The New Now
Why Five Points is no longer on the verge of becoming Denver’s next hot neighborhood.
For more than 30 years, Denver has been trumpeting the revitalization of Five Points. After its tumble from a lively center of music and culture in the 1930s and ’40s to a neglected corner later in the 20th century, many attempts have been made to restore the neighborhood. With each effort, the media hailed Five Points’ return: “Five Points—Making A Comeback” the Rocky Mountain News crowed in 1991. “Five Points sits on the verge of change” the Denver Post claimed five years later.
But Five Points isn’t “poised” to become anything anymore. It already is. If you need convincing, visit Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen on a weekend and wait in the 20-person-deep line. Or tour the area’s dozen or so construction sites; they represent $250 million of investment by the city and private developers. Or eyeball the soaring median home values: $317,500 in 2013, up roughly 31 percent from 2009.
Today the question isn’t if Five Points will take off; it’s why, as in, Why now? In part, it’s because our expanding millennial population—the pistons inside Denver’s booming economic engine—and our baby boomers both crave easy access to downtown, says Paul Books, founder of Palisade Partners, a developer involved in several Five Points projects. So every central neighborhood is experiencing a renaissance. “And [Mayor Michael Hancock] made Five Points a priority,” Books says. There may be no better illustration of this than the 2013 Welton Design/Development Challenge.
Two years ago, Denver’s Office of Economic Development (OED) awarded a total of $475,000 to five commercial and mixed-use residential projects along the Welton Street corridor. Not only does this provide an important capital infusion for small projects, such as Rosenberg’s, but it also serves as a signal of the mayor’s commitment to the area, where the Manual High School graduate was raised. Coupled with unique tax breaks (see “TIF,” below), the grants allow the city to foster development while preserving the legacy of a gentrifying area.
Yes. The “G” word. “I don’t have a conversation without gentrification coming up,” says District 9 Councilman Albus Brooks. “It’s happening everywhere, but in Five Points it has a face.” As home values in Five Points have climbed, minority populations have declined. Property taxes have become burdensome. In July, Hancock announced plans for a $15 million fund to preserve and build at least 6,000 affordable homes throughout the city, especially in transit-oriented development areas like Five Points. Most of that money would come from a property tax mill that the city has been crediting back to homeowners (roughly $30 to $50 per home annually). The rest could come from a “housing linkage fee,” essentially a one-time fee developers would pay.
Collectively, these efforts further the vision of city builders who have come before, such as former District 8 Councilwoman Carla Madison, who served from 2007 until her death in 2011 and worked with then Mayor John Hickenlooper and the OED to establish the Five Points Business District (FPBD)—the first time in recent history a single entity had been set up to quarterback Five Points’ revitalization. Headed by Wil Alston, the FPBD helped residents and business owners hammer out a vision plan in 2011 for how they wanted to see their neighborhood grow. It remains part of the foundation that guides the city’s approach to development in Five Points today. “It’s about celebrating the past while embracing the future,” Hancock says. “The hope is this becomes a model for how you grow and revitalize a community from the grassroots level. Instead of doing to, we do with.”
—Inset photo courtesy of Marc Piscotty
TIF: A Three-Letter Word For Revitalization
In 2013, the city authorized Tax Increment Financing (TIF) along the Welton Street corridor. Simply put, TIF allows the Denver Urban Renewal Authority to close the gap between what an investor might need to develop a blighted property and what banks will loan him by giving the property and/or sales taxes back to the developer for up to 25 years.
What Is Five Points?
By the city’s definition, Five Points is one of Denver’s largest neighborhoods. Roughly the shape of a triangle, Five Points is bordered by Downing Street on the east, from 17th Avenue up to 38th Street. The South Platte River serves as the northwestern boundary, and 20th Street, a tiny piece of Broadway, East 20th Avenue, and Park Avenue form the southwestern edge. The area got its name in 1881 courtesy of the streetcar line that served the neighborhood: All the names of the final stop—the intersection of Welton, 27th, and Washington streets and 26th Avenue—wouldn’t fit on the car’s sign. So they simply called it “Five Points.” Today Five Points includes RiNo, Ballpark, Curtis Park, San Rafael, Clements, and the Five Points Historic Cultural District (essentially the commercial Welton Street corridor, which was established as a historic district in 2002 and renamed the Five Points Historic Cultural District in 2015). Throughout much of the 20th century, the areas near the Welton Street corridor held most of the city’s black population and became a musical center for Denver. It’s this area that most people point to today when asked, “Where’s Five Points?” The neighborhood, though, like its legacy, is much larger.
