In the early 90s, when the company for which I worked for 20 years outgrew its office space in a glorious old mansion near the Governor’s Mansion in Denver, the Board of Directors decided to be pioneers. There was an area in the lower downtown Denver area near the the railroad tracks that was all but abandoned. If there is such a thing as skid row, that area fit the description. Once-beautiful buildings that had been long-abandoned lined the streets. Confluence Park and the South Platte River were within walking distance, but folks rarely walked there because of the threat of crime. A vacant but relatively new building was for sale, and that’s where they decided to move. The company purchased the building.
It wasn’t a reckless decision. For several years just prior to the move, the city had begun talking about the possibility of a major league baseball team locating in Denver. A potential buyer had raised his hand and agreed to move a team to Denver. Now they all just had to figure out where to build a ball park.
Voila! There was all of this vacant land — or if not vacant, filled with only crumbling buildings — in lower downtown. It was perfect — close to downtown Denver and buildings that could be purchased at a steal for restaurants and bars. And my company’s office building right in the thick of it all. For the first couple of years, women employees were advised to walk together to their cars. Once the baseball park was built, crime — at least that kind of crime — diminished mightily.
Just across the river and I-25 was an old Denver area then referred to as North Denver. It was the home of Italian immigrants who had moved to Denver in the 1850s to work on the mines. They established the area, including St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, and restaurants known to old-time Denverites such as Carbones and Pagliaccos and Lechuga’s. In the 80s and 90s, the area had begun to include a Mexican population and subsequently, delicious Mexican restaurants. None of these were fancy, but all were family-friendly and delicious.
With the coming of Coors Field, the area began to change again. Can you say GENTRIFICATION? The small brick homes began disappearing as young lawyers and financiers and doctors and such began buying the homes and razing them to the ground. Suddenly the neighborhoods that had long ago been filled with old people sitting on their porches or small Italian or Mexican children playing in the streets while wonderful smells came from the windows now consisted of boxy modern-looking McMansions.
People stopped calling the area North Denver and began calling it the Highlands. Those same old people whose homes were long paid off found themselves looking at property tax bills that they simply couldn’t afford. Many had no other solution but to sell their homes.
I’m not anti-progress. While many people rebuilt homes, probably a similar number of people simply remodeled the insides with the standard open concept and fancy Wolf stoves. The area is safer and cleaner. You can probably still hear the sounds of children playing, but this time they are having Play Dates. Now the cost of housing in the Highlands is out of reach for most Denverites or Denverite wannabees.
As for lower downtown (now called LoDo because every neighborhood needs an acronym these days) is a thriving and vibrant area. The Board of Directors didn’t check with little ol’ me on whether or not to buy the building back in 1992. Nor did they tell me how much they paid. All I can say is that it was undoubtedly a hell of a deal.
And little ol’ me doesn’t have an answer for gentrification. Everything cycles and perhaps this will too.