Beautiful Blocks Denver: Curtis Park

We start our Beautiful Blocks Denver series where it all began: in Curtis Park, the city's oldest residential neighborhood, dating back to 1871. 
Denver is repeatedly hailed as a must-see city for its striking scenery -- the balanced mix of mountain backdrops framing a lively urban setting that only occurs with smart development and a wink from Mother Nature.

Beauty abounds throughout Denver's individual places and spaces, with gems that get consistent attention, and diamonds in the rough that often go unspoken. The dynamic makes selecting a section of the city to spotlight exceedingly difficult.

We give preference to primacy. The historic Curtis Park neighborhood was named for Samuel S. Curtis, one of Denver's founders. The pioneer suburb is protected as a designated Denver Landmark District, with an architecturally distinct residential inventory and a smattering of iconic storefronts.

Despite its sometimes shaky history -- with many areas falling into disrepair, economic and social unrest and conflicting commercial developments -- Curtis Park has experienced radical reclamation and revitalization in recent years, earning a spot on most "must-live neighborhood" lists while also attracting enmity for gentrification.

As such, many of the city's young and hip have flocked to the spectacularly manicured brownstones, bungalows and classic Victorian homes. The allure of the neighborhood is only intensified by its proximity to parks, public transit, easily accessible cultural attractions, general livability and urban vibe -- all only scratching the surface of what makes this northeast corner of the city center bright and vibrant.

As the activity from the commercial core trickles to the edges of downtown, Curtis Park has experienced rapid growth and a metamorphosis, yet wondrously maintained its authenticity and diversity all the while.

Take a look and see for yourself.

Curtis Street between 28th and 29th streets

Sure, the blooming bulbs are seasonal, but the beauty of this residential block is year-round. A unique tapestry of individuals and cultures call this span of space home.

"Curtis Park was a mixed-income community from the beginning," says John Hayden, a board member of Curtis Park Neighbors, the registered neighborhood organization (RNO).

It follows that the historic neighborhood is home to both turn-of-the-century mansions and quaint homes, built by waves of immigrants who came to Denver to join the workforce during the city's early years. Single-story duplexes live next to perfectly trimmed yards that envelop newly renovated grand Victorians, towering over tree-lined stone sidewalks. Flat-roofed row houses stand beside classic two-story square brick and Queen Anne-style homes with second floor porches.

According to Hayden, "The first homes in Curtis Park were built in the 1870s as a result of Denver's first streetcar line, ending at 27th and Champa streets." He says that the early 20th century saw many large homes broken up into boarding houses.

"Attracted to low-cost, historic homes close to downtown Denver, people with resources who did not worry about school, turned the old boarding houses into grand single family homes," Hayden says of the 1990s through today. But the neighborhood remains diverse, he adds. "While the market-rate homes are very expensive and beyond the budget of most people, there are several thousand condos, townhomes and low- to moderate-income apartments in the neighborhood that keep the economic diversity of the community alive today."

Hayden adds that the residential area has consistently considered connectivity -- first streetcar, now light rail -- one of its greatest selling points. "The growing popularity of the neighborhood means that the ability of people to walk and bike and choose transit to get to places is essential to keeping the neighborhood livable," he says.

700 block of Park Avenue West

Between California and Stout streets, the recently relocated social services center has prompted a transformation of this stretch of the grand avenue that serves as the neighborhood's southwestern border.

The first United Way in the country got its start, in fact, in Curtis Park in 1887 as the Charity Organization Society. More than just a homecoming, Mile High United Way returned to Curtis Park in September 2014, moving into its stunning new facility at 711 Park Ave. West, the Morgridge Center for Community Change, with its mission fully intact. The 63,000-square-foot, mixed-material space is designed for the advancement-oriented agenda it aims to achieve.

The $22 million project is intended to inspire further redevelopment in the area and serve as an anchor to the community. Upon its opening, Mayor Michael Hancock called the project a "turning point," marking the beginning of wider transformation for residents and businesses in the Curtis Park neighborhood and Denver Metro area.