—Map courtesy of Sean Parsons
Tracking the demographics of greater Five Points over the decades.
—Additional research by Henry Gargan
*In our charts, “other” is a composite of the following census categories for race in 1980 and 1990: American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut; Asian and Pacific Islander; and other. In 2000 and 2010, it includes the following: American Indian and Alaska native; Asian; Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander; some other race; and two or more races.
1940 In 1940, blacks accounted for just two percent of all Denver residents. The area around Welton Street held Five Points’ highest black concentration (26 percent). The city’s largest black concentration (47 percent) actually lived east of Five Points, in today’s Whittier and City Park West neighborhoods.
Five Points total population: 24,647
1950 While Five Points’ population grew only slightly from 1940, the black community grew substantially, particularly in the Welton area, where by 1950, 43 percent of residents were black. The rise in the “other” category might be due to an influx of Japanese-Americans seeking sanctuary from WWII internment camps.
Five Points total population: 25,147
1960 The census began tracking “white” residents with Spanish surnames in 1950. That year, 31 percent of residents in the entire Five Points area had Spanish last names; by 1960, the figure had grown to 38 percent.
Five points total population: 19,089
1970 Five Points saw another big drop in total population between 1960 and 1970 (find out why in “The Decade The Music Died,” page 101). Residents who reported Spanish as their first language made up 40 percent of greater Five Points.
Five Points total population: 13,067
1980 Between 1940 and 1970, residents of Hispanic or Latino descent were typically classified as “white.” In 1980 and 1990, the census classified Hispanic and Latino residents as “other” for the first time, which was likely part of why the category saw such a large increase over 1970. That same year, the census reported that 41 percent of Five Points residents were of “Spanish origin.”
Five Points total population: 10,100
1990 The population of Five Points hit one of its lowest points; however, the neighborhood was also at what could arguably be called its most diverse. Again, the census reported that 41 percent of area residents were of “Hispanic origin.”
Five Points total population: 8,065
2000 By 2000, the growth in Five Points’ white population closely matched a decline in the black population. The census expanded its racial breakdown with the categories “two or more races” and “some other race,” which often included Hispanics and Latinos. Forty-three percent of residents reported being Hispanic or Latino.
Five Points total population: 8,775
2010 Five Points saw significant growth throughout the decade, and most of the new residents were white. The Hispanic and Latino population fell to 23 percent.
Five Points total population: 12,710
Note: The U.S. Census Bureau didn’t begin surveying down to the tract level in Denver until 1940. Before then, the census provided data at the city level, making it difficult to track neighborhoods.
Five Points, USA
A look at some of America’s other Five Points.
Five Points, New York
Established circa 1810, America’s “first slum” (see The Gangs of New York) in Lower Manhattan today hosts hip restaurants, funky boutiques, and Columbus Park.
Little Five Points, Georgia
Home of Atlanta’s first post office in 1846, this downtown area is now a bohemian shopping and dining district.
Five Points, Ohio
A purportedly haunted small rural area near Vienna, Ohio, it bears the unfortunate history of being where Kenneth Biros murdered and then eviscerated a 22-year-old woman in 1991.
Five Points, Alabama
This tiny 100-year-old town (population: 141) in central Alabama elected its first black mayor in 1992.
Five Points, Florida
Jacksonville’s small commercial center blossomed in the 1920s and remains a popular dining district.
Five Points, South Carolina
Another 19th-century streetcar-served suburb, this Five Points was Columbia’s inaugural shopping district and is a trendy nighttime destination for students from nearby University of South Carolina.
The Way We Were
Purnell Steen—a 74-year-old Denver native, historian, and leader of LeJazz Machine—gives us a tour of Five Points’ storied musical past in his own words.
Jack Kerouac laid that “Harlem of the West” sobriquet on us, but really the Five Points community was just extraordinarily normal. The only thing that set it apart was the fact that these were brown-skinned people. We had our Aunt Bees, our Opies, our Barneys—every character in the Andy Griffith Show. It was a very insular neighborhood. Everything was there. And 26th and Welton was our Broadway.
