The modern transformation of Denver's oldest neighborhood

DENVER - Denver’s oldest neighborhood has been through a lot.

And it’s been home to a lot of people. Through the years Curtis Park has been one of Denver’s most diverse and crowded neighborhoods.

Today it’s a dense, urban, downtown Denver neighborhood bounded by Park Avenue West and Broadway on the east, Larimer Street on the north, Downing Street on the west and Welton/California Street on the south.

Denver’s first neighborhood

Curtis Park was first established in the 1860s and 1870s just north of downtown Denver to provide a residential suburb for the city. It was the first primarily residential neighborhood in the area.

At the time, almost 5,000 people were living in the city of Denver, many of them using it as a home base for expeditions up into the mountains to search for gold.

In 1970 a railroad first reached Denver and the city began its first real population boom. By 1880, over 35,000 people lived here and the numbers continued to soar to over 106,000 residents by 1890. And they all needed somewhere to live.

That first suburb became the go-to place. Denver’s first streetcar line wound its way from the current center of the city and along Champa to 27th St. And along the tracks, houses went up quickly. Mansions, small wooden homes, and ornate but modest Italianate and Queen Anne’s packed the now bustling Curtis Park neighborhood.

Curtis Park’s changing face  

Curtis Park’s heyday wouldn’t last long. About 20 years later, Capitol Hill was starting to take off and most of the wealthy of Curtis Park wanted to live in this newer, more exclusive neighborhood. Curtis Park had always been a vibrant mix of economic classes, but those who could afford it wanted to live surrounded by other well-to-do families.

Since many of the largest homes were now abandoned, savvy residents purchased them and converted them into rooming and boarding homes to make a profit.

By the 1920s the area had become a hub for the city’s African-American and Latino populations.

This was due, in part, to prominent prejudice throughout Denver at that time. Restrictive covenants aimed at African-Americans did not allow them to purchase property in many other parts of the city. Latinos were simply, and vocally, unwanted.

As these populations crowded into Curtis Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, housing became scarce. Homes continued to be subdivided into smaller and smaller apartments to make room.

By the start of WWII, the neighborhood had also become a haven for Japanese Americans. Curtis Park and the rest of Five Points was the place for those with nowhere else to turn.

A tipping point

In the 1950s, Denver’s oldest neighborhood was showing its age. Though many homeowners did what they could to maintain their homes, many were falling into disrepair from countless renters and overcrowding.

Many of Denver’s first and largest low income housing facilities were built in Curtis Park and the small, shabby units began to overtake and replace blocks of historic homes. Other homes were torn down in an attempt to create a business district after wide rezoning.

Luckily, efforts to preserve areas of historic importance in Denver began in earnest in the 1970s. Denver’s Landmark ordinance had been created and Historic Denver began pushing to preserve the city’s architectural heritage.

On April 1, 1975 Curtis Park was awarded a historic district designation on the National Register of Historic Places. But it would be several more years before any real change would come to the neglected neighborhood.

Curtis Park Today

Today, Curtis Park remains a vibrant and diverse neighborhood just on the north edge of downtown Denver. Straddling culturally-rich Five Points and trendy RiNo, it’s a true blend of social backgrounds, economic levels, and ethnicities.

Just like when it was founded, the charming homes that stand along its streets vary — everything from Victorian mansions, to single-story duplexes, to flat-roofed row homes, to square brick houses and more. The median home price there stands at $457,500, up 14.4 percent since last year, according to real estate website Truila.com.

Because it's near downtown Denver, Curtis Park has no shortage of "trouble" to get into, especially along Larimer Street.

One of your first stops should be Ratio Beerworks, an artsy brewery that features live comedy and art shows and has tasty brews, including Ratio's best-seller, its "Dear You" French Saison. (Earlier this year, New York-based Thrillist named Ratio one of the nation's best new beer-makers). Then make your way over to Our Mutual Friend Brewing for one of its unique beers, like the Wicket Wit or the Blame It On Kane.

For coffee-lovers, hit up Crema, described as a having a "chill, hipster vibe." Or, if you prefer wine, The Infinite Monkey Theorem is an industrial-chic winery and taproom that typically has a food truck parked outside and is so popular, that last year it expanded to Austin.

And for food spots (and there are no shortage of those), head first to Work & Class, whose famous chef Dana Rodriguez landed among the James Beard's Foundations finalists last year. Work & Class, which Thrillist also named one of the nation's 21 best new restaurants in 2014, has a menu that features a blend of American and Latin flavors.

Culturally, check out the Black American West Museum, which stands in a converted Victorian home at and features exhibits that tell the story of African Americans in the Wild West. And then there's The Little White Dress Bridal Shop which is a popular spot for excited brides-to-be.

Mile High United Way, a longtime Denver nonprofit that serves the needs of children, families and individuals, is also housed in the neighborhood.

Residents and visitors can also enjoy the nine-acre Mestizo-Curtis Park. Built in 1868, the park is Denver's oldest and the neighborhood’s namesake, and was recently restored with new equipment

Copyright 2016 KUSA


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