Three panels of the Mile High United Way's glass façade reading, "Give, Advocate, Volunteer," are reflected in the community around them, such as the mural on the Centro Humanitario Para Los Trabajadores, a nonprofit that promotes and defends the rights and well-beings of day laborers in Colorado.

The baseball field at Sonny Lawson Park sits on the perimeter of the space, with playful children, families and casual passersby enjoying the 300 days of sunshine Denver has to offer. Cityscape views and public transit whirring by add to the overall spontaneity and ambiance of the block.

Welton Street between 26th and 27th streets

"At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton," wrote Jack Kerouac famously as he wandered past the Rossonian Hotel in the 1940s, words eternalized in his novel, On the Road.

In those days, Welton was a vibrant commercial strip and center of Denver's formerly segregated African-American community, home to doctors' offices, professional and financial services, restaurants, bars and clubs, markets, convenience stores, theaters, retailers and a funeral home. The landmark Kerouac wrote of -- the lodging at 2650 Welton St., originally known as the Baxter Hotel when it opened in 1912 -- once drew top national talent to its jazz club.

Though the music stopped in the 1970s, more than $3 million has since been poured into resurrection strategies for the building. Though, little action has matched the money, the rest of this area has unquestionably picked up. In 1994, the D Line, the city's first light-rail line, crossed through, drawing developers' attention. Then in 1995, the Rossonian became a designated landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. The transformation also includes street art, popular eateries, new shops and businesses, all adding life back into the historic cultural district. And the latest proposal for the Rossonian calls for retail, restaurants, residences and an exclusive hotel would do just that, with Sage Hospitality rumored to be involved.

2800 block of Tremont Place

As Tremont snakes through this enclave, situated squarely between residential blocks of mixed neighborhoods with modern new-builds and aging bungalows of varying pastel colors with matching painted wooden fences, short streets cut diagonally through the neighborhood and a perfect westward-facing window draws your eye to snow-capped mountains framed by the manmade structures in the vicinity.

And though the Department of Motor Vehicles is rarely deemed a thing of beauty, the painted brick façade of the municipal building makes the experience more pleasant than perhaps would be expected.

In 2014, Denver City Council honored a local civic leader by renaming the Five Points Community Center Tremont Building at 2855 Tremont Pl. the Elbra M. Wedgeworth Municipal Building, housing the area's DMV branch and the offices for City Council District 8. On the opposing corner, a well-maintained basketball court and playground invites young families to play.

Wedgeworth, who grew up in the district, served on the City Council from 1999 through 2007.  An acrylic mural on the side of the facility, titled No Shoe Too Big, vibrantly depicts the ethnic diversity of the Five Points neighborhood.

Lawrence Street between 27th and 29th streets

This tree-lined stretch has modest homes and rental units that sit squarely in their lots -- some carefully kept, some wild.

The former convent at 2844 Lawrence St. is now the inconspicuous Sacred Heart House. In operation for more than 30 years, the emergency shelter has lent a hand to countless homeless women and children, providing services, support and community.

On the opposite side of the street is The Mission, Volunteers of America's oldest facility in Colorado at 2877 Lawrence St. The daytime shelter provides community members in need with food, clothing job training, employment assistance, spiritual referrals and safety.

Saunter south, where you’ll pass a variety of residences, and make your way to 27th and Lawrence streets where the pleasant pop of pink on the western corner is hard to miss. Built in 1886, the space was used as a commercial laundry facility from 1890 to 2009  and is now the Laundry on Lawrence, a collaborative workspace with easy access to the breweries, distilleries, boutiques and restaurants in the exploding RiNo Arts District. It's an apt endpoint: Some of the beauty here stems from the potential for reinvention.

Want to suggest a location to be included in future installments of our Beautiful Blocks Denver series? Send us a quick note.

Read more articles by Gigi Sukin.

Gigi Sukin is a Denver-based writer-editor. She currently works as an editor at ColoradoBiz and previously worked as an editorial intern at 5280.
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