I can recall going to the Rossonian once as a little boy during World War II. If there was a long line of people waiting to get in, Quinton Harrington, who was the manager at the time, would go get the Anglos first, even if a black couple were in the front. He was black, but he would leave the black people standing on the sidewalk. He knew the Anglos could afford the cover charge and the drinks.
By the time I started coming to Five Points as an adult, the Rossonian’s music was mostly a memory, but there were other little clubs in Five Points. The Voter’s Club, the K-C Lounge (that was the original Rice’s Taproom), Lil’s at 29th and Welton, and there was a place called the Protocrat, an after-hours club at 2544 Washington Street. It was in the basement. Boy, a lot of whiskey was drunk in there.
There were more people going to the Voter’s Club. It was tiny and on the second floor; you had to go up this nosebleed staircase. Once you got in—allegedly it was a private club because they had to unlock the door for you to get in—and turned west, there were two seats. And then maybe six seats at the bar, and two seats at the other end. Total, it could have seated maybe 50 people. And then the bandstand—I am not exaggerating—the bandstand was only big enough you could put a Hammond B-3 organ and maybe a sax player, and the drums had to stand on the floor. This was where the next wave of jazz musicians who weren’t as famous as Count Basie played.
Throughout this time, working musicians sustained music in Five Points; these were the people who were regularly players in the smaller places. The dean of Five Points musicians was named Bob Wilson, an organist. Well into the ’60s, those bands would play for the showcase events. That was the era of the black social clubs, and there was usually a formal dance once a month or more. Bands would play for these dances, and they picked up musicians who were part time—talented, but who had to feed their families, so they had daytime jobs.
I started coming to Lil’s in the ’60s when I was in school. After Lil’s, Harold Green bought it, and it was Mr. Green’s after hours. That’s where I saw Mose Allison. There was this white guy singing over here, and he had a little tiny Baldwin Acrosonic piano—horrible piano. He’s singing nothing but Mississippi Delta blues. I can remember exactly what he was singing: My mama told me such a long time ago. She said, “Son, you had better take it slow cuz you just drinkin’ and gamblin’. You stayin’ out all night. You just livin’ in a fool’s paradise.” He just had that old moanin’ blues voice. And all these great jazz cats there said, “Man, you better quit that; you sound too colored.” It was so funny, the contrast. They were so ultra-cool and hip, they didn’t want to play the blues. That’s the foundation of the music! But they didn’t want to recognize it. Anyway, about that time, his album Mose Allison Sings came out, and now Mose Allison is internationally known. But he played right here, first, in Five Points.
Now showing: This month, local documentarian Michael Bird debuts a rich oral history of Five Points as told by long-term residents in A Sense Of Self: Growing Up In Five Points. It is available through nolegacylost.com.
—Photo courtesy of Marc Piscotty
The Decade The Music Died
The decline of Five Points.
Harry Potter might have “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” but Five Points has “The Decades That Must Not Be Named”—specifically, the 1960s to the ’90s. In these years, Five Points fell into decline, becoming an area so blighted that in the 1960s and ’70s, the city razed many blocks and turned them into parking lots. The culprit for some of this demise was an unlikely candidate: civil rights.
By 1950, Five Points was home to more than 25,000 people, many locked into the neighborhood by racist real estate practices. But as the civil rights movement gained momentum, Denver’s black population challenged these policies, moving out of old, dilapidated buildings in Five Points and into homes in nearby Park Hill and Congress Park. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 increased the exodus. Without a residential base to support them, many Five Points businesses closed, leaving vacant buildings behind.
Around the same time, jazz gained popularity on a larger scale. Music venues such as Band Box and the Playboy Club developed along Colfax Avenue. “White people didn’t have to go to Five Points to hear jazz anymore,” says musician and Denver native Purnell Steen. With a shrinking local population and fewer visitors, many Five Points clubs closed, including the Ex-Servicemen’s Club and the Casino Cabaret. And finally, sadly, the Rossonian—the iconic, piano-trumpet-cymbal-sax-blasting heart of Five Points—quietly closed and locked its doors.
—Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration
The Rossonian and rebuilding Five Points.
