Beautiful Blocks Denver: Sunnyside

Confluence's Beautiful Blocks Denver series continues with a stroll through the streets of Sunnyside.
The northwest Denver neighborhood of Sunnyside is a place where you might witness next-door neighbors swapping stories on stoops with rosebushes strewn about, bikers on cruisers out for a casual ride, kids happily yelling and playing together amidst the tree-lined streets.

It's changed markedly in recent years. During the recession of the late 1980s, Sunnyside crashed, as property values took a sharp nosedive, an uptick in crime negatively impacted the area and the neighborhood was generally deemed undesirable.

Once the worst was over, with the creation of Sunnyside United Neighbors Inc. (SUNI), a partnership with the police and the growth of the Highland neighborhood, Sunnyside made a comeback. Bordered by I-70 to the north, the Union Pacific Railroad line to the east, 38th Avenue to the south, and Federal Boulevard to the west -- the northwest Denver neighborhood is primed to be city's next hotspot, with an influx of people fleeing the high price points of the Highlands.

As more people discover this pocket of the city, restaurants and shops are opening, and developers are building a mix of commercial, retail and residential along the corridor, diversifying the mix beyond the liquor stores, bars and auto repair shops of yesteryear.

Noting the base and unique character of the district, Paul Tamburello, owner of Generator Real Estate, called Sunnyside one of Denver's "hidden gems."

Thus, we strolled the streets of Sunnyside to home in on the most beautiful blocks of the "front-porch community," as SUNI President Jennifer Superka, likes to call it. Looking ahead, a balance of new and existing people, places and things in Sunnyside will be the key to its sustained success.

38th Avenue between Clay and Decatur streetsA mural on Pat's Liquors.

Diz's Daisys, a local florist promoting offering breathtaking arrangements fills the one-story shop at 2709 W. 38th Ave., painted an olive green with pastel murals of botanical scenes on its sides. Attached and with the same exterior swatches of green are The Giving Tree of Denver, a marijuana dispensary, and Pat's Liquors. Just a quick jaunt across Clay Street, headed east, and you'll find two more pot shops -- evidence that with legalization, the industry has planted fast and firm roots in the Sunnyside neighborhood -- Urban Dispensary and the bold pop of pink that is the Sweet Leaf shop. Between the two, a popular casual Cuban venue, Buchi, presents hungry patrons with pressed sandwiches, coffee and rums.

La Raza Park, 38th Avenue and Navajo Street

It's evident this northwest Denver park entertains all walks of life and cultures, as the shade trees, paved walkways, playground and basketball court bring together a wide variety of people. The park is roughly one square block, bordered by 38th Avenue, Navajo Street, Osage Street and 39th Avenue, and surrounded by single-family homes and commercial properties along 38th.

The park features a playground, basketball courts and an Aztec pyramid-shaped gazebo, used for community events.

The park's story is as significant and rich as the people who made North Denver home for more than a century. In 1912, North Side Playground was built to accommodate the needs of families in the growing community. The park was officially named Columbus in 1935, but was better known to the community as "Navajo Park" and then, beginning in the 1970s, as "La Raza Park." Over the years, tennis courts and a pool were added, and then eliminated when a major redesign occurred in 1987, replacing tennis with basketball as the park's sport of choice and the pool for the gazebo and surrounding plaza.

More than merely a real estate opportunity, Sunnyside is a true neighborhood, with families that have resided in the residential area for multiple generations, filling the modest bungalows, sizeable Victorian-era homes, and modern duplexes and developments -- anything but cookie cutter. The majority of the neighborhood is zoned for two stories, prohibiting developers from destroying the look and feel of the neighborhood.

3900 and 4700 blocks of Shoshone St.

Beauty is undoubtedly in the eye of the beholder. Upon exploring the nooks and crannies of Denver's Sunnyside neighborhood, we stumbled upon Charley's Barbershop, a small, standalone brick building with cursive red writing and a matching red door, facing the eastward traffic of I-70. Iglesia Evangelica Cristina Espititual at 3925 Shoshone St. further showcases the makeup of the spiritual population.

According to Superka, when she moved to the neighborhood in 2010, she would have guessed the demographics skewed 70 percent Hispanic, whereas now, she'd guess it was closer to 50 percent. "You either have people who moved in the last three to four years, or who have lived here their whole lives," she says.

What's most beautiful about this gritty space is its singular presence that allows passersby and folks in need of a new 'do to step back in history, a recreation of the staples and services that the community has relied upon for decades.

4700-4800 blocks of Tejon Street

Thanks to its proximity to downtown and stunning Denver skyline views, in the last 10 years, nearly $100 million has been invested in Tejon Street, Anchored by Little Man Ice Cream to the south in LoHi and to the north in Sunnyside's old Lindstrom Building, now housing Marley Coffee.

Amidst the original homes and cottages, teardowns and new builds, rests an unpretentious coffee shop in the brick box-like Lindstrom Building. at 4730 Tejon Street, from Rohan Marley, Bob's son. The java operation announced in 2013, it was moving headquarters from Beverly Hills, California to the historic building, with its central location and sustainable vibe. The space has a patio with twinkling lights hanging from the rafters and directly next door is the large scale Lombardi Bros. Meat facility.

As it relates to retail and restaurants in the area, Superka says, "There's definitely a mom-and-pop feel. It's nice not to have chains."

41st and Fox Station AreaThe new commuter rail station at 41st Avenue and Fox Street.

With proximity to the new commuter rail station at 41st Avenue and Fox Street, opening this year as part of the G Line, connecting Wheat Ridge with Union Station, it is anticipated that many new residents and businesses will be drawn to the convenient location close to downtown near some of the city's most vibrant urban views.

The vision for the station and surrounding area includes improving pedestrian connections, between neighborhoods and major corridors and creating opportunities for new housing, jobs and services in the area.

A pedestrian bridge will connect Sunnyside with Globeville, where the station technically sits. The city is also in the works to repave Inca Street near the bridge.

According to Superka, the community is keeping a close eye on development by the rail station, as it currently stands, it's a mix of industrial and residential. She says she'd like to see more mixed-use retail and middle income-housing.

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

This is the second story in a series exploring Denver's most beautiful blocks. The first feature covered Curtis Park.

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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