A sizable chunk of Denver’s history is packed into handful of its oldest, once most segregated neighborhoods. Some might call it ironic then that these four neighborhoods are driving a lot of the urban core’s residential redevelopment.
Some of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods grew out to the north and east of downtown as both business magnates and middle-class craftsmen made their way west of the Mississippi. The 1863 Denver fire dictated a lot of the development of these emerging neighborhoods, as a new city ordinance mandated better residential construction, forcing homebuilders to abandon wooden frames and switch to brick buildings.
Each of these early neighborhoods is full of diverse populations and rich histories. All of them are also conveniently located near a lot of Denver attractions, such as City Park, the Denver Zoo, and everything downtown Denver has to offer. While each of these neighborhoods suffered for decades from urban blight, all of them are rebounding as urban professionals and young families move into the area.
Denver realtor, Daryl Oliver loves these neighborhoods and the new life pouring into them.
“Curtis Park boast some of the most beautiful homes in Denver”, Oliver explains. “Many home owners have been waiting years to get into the historic areas of town and they are buying up the homes at record numbers and bringing new life back into these incredible communities. It is fun to watch the resurgence of growth in the community”
Few communities can boast as much heritage — and diversity — as Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. This northeast Denver area, one of the city’s oldest and largest communities, serves as the gateway between the downtown street grid and Denver’s first suburban street plan. In fact, the name Five Points comes from the junction of 26th Avenue, and 27th, Washington and Welton streets.
Early elected officials and business giants once live right next door to middle-class families, as least until Capitol Hill began drawing those movers and shakers away from Five Points in the late 19th century. Five Points encompasses a variety of smaller neighborhoods that have enjoyed a renaissance of late, such as Arapahoe Square, Ballpark, Clement, Curtis Park, Old San Rafael, Prospect, and Rino.
Once dubbed the ”Harlem of the West,” due in no small part to its vibrant jazz scene, Five Points evolved into a predominantly African-American neighborhood as a result of housing discrimination that prevented the integration of surrounding areas. The area would later provide refuge to other minority communities over the years, serving as home to both Jewish and Latin-American newcomers to Colorado.
After decades of stagnation, the neighborhood began its resurgence — along with most of the downtown area — in the mid-1990s. Along with new housing developments, the area features residential options such as Victorians, Tudors, bungalows, and lofts. Homes in the area sold, on average, for nearly $800,000 over the last year. A drive through the area reveals a neighborhood that, after years of hype, is finally on its way back. New homes are springing up among the older ones, while crews can be found on nearly every block, rehabbing some of the more historic houses.
The numbers don’t lie. Since 2010, Five Points has seen a 26 percent growth in population, with more than 1,700 housing units added in that time. Nearly 5,700 residents call the neighborhood home today.
It’s an area that hasn’t forgotten its history, either. It still holds annual celebrations, such as its Juneteenth parade and Jazz Festival. The neighborhood is also home to the Black American West Museum, housed in the former home Dr. Justina Ford, the state’s first black female physician.
There are three schools in Five Points, including the highly rated Polaris at Ebert Elementary School. They’re all part of the Denver County 1 School District.
The central business district, along Welton, has benefited from the light rail line, which features local breakfast favorites and coffee shops such as the Purple Door, the Rolling Pin, and Rosenberg’s Bagels.
Light raid has made a huge impact on commuting into the Five Points area Oliver explains, “To see restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops and micro breweries just feet from the light rail make for a evening of fun without parking issues and a safe way to get home. Major building projects like the $40 million Lydian project will provide 129 apartments with retail and office space within steps of the light rail station. A smaller version of Union Station right on Welton Street, which is very exciting for the community.”
Five Points, Cole, Whittier and San Rafael have all benefited from several major factors. light rail, revitalized unique beautiful homes and a sense of community make these areas hard to pass up. “Everyone I speak to wants to be part of the growth and “action” as I have heard many times” Oliver adds. Many are making minor sacrifices to live in these revitalized areas.
OLD SAN RAFAEL
The San Rafael Historic District, named for San Rafael, California, was the first to be annexed by Denver in February 1874. The area is bordered by Washington Street on the west, Downing to the east, situated between 20th and 26th avenues. Essentially, this small neighborhood is tucked between Five Points and Whittier and is composed of a trio of subdivisions filed for in 1874, 1882, and 1886. According to records from the Denver Public Library, The San Rafael Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The majority of homes in this area were built between the mid-1870s to the early 1920s, with the subdivision’s first home going up in 1875. The neighborhood features a lot of Queen Anne style homes as well as Italianate, Foursquare, Classic Cottage, and Dutch Colonial Revival.
According the Old San Rafael Neighborhood Organization, the area has been characterized as serving as a “kind of bridge, between the ‘old’ elite residential neighborhood around Curtis Park and the new, emerging elite neighborhood of Capitol Hill to the south.” Development grew east from the western edge of the district along Washington Street.
One of the more fascinating homes in this area is the Bell Tower Condos, a multifamily home built inside an historic church. It’s one of a few architecturally significant religious structures in the area.
The Cole neighborhood borders Five Points on the east. Locals once referred to Cole simply as East Denver. The almost perfect square is bordered on the west by Downing Street, with 40th Avenue to the north, York Street on the east, and 32nd Avenue to the south.
Cole, which sits closer to lower downtown, is slightly more urban but features dozens of old Victorian homes and a largely minority population. According the Cole Neighborhood Association, more than half of the residential blocks sprang up before 1900. In fact, there’s one entire four-block section of Cole has earned a historical designation. Cole resurgence is even more recent, including several commercial projects.
The area has two elementary schools, two city parks and a pair of urban gardens. While Cole the most residential of these old Denver neighborhoods, it does boast a handful of restaurants and a coffee shop.
According to the Denver Public Library, Whittier is named for the school that once dominated the area that sat between Whittier and Old San Rafael. Local officials named the school, since demolished, after nineteenth-century abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier Elementary School featured Denver’s first African-American teacher and emerged as the city’s first predominately black public school.
Whittier’s boundaries extend from York Street on the east side to Downing on the west. Whittier’s southern boundary is on 23rd Avenue with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard marking its northern edge.
The average listing price for homes in Whittier hover just above $500,000.