By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
"I had to go to Washington to get them some help," recalls Garcia, now retired. "The whole west side was in bad shape. All they did was move people out who couldn't move elsewhere. Some had already moved to Auraria from Avondale" — another DURA project — "and then they had to move again."
In the final weeks before the vote, backers of the bond issue, including Mayor Bill McNichols, made a flurry of extravagant statements in interviews and at public meetings in an effort to pacify the angry locals. The Colorado Commission on Higher Education announced that it was contemplating putting an "ethnic-studies center" on the new campus once it was approved. Attorney Bill Grant, co-chair of the committee pushing the bond, promised Lincoln Park residents that the development wouldn't encroach on their neighborhood, wouldn't include dorms and wouldn't raise rents nearby, since the students would mostly be living with their parents. But even if students did move into Lincoln Park, McNichols added, that "will have a good economic impact on the whole area south of Colfax."
Garcia distinctly remembers a promise made to residents at one public meeting "that their children could get scholarships. At one time, I had a tape recording where one of the officials actually said that."
The campaign passed out fliers urging Denver citizens to "Vote for Greatness." They did, but not by much: 32,913 votes for the new campus, 29,140 against. Lawsuits challenging the condemnation proceedings couldn't halt the ensuing diaspora. Some former Aurarians moved elsewhere on the west side. Some moved into public housing projects. Many of the small stores and repair shops simply disappeared; out of 249 businesses that moved out of Auraria, only 51 were still operating a decade later.
Alcaro's family was the last to leave, closing the Casa Mayan in 1974. "They were told they could open a new restaurant in some strip mall," he says. "But this was a home."
At the eleventh hour, through the intervention of Historic Denver and other preservation groups, a few buildings were spared from the bulldozer: St. Cajetan's (now an events center), the Emmanuel Chapel (now an art gallery), the block on Ninth Street. The Tivoli brewery was converted into an urban shopping mall — a sore point for displaced residents, who'd been assured that the campus would be devoted solely to educational purposes, not snotty retail. When that venture failed, it was transformed into a fast-food-friendly student union.
The ethnic-studies center never materialized. And, for many years, neither did the scholarships. Various people inside Auraria as well as outsiders have combed early AHEC board-meeting minutes and other files seeking some formal commitment to provide such things.
"I have searched and searched, and as far as I can tell, there is no document [about scholarships]," says Rosemary Evetts, the archivist at the Auraria Library. "But someone had obviously led people to believe there were going to be some educational benefits available to the residents."
In the early 1990s, a group of determined displaced Aurarians sought out lawmakers and officials at all three schools to inquire about the scholarships. They didn't have a piece of paper. They didn't even have Father Pete's tape recording. But they did have long memories.
In 1994, Metro, UCD and CCD began offering tuition breaks to students who could prove their families had resided in Auraria between 1955 and 1973. As of 2011, the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship Program has paid out more than $600,000 in college costs to 170 students.
Activists have since had occasion to give Auraria officials a few other history lessons. Thirteen years ago, protesters squelched a plan by UCD to develop student housing in the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood, an attempted incursion across Colfax that seemed to be exactly what Grant and other original backers of the campus had said would never happen. And in 2004, Daniel Valdez and Su Teatro artistic director Anthony Garcia premiered their Westside Oratorio, a musical remembrance of the vanished community, including this exhortation by Garcia:
As you walk the sterile buildings,
of concrete and glass,
scurrying to class,
to your next meeting,
to your next performance,
listen for the voices
that came before you.
One of the selling points of the Auraria Higher Education Center was that it presented an opportunity for tremendous efficiency and collaboration among three schools with distinct missions. Sharing classrooms and other facilities would make education more affordable and accessible, the thinking went, particularly for inner-city youth and "non-traditional students" — who might start out at CCD, earn their bachelor's at Metro and go on to graduate work at UCD.
In practice, though, students have frequently found the Auraria experience more compartmentalized than collaborative. The plum-brick classroom buildings are functional but anonymous, dwarfed by enormous parking garages and a sprawl of parking lots marching westward. The shared library is underfunded and congested. When I taught at Metro State in the early 1990s, there was little in the way of "student life" on campus, and a strong sense of rivalry, with occasional turf squabbles, among the three schools.
In recent years the fractures have become more visible, with each institution balking at the one-size-fits-all approach and eager to promote its own brand. Metro, in particular, has broken ranks by rechristening itself as a university (much to UCD's aggravation) and by adopting a controversial policy of discounting tuition for undocumented immigrants, after the state legislature turned down such a proposal last spring.
I give daily tours for one of the colleges on this campus. I am also a student here. Talking about the St. Cajetan's and Auraria's history is always one of my favorite parts of the tour. I know that there is a lot of anger and negativity around this development, my Chicano studies professor and I would have plenty of talks about it often. However, I always try to out a different spin on it. This campus has a beautiful history and though it's gone now it should be celebrated. The history parts aren't required on the script for our tours but I include it because I love it and almost always get a positive response from prospectives. This was an awesome article and it confirmed some information I already knew (people always asked where I got the line that none of the development was supposed to go south of Colfax, I'm glad other's are saying the same) and also helped with providing some more tidbits I might work into future tours. I hope the issues on this campus can be resolved, I have enjoyed my time here and when I graduate next year, I will miss this campus for sure.