Colfax is moving quickly -- and we're going along for the ride

Colfax is moving quickly -- and we're going along for the ride

Over the past decade, Westword has profiled some of the major streets and arteries that give Denver life. For this year's project, we return to Colfax Avenue, the subject of our first profile, to examine the many changes that have taken place along Denver's main street over the past ten years.

Colorado State Capitol

200 East Colfax Avenue

Can Sprouts and Chick-fil-A co-exist on East Colfax?
Christopher Morgan
Can Sprouts and Chick-fil-A co-exist on East Colfax?
The State Capitol Building is being refreshed.
Christopher Morgan
The State Capitol Building is being refreshed.

All that glitters: Colfax Avenue, at 26-plus miles, is touted as the longest main street in America, and was also once dubbed the "wickedest street" in America by Playboy — which is a lot more interesting than its actual name, inspired by Schuyler (aka "Smiler") Colfax, a native of New York who founded the Republican Party in Indiana, became Speaker of the House and was elected Ulysses S. Grant's vice president in 1868. That was the year that Henry Brown donated land bounded by Lincoln and Grant, 14th and 15th (soon to be renamed Colfax), for a future state capitol building. At the time, Colorado was still eight years away from becoming a state — and Denver would not be chosen as the capital of that new state until 1881.

Construction on the State Capitol Building finally started in 1886; the cornerstone was laid in 1890. Governor Davis Waite moved into his office in 1894 and told the Tenth General Assembly that "the building is a marvel of good, honest work, and will be a lasting tribute to its builder and managers." But the work — sometimes good, sometimes honest, but also criticized by headline-writers for its "rottenness" — continued. In 1901, new advisory architect F. E. Edbrooke, who'd designed the Brown Palace, finally came up with the Capitol's crowning glory: He suggested that the cast-iron dome be gilded with Colorado gold — which was done in 1908.

And undone a century later, after damage to the exterior observation deck discovered in 2006 inspired a $17 million renovation project partly covered by the State Historical Fund, partly by donations through Share in the Care Colorado. Today, the Capitol looks like a giant stack of marshmallows towering over Colfax, with scaffolding and scrim hiding the restoration work.

But the end is in sight. On June 18, Governor John Hickenlooper will accept boxes of gold leaf to regild the dome — refined in Italy from $120,000 worth of 24-karat gold mined in Cripple Creek and donated to the state by AngloGold Ashanti and the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company. And then, at a rate of fifty to a hundred square feet a day, the dome will be recovered.

The entire restoration process should be completed by the summer of 2014, when the observation deck and dome will reopen to the public. And no matter what shenanigans are going on under the dome, from there visitors will again enjoy almost unimpeded views of miles of Colfax stretching to the west and east, that wicked, wonderful street that beats as the true heart of this city, this state.

Patricia Calhoun

Westside Branch Library

West Colfax Avenue and Irving Street

Aside from Peyton Manning, who plays at the nearby Sports Authority Field, there hasn't been much to cheer about in the vicinity of Colfax and Irving. Motorists streaming off the viaduct are greeted by a WEST COLFAX WELCOME sign, stark towers of low-income housing and a grim commercial zone that's struggled economically for decades.

But the construction of a new branch library now underway on the southeast corner of the intersection — catty-corner from Cheltenham Elementary, directly across from a weed-choked former church and next door to a half-vacant strip mall anchored by a Latino grocery store — is a sign that things are changing.

Scheduled to open next year, the library will offer a computer lab, adult-education materials and possibly a music studio. The site was chosen over two alternatives further west because of its access to transit, including the newly opened West Line light-rail station on Federal Boulevard, and because the Avondale and Sunnyside areas — teeming with seniors, immigrants and children — have been historically underserved.

And history has a way of sticking around in this neighborhood — something that the Denver Public Library has discovered as it asked for suggestions on what to call the new library. People have suggested naming it after Golda Meir (a nod to the historic Jewish community on Denver's west side), education activist Lena Archuleta, and even the imposingly bearded Schuyler Colfax.

Yet the most popular and controversial candidate has been Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales — boxer, poet, and leader of the Crusade for Justice, the increasingly militant Chicano-rights organization that clashed repeatedly with Denver police in the 1960s and 1970s.

How you feel about a Corky Gonzales Library may depend on whether you believe that the racism and brutality of Denver cops in the civil-rights era justified the more extreme actions tied to the Crusade, including a bloody shootout in an apartment building in 1973 and an alleged bomb plot against a police substation in 1975. Supporters of Gonzales, who died in 2005, point to his much-anthologized poem, "I Am Joaquin," and his undeniable influence on the succeeding generation of Hispanic leaders. His critics — like Juan Haro, who went to prison over the '75 bomb investigation and later wrote a book accusing Gonzales of deceiving his followers and betraying the cause — insist that he was more deeply involved in the violent side of the Crusade than his boosters will admit.

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10 comments
From_Denver
From_Denver

Man, I guess I never thought I would see the day people would be so  up in arms about a fried chicken joint being built on Colfax.

Colfax, you've changed. 

ljhliesl
ljhliesl

Sean Mandel deliberately lies when he "insists" he has received "only two complaints" about Chick-Fil-A. I attended a neighborhood meeting in February with about two dozen neighbors, all of whom opposed the restaurant and pointed out the disadvantages and harm it would inflict on the neighborhood. That was just one meeting that people bothered to attend. He might have "received" two complaints by formal business letter, but he has heard and seen and been exposed to many, many more complaints about the restaurant (and about his duplicity). 

Mandel_Ruins_Colfax
Mandel_Ruins_Colfax

Sean Mandel is lying again.  The entire South City Park Association has complained about Chick-a-Fil.  The drive thru does not meet the city's Colfax Plan and was snuck in on lies by him.  The writers need to contact the association and see all he has done to avoid working with us.  He has stated to us that Sprouts is non-viable on it's own as a tenant and they MUST have a drive thru...  We do not trust, nor like him!

Sean, you are not welcome in SCP! Keep coming here on dates and I will harrass you in front of them!

berniedan
berniedan

I was surprised that the article failed to mention Duman's Custom Tailors. It has been right around the corner from the Capitol forever, and if anything demonstrated the eclectic nature of East Colfax Avenue, it was that shop.

Johnny Genova
Johnny Genova

I was gonna say, isn't it the longest street in the country? Cause if its not I've been lying to my out of town peps.

Conor Tewell
Conor Tewell

Fuck that, the longest avenue in the country! Represent

Ariel Amirinoor
Ariel Amirinoor

Savanna Sailas Tashina Morsulus Garett W. McKee COLFAX!!!

jtcolfax
jtcolfax

interesting.  one other thing that should be mentioned is the latter day phenomenon of calling the street, "the Fax".  that is appalling and must cease.

 
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