In many pockets of Denver, there are visible connections to our city's past that are, with each passing year, slowly being erased in favor of a more modern aesthetic. This concerns Black Eye Coffee co-owner Gregory Ferrari, who is promoting a Kickstarter campaign to install a large, early twentieth-century-style mural on the side of his Highland business. "A lot of the buildings in our neighborhood were built in the late 1890s and early 1900s," says Ferrari. "Our building was the original Coors Theater, built around that time. The mural is a recreation of an old, circus-style poster of a man fighting a kangaroo. We wanted it to be a part of the Black Eye branding, but it's also fun. And it's a pull from that era, because this was always a working-class neighborhood -- even though that's changing with these million-dollar homes that are coming in."
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Ferrari is quick to point out that he is not an idealist who wants to stop all modernization of the neighborhood, but merely holds an affection for Highland history. "Pagliacci's restaurant, one of the oldest restaurants in Denver, recently closed down, and that building's being torn down for a sixty-unit, luxury apartment complex," he notes. "Now, I don't see that as necessarily a bad thing. New development is always going to