Near the intersection of 27th and Welton streets, the triangular, brick Rossonian Hotel casts its long shadow over the sidewalk—and Five Points’ hiccupping development history itself. The once stately hotel and jazz club has now spent more time as a has-been than it ever did as a hot spot. Born as the Baxter Hotel in 1912 (it was renamed in 1929 when black real estate agent H.W. Ross bought it), the Rossonian rose to the height of musical legend in the 1930s and ’40s, a time when black performers such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald could perform at concert halls and hotels downtown—but were not allowed to stay there. The Rossonian housed these talented musicians, who would return from shows and play the small first-floor bar, still keyed up from their earlier gigs.
When Five Points’ status as Denver’s musical hub waned in the 1950s and ’60s, so too did the Rossonian. Various public and private efforts over the next three-plus decades sought to restore it; those efforts were introduced with much fanfare but ultimately flopped. In 2006, Carl Bourgeois, founder of the development company Civil Technology and a 37-year Five Points resident, purchased the building. Now, together with Palisade Partners and several other property owners, Bourgeois aims to do what those who have gone before could not.
The team has reason to be confident. Civil Technology and Palisade both have shovels in the ground on other Five Points projects (see “Coming Soon,” at right). Together with Century Development’s 223-unit affordable housing complex at 2300 Welton Street, these represent some of the roughly 600 new housing units in the works in Five Points. (In fact, the city hopes to see 3,000 affordable homes built or restored throughout Denver by 2018.) Until the Rossonian’s financing is secured—a process that could take months—we won’t know if the former hotel will contribute to that goal. (Currently the upper floors are slated to be either residences or office space.)
But we do know the Landmark Preservation Commission approved some of the development team’s plans this summer (the hotel was deemed a National Historic Landmark in 1995). And we also know that right now, plans call for a 105-room (or so) hotel, likely run by Sage Hospitality, as well as restaurants, a jazz club, and retail on the bottom floor. All of which should help fulfill some of the city’s other goals, like more jobs on Welton Street and more destination retail, according to Paul Washington, executive director of the city’s Office of Economic Development and a Denver native. “We used to think the redevelopment of the Rossonian was the key to restoring Five Points—that it had to come first,” says Wil Alston, former Five Points Business District executive director and current director of marketing for Civil Technology. “But now we think it can be the cherry on top.”
A sampling of Five Points developments that are in the works.
The Wheatley, 2460 Welton Street
Palisade Partners’ 82-unit apartment building will also have 14 for-sale townhomes and 3,800 square feet of retail. Move-ins are slated for spring 2016.
2560 Welton Street
A massive investment (around $37 million) by Palisade and Confluence Companies, this eight-story building will host 129 apartments, 15,000 square feet of office space, and 10,000 square feet of retail. It’s scheduled to open in 2017.
NuRoot Innovative Office Space, 2942–2944 Welton Street
The recipient of a Welton Street Design/Development Challenge grant, NuRoot will be an incubator for burgeoning businesses and also will include room for a bar
2950 Welton Street
In 2011, Nathan Beal, founder of Saint Bernard Properties, transformed a building at the corner of 29th and Welton streets that today holds Purple Door Coffee and Winter Session. Now he’ll expand his portfolio to include this 3,125-square-foot lot. So far his design—another Welton Street Design/Development Challenge grant winner—for the three-story mixed-used building includes four apartments and retail space.
2500 Lawrence Street
The Denver Housing Authority recently sold this parcel—site of the Big Wonderful—to TreeHouse Development. By 2017, it could hold up to 100 homes, some of which might start in the mid-$200,000s.
The increasing prices of homes in Five Points.
—Reporting by Spencer Campbell
*Data reflect the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Factfinder data for only tract 24.03, which does not include the entire Five Points neighborhood, as defined by the city. Instead, it is centered on the Welton corridor and nearby areas. **The most recent year for which figures were available.
—Inset image courtesy of Craine Architecture
In 2013, Five Points residents outlined a wish list for making Welton Street more pedestrian friendly. Here, a betting man’s look at how likely the neighborhood is to get what it wants.
The D Line currently ends at 30th and Downing streets. It will take more than $60 million to extend it almost a mile to the airport line stop at 38th and Blake streets. But because it’s a part of FasTracks, it will happen.
2. Low-floor light rail
Low-floor light-rail cars—shorter cars that sit closer to the curb, which makes them less imposing and easier to get in and out of—seem like a possibility…in the future. RTD already purchased the vehicles it will use for its FasTracks expansion, so Five Points will have to wait for the next round of upgrades.
3. Realign light rail in middle of street
Moving the light rail would reduce the Frogger feel for walkers. Unfortunately, doing so is quite pricey, largely because a number of utility lines under the tracks and street would need to be relocated.
4. Two-way street
Two-way streets force cars to slow down. But transitioning Welton to two ways would require at least $60 million.
Although a streetcar is more pedestrian friendly than light rail and would fit in the existing tracks, it’d also require building a new maintenance facility for service—and people to staff it.
Life in Five Points…1880s
The creation of Denver’s first public park—Curtis Park—in 1868 helped establish Five Points as one of the city’s toniest suburbs. Served by Denver’s first streetcar, Five Points presented a quaint, quiet option away from the bustle of a city that had exploded with the silver rush and the arrival of the Denver Pacific Railway.
Housing: Five Points’ unique economic mix was reflected in its homes. On the same block you’d find both stately brick two-story Italianate homes and somewhat more modest Queen Annes. You might even also see small wooden houses (although the city eventually outlawed these for fear of fire).
Houses of Worship: Much of Five Points’ large Jewish population went to Temple Emanuel (left) at 24th and Curtis streets. Many blacks worshipped at Zion Baptist Church, built in 1865 by former slaves at 20th and Arapahoe streets, or, later, at the Shorter African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Schools: Between 1879 and 1881, Robert Roeschlaub, the state’s first licensed architect, designed three spectacular schools: the 24th Street School at 24th and Market streets, the Ebert School (above) at 22nd and Logan streets, and the Gilpin School at 29th and Market streets. Sadly, all have been demolished.
Employment: The economically diverse Five Points was home to rich aristocrats and politicians, such as Wolfe Londoner (mayor from 1889 to 1891), as well as merchants, tailors, teachers, and grocers. “It was also primarily Anglo,” says Colorado state historian Bill Convery.
Commute: Those who didn’t work in the neighborhood—perhaps at a factory like the Colorado Iron Works Company (below) at 33rd and Wynkoop streets—likely climbed aboard a Denver Transfer Company horse-drawn car or, a few years later, the 15th Street electric streetcar line that ran from what is Five Points Plaza today into downtown (then anchored by Larimer Street).
Life in Five Points…1900s-1920s
By the early 20th century, Capitol Hill had eclipsed Five Points as Denver’s haute ’hood. As many of the Points’ well-to-do white residents headed for homes on the Hill, black Americans flocked to Denver for jobs and to escape racism in the South. As a result, Denver’s black population grew from more than 1,000 in the late 19th century to more than 5,000 by 1910. But even in Denver, informal Jim Crow laws effectively kept the black population confined to Five Points.
Employment: The popularity of railroad travel translated into jobs as Pullman porters and waiters for Five Points’ black population. (Denver was a hub for several railroads, including the Denver Pacific and Kansas Pacific lines.) Others also worked as domestic servants.
Schools: Young Five Points residents might have gone to George Washington Carver Day Nursery, a low-cost daycare established by the Colorado Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1916. As teens, they may have attended Manual Technical High School (above).
Housing: Following the silver crash of 1893 and white flight to Capitol Hill, many of the area’s large Victorian homes were divided into smaller units for multiple families. This kept them affordable and also allowed the neighborhood to accommodate the influx of new residents.
Newspapers: Five Points boasted two black newspapers: the Denver Star (whose masthead read, “The EAGLE, and NOT the JIM CROW, is our NATIONAL BIRD. Support the one and destroy the other,” according to an article in the July issue of The Colorado Lawyer) and the Colorado Statesman, both of which kept residents apprised of the civil rights movement in Colorado and around the nation.
Life in Five Points…1930s-1950s
As captured in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Five Points flourished in this era. The area had become its own city within a city—one where you couldn’t walk down the sidewalk without hearing the ring of a ride cymbal or reedy blues notes from a sax. Denver’s position as a railroad hub made the town an obvious stopping point for musicians traveling between New York City, Kansas City, and Los Angeles. But the jazz greats were only occasional players in a scene that was fostered by talented local musicians who continued to play Five Points hotels and bars when the marquees went dark.
