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Memorabilia from shuttered Colfax Museum finds new home

An Elvis Presley impersonator with a passion for Colfax Avenue is sharing its colorful history.

DENVER — Colfax Avenue has been called the longest main street in America. It's also been called a lot of other things not quite as nice. 

The stretch of road has a colorful history full of restaurants, bars, music venues, wild shops and people. 

It stretches the length of the metro area through three cities: Denver, Aurora and Lakewood. It's seen good times and hard times, with a lot of crime along the way. 

It's colorful, entertaining and historical, and that's why a musician known as the "Velvet Elvis" loves it so much. Jonny Barber started collecting Colfax memorabilia in 2004, and last year opened the Colfax Museum. 

Unfortunately, the building flooded and the artifacts barely survived. This year, the Barbers decided to spread their love of Colfax throughout the city.

RELATED: Colfax Museum closing for good months after flash flood damaged collection

Credit: Gary Shapiro

Much of the former Colfax Museum is on display at History Colorado Center in a new exhibit called "Forty Years on the Fax". It's about a time when Colfax, Highway 40, was the main way to get coast to coast. 

"You'd ask for directions to San Francisco, and you could just say, 'Go to Colfax and turn left,'" Barber said. 

It was a tourist attraction, full of really nice motels, amusement parks and shops. Before the street was named after Vice President Schuyler Colfax, it was known as Grand Avenue, home to the rich and famous of Denver. 

Much of the kitsch from the early days is included in the exhibit, like items from the famous Bugs Bunny Motel. 

Eddie Bohn's Pig and Whistle restaurant is also featured. If you drive down west Colfax now, you can still see the iconic sign, but the building is now a marijuana dispensary. 

Credit: Gary Shapiro

A few miles to the east on Colfax, there's a new restaurant called the Route 40 Cafe. It's decorated with items from the old Colfax Museum. 

There's the history of Schuyler Colfax, who like his namesake street, got caught up in scandal. There are old signs, pictures and other reminders of Colfax through the years. 

There's even a growing "Colfax Hall of Fame" wall, now featuring famous grads from East High School, which is across the street. Philip Bailey from Earth, Wind and Fire, 70's actress Pam Grier, folk singer Judy Collins and many others are on the wall. 

RELATED: Denver's own Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire has a passion for helping kids

The cafe is part of the new and improved Colfax, which begs the question, is the gentrification of the area ruining the legend? Barber said you have to remember the street was once very ritzy. 

"In terms of gentrifying Colfax to its original condition, we got a long way to go," he said. 

RELATED: Flash flood impacts artists, future of Colfax Museum

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