver. He settled there and by 1881 had founded a town.

The four-square mile town of Fletcher was home to 39 citizens, 14 brick homes designed with indoor plumbing, the start of water system and a lot of high hopes.

Built along the Colfax streetcar line, the town had easy access to Denver. Shops that met residents’ daily needs were clustered around the stops and growth seemed inevitable.

But this dream would not last. The Silver Crash of 1893 left the infant town struggling so Fletcher simply abandoned it. Residents were left with huge debt and no water.

Facing near-certain demise the town petitioned to be annexed into Denver. When that did not work, they survived out of necessity. In 1907 the town was renamed Aurora, removing all reference to the now infamous founder.

Fitzsimons Army Hospital

Construction began taking off in the area and in 1918 Army Hospital 21 was built in Aurora. The US Army needed more hospitals to treat the large number of patients suffering from chemical weapon in World War I and Denver had built up a reputation for healing.

The hospital was renamed the Fitzsimons Army Hospital in in 1920. A 1941 expansion made the hospital the largest structure in Colorado.

The facility continued to be heavily used through WWII in both treating injured soldiers and as a training center. Dwight Eisenhower also received treatment at the Fitzsimons Army Hospital several times throughout his presidency.

The hospital closed in 199 and has since been redeveloped into the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and Children’s Hospital (more on that in a bit).

Building around Colfax

When automobiles replaced streetcars in the 1920s, Colfax remained the center of commerce and growth. Aurora officially became a city in 1928.

Between 1940 and 1960 Aurora’s population exploded from 3,000 to nearly 50,000. And the heart of the expanding city remained at the site of the original town.

A cluster of motels, department stores, restaurants and shops lined Colfax. U.S. 40 was now American’s main coast-to-coast highway.

But, in the 1960s, I-70 would open through Denver and cross country drivers would no longer be routed along Colfax. Residents were attracted to newer neighborhoods and Aurora’s municipal offices were moved into other parts of the city.

Original Aurora’s transformation

For several years, the “Original Aurora” became known as an area of high crime and low income.

In the 1990s development finally began around the area again. The Original Aurora Renewal helps serve the neighborhood by providing resources, volunteer programs, cleanup events, community gardens, public art and more.

The area is one of the more affordable in the metro, with median home prices standing at about $280,000 in July, according to Trulia.com.

Today, East Colfax is a hotbed for Mexican restaurants. La Cueva Restaurant is known for its laid-back atmosphere and authentic cuisine, as is La Morena. Other restaurants along the Colfax corridor between I-225 and Yosemite include Rico Pollo 2, Tacos Y Salsa, La Guatemalteca, Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet, Tacos Jalpa, Tacos Junior, Restaurante Antojitos Hondurenos, Real de Minas Mexican Grill and Lupita's, as well as an authentic Mexican bakery called Rico Pan Bakery.

Along East Colfax you'll also find Afrikmall, an African cultural and business center that opened last summer. Retailers in the 56,281-square-foot building sell authentic cuisine and products.

There's also no shortage of parks in the neighborhood. They include: Spencer Garrett at East 16th Avenue and Joliet Street; City Park at Del Mar Parkway and East 17th Avenue; Montview Park at East 19th Avenue and Chester Street; Moorhead Memorial Park at East 25th Avenue and Havana Street; Lowry Park at East 11th Avenue and Dayton Street; and Hoffman Park, which sits at East 7th Avenue and Del Mar Circle (caddy-corner from Del Mar Park).

Continuing to lead medical innovation

On the ground where the Fitzsimons Army Hospital once stood, one of the nation's foremost medical facilities now delivers world-class health care and innovation. The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is a sprawling, 230-acre site with more than 3 million square feet of real estate that took more than a decade and $4 billion to complete.

Anschutz is an economic powerhouse for the region, drawing millions of medical tourism dollars each year and serving as home-base for countless inventions and breakthroughs in the medical industry. It is also a top-rated fetal health center.

The campus houses both medical centers and CU's medical programs, a fact that researchers and professors there say allows for increased collaboration and innovation.

And the Anschutz medical campus is projected to grow even further in the coming years with several new construction projects nearby underway. This includes the much-anticipated opening of the Colfax and I-225 light rail station, part of the 10.5 mile extension of the light rail through Aurora that will open in January 2017. 

Copyright 2016 KUSA


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