The Neighborhood: Five Points’ diverse population grew to more than 25,000. While the area near California and Welton streets remained a largely black neighborhood, Curtis Park began to see an influx of Hispanic and Latino residents. And in the 1940s, Governor Ralph Carr’s declarations of tolerance brought a wave of Japanese-Americans hoping to avoid internment camps. (It was a courageous move that cost Carr his political career.)
Employment: The children of former slaves and railroad workers grew to become merchants, doctors, attorneys, office workers, and teachers who served Five Points. One of the area’s biggest employers was American Woodmen Insurance Company, a national insurance company headquartered at 2100 Downing Street.
Socializing: Besides nightclubs and churches, fraternal orders and social clubs played a huge role in Five Points society in the first half of the 20th century—among them the Calumet Club, the Owl Club, and the Cosmopolitan Club (right). Besides affording fun, these organizations also provided a platform for civic discussions that helped form the foundation of the civil rights movement.
Shopping: Five Points bustled with activity. You’d hit the Welton, Lincoln, and Mallard markets for groceries; Rhythm Records and Sporting Goods (left, run by DJ and Voter’s Club owner Leroy Smith) for LPs and more; and Gil’s Shoe Shop and the Nervous Hat for clothes.
Restaurants: Grits at the Ritz Café was a weekend morning treat in Five Points, while Pierre’s Supper Club provided late-night, post-club fare. The always-busy Kapre Lounge’s fried chicken remained an anytime-you-could-get-it favorite.
An abridged list of the individuals who have helped shape Five Points over the past 150 years.
Louis Anfenger An early Curtis Park resident, Anfenger helped form the Temple Emanuel synagogue in the late 19th century.
George Morrison Sr. This legendary Denver violinist played for the king of England on one overseas tour in 1920. He often hosted other visiting musical greats at his home at 2558 Gilpin Street—such as Duke Ellington, who wrote “Sophisticated Lady” in Morrison’s living room.
Madame C. J. Walker The first American self-made millionairess started by selling beauty products in her Five Points salon in the early 1900s.
George W. Gross A founding member and the first president of the Denver chapter of the NAACP, Gross helped bring the organization’s national conference to Denver in 1925.
Dr. Joseph Westbrook A black doctor and civil rights activist, the light-skinned Westbrook infiltrated the KKK in the early 20th century.
Benny Hooper The owner of the Ex-Servicemen’s Club and the Casino Cabaret in the 1930s was also a philanthropist and powerful behind-the-scenes political player.
Marie Anderson Greenwood Greenwood became Denver Public Schools’ first tenured black teacher in 1938, after being hired to teach at Whittier Elementary School in 1935.
Hattie McDaniel Best known as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, the Academy Award–winning actress started her career in entertainment as a singer in Five Points.
John Mosley The first black football player at Colorado State University, Mosley later became a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black fighter pilots during World War II.
Quigg Newton Denver’s mayor from 1947 to 1955, Newton shepherded legislation that outlawed discriminatory hiring practices for city jobs and services.
Charles Burrell In 1949, this talented bassist became the first black musician contracted to play with the Colorado Symphony.
Norman Harris III The Five Points native now runs the neighborhood’s annual Juneteenth celebration, which was started by Otha Rice in 1953.
Elvin Caldwell An East High School alum and University of Colorado track star, Caldwell became a powerful political figure in Denver in the 1950s and ’60s.
Sonny Liston The world heavyweight champion boxer often practiced in Fern Hall on Welton Street. He was upset in 1964 by Muhammad Ali.
Rachel Louise Bassette Noel In 1965, Noel became the first black person elected to city office when she was voted onto the Denver School Board.
Omar Blair This former Tuskegee Airman became the first black president of Denver’s Board of Education in 1977.
Wellington Webb Denver’s first black mayor spent much of his tenure in the 1990s working to revitalize Five Points.
Brother Jeff Fard The founder of the Five Points Cultural Center has been providing outreach, such as free lunches for children in the summer and arts programming for the community, since the 1990s.
Elbra Wedgeworth A 2015 mural on the Five Points’ DMV recognizes the efforts of former Councilwoman Wedgeworth.
Charleszine “Terry” Nelson An essential part of preserving Colorado’s black history, librarian and historian Nelson helped open the Blair-Caldwell library in 2003.
Thomas Bean Although perhaps less well known than the Cousins family, Thomas Bean’s eponymous foundation remains one of the biggest property owners in Five Points.
Herrera Family The owners of Curtis Park’s beloved La Fiesta have run the restaurant for more than 50 years.
Ismael Guerrero The Denver Housing Authority’s current director has helped implement a smart, sensitive approach to development in Five Points.
Curtis Park Neighbors This active neighborhood association has remained an involved and vocal part of Five Points’ revitalization.
Tracy Winchester The current executive director of the Five Points Business District has helped guide a new era of development.
Dianne Reeves The five-time Grammy winner (including a 2015 award for her Beautiful Life album) grew up in Five Points.
Samuel Curtis Denver’s first public park was named after this city founder. .
J. Jay Joslin The founder of the Denver department store lived in Curtis Park in the 1880s.
Oliver Toussaint Jackson Jackson created the all-black farming community of Dearfield, east of Greeley, in 1910. It lasted until 1953.
Frederick Perkins Perkins established the Wallace Simpson American Legion Post No. 29 in 1919. The name honors his friend, the first black Coloradan to die in World War I.
Windell “Wink” Hamlet Hamlet In the early 1900s, Hamlet built Lincoln Hills, a resort for black Americans, near Lookout Mountain. Today it’s a fly-fishing club and resort.
Vivian Green A jazz pianist, Green played the latest African-American music on her radio show in the ’40s and ’50s, broadcasting from inside a window on Washington Street. You could tap on the window and request songs
Floyd Cole The owner of the Petal Shop, which provided flowers for Five Points weddings and funerals through the mid-20th century, A former 10th Mountain Division soldier, he dedicated much of his leisure time to teaching black children to ski.
Jerome Biffle An East High School and University of Denver alum, Biffle won the gold medal in long jump at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics.
Gloria Tanner When Tanner took her seat in the Colorado Senate in 1994, she was the first African-American woman to do so. She served until 2000.
Rosalind “Bee” Harris Harris has been the publisher of Denver Urban Spectrum—a newspaper for Five Points “people of color”—since the 1980s.
—Inset images courtesy of Denver Housing Authority; Wikipedia (3); Elbra Wedgeworth; Getty Images; Denver Public Library (5)
A Walking Tour of Five Points
If your only experience with Five Points is driving through it, we give you 17 good reasons to get out of the car. (Scroll down for a google map of our walking tour.)
1. Mile High United Way
711 Park Ave. W
Founded in Curtis Park in 1887, Mile High United Way returned to its roots in 2014 when it moved it headquarters from LoHi to this smartly designed, 63,000-square-foot building.
2. Sonny Lawson Park
2301 Welton St.
The city has invested $490,000 in cleaning up this small park, which makes a cameo in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and was named for the prominent black Democrat and Radio Pharmacy owner who wielded great community influence from the 1930s through the ’50s. In the past year and a half, Denver has installed a new softball field and playground; additional lighting and new security cameras are also in the works.
3. Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library
2401 Welton St.
Named in honor of two Five Points community activists, Omar Blair and Elvin Caldwell, this Denver Public Library branch opened in 2003 and sports an impressive and engaging—and free—permanent display on the history of black Americans in the West on its top floor.
4. Roxy Theater
2549 Welton St.
In the 1930s, this small music venue showed second-run movies—often in multiple parts, to ensure customers would come back—and served popcorn drizzled with bacon grease. Today it mostly serves hip-hop, rock, and cheap beer.
5. Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom
2635 Welton St.
Cervantes’ musical roots stretch back to the 1930s and ’40s, when this same building was called the Casino Cabaret and hosted the likes of B.B. King and Ray Charles.
6. Rossonian Hotel
2650 Welton St.
The historic hotel and center of jazz in the 1930s and ’40s is in the process of being revamped (see “Bandmates”).
7. Fire Station No. 3
2500 Washington St.
Before it became the Wallace Simpson American Legion Post No. 29, named after the first black Coloradan killed in World War I, the building at 2563 Glenarm Place served as the “old” Fire House No. 3, where in 1897, it was home to the city’s first all-black firefighting squad.
8. Coffee at the Point
710 E. 26th Ave.
In 2010, Coffee at The Point took over the space beloved cafe and ice cream shop Blackberries had occupied since 2004—and its expertly prepared Novo coffee drinks, pastries, and convivial atmosphere have made it the meeting place in Five Points ever since.
9. Tom’s Home Cookin’
800 E. 26th Ave.
A modern Five Points pioneer, Tom Unterwagner and Steve Jankousky’s Southern comfort food spot has been serving regulars lunch until 2 p.m. (or earlier, if the grub runs out) since 2001.
10. Deep Rock Water
27th and Welton streets
The artesian well Stephen Kostitch discovered on Welton in 1888 still provides the water Deep Rock sells across the nation.
11. Atlas Drugs
2701 Welton St.
Where U.S. Bank sits today, in early 20th century Five Points, you’d have found Atlas Drugs, the only white-owned soda fountains in Denver that served African Americans.
12. Fern Hall
2711-15 Welton St.
The most recent transformation of Fern Hall gave us condos and offices. But before that, the Hall—which was built in 1886—held a bootlegging joint, a bakery, and most famously, a boxing studio where world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston practiced. Perhaps he should have practiced more; he was upset by a fella named Muhammad Ali in 1964.
13. Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen
725 E. 26th Ave.
In the 1930s and ’40s, prominent black property owner Charles Cousins’ Arcade Building held a barber, a tailor, and a soda fountain, among other businesses. In 2013, his granddaughter Dr. Renée Cousins King extended a long-term lease to New York City transplant and bagel whisperer Joshua Pollack, who preserved much of the space’s original design and kept the tile floor King’s grandfather had hand-laid. “The era when this building was hopping is the same one I’m trying to replicate with my food,” Pollack says. “It was an era when people were excited about working with their hands.”
14. Five Points Plaza
2736 Welton St.
The original 19th-century streetcar line stopped here.
15. Welton Street Café
2736 Welton St.
This longtime neighborhood favorite serves some of the city’s best Jamaican jerk chicken.
16. Spangalang Brewery
2736 Welton St.
The name of this six-month-old spot—established by former Great Divide brewers—derives from the musical term for jazz’s classic cymbal rhythm.
17. Dunbar Kitchen & Tap House
2844 Welton St.
When Charles Wessels and Mike Ayre debuted their neighborhood bar and restaurant in a former barbershop this past winter, the pair hung the original front window—with a barber pole painted on it—on an interior wall.
2900 Welton St.
The heart of Denver’s modern jazz scene has been broadcasting from the second floor of this building since 1994.
19. Chocolate Spokes Studio
2801 Downing St.
Frame builder, tuner, bike designer, and purveyor of natural chocolates, the perpetually bow-tied Gregory Crichlow opened his cycle shop in 2011.
20. Black American West Museum
3091 California St.
The original home of Dr. Justina Ford, the black doctor who delivered more than 6,000 children throughout Denver between 1902 and 1952, once sat at 2335 Arapahoe Street. The house was moved in 1984 and now holds the Black American West Museum.
21. Curtis Park Creamery
908 30th St.
Don’t let the name fool you: The only “cream” inside this Curtis Park taqueria is in the cheese and queso fresco. Do not miss the tamales (get both red and green sauce), and the authentic, mouth-blistering hot salsa, which you can also purchase in tubs to go.
22. Curtis Park Delicatessen
2532 Champa St.
This four-year-old deli’s logo honors the neighborhood’s history (the horse and cart represent the original horse-drawn streetcar line to Curtis Park). Its sandwiches—be it the fried egg, prosciutto, and cheddar Park or the Italian with salame rosa, pepperoni, Calabrese, arugula, and Asiago—honor your taste buds.
23. Champa Street
To see an exquisitely preserved Victorian world, stroll along Champa Street between 30th and 24th streets. More than 500 19th-century homes have been protected thanks in large part to the efforts of Curtis Park resident and historian Bill West and preservationist Barbara Norgren, who sought to establish the area—which extends, in places, to California and even Downing—as a national historic district in the 1970s.
—Inset images courtesy of Jonathan Loether; Rossonian Hotel; Sarah Boyum (2); Jessica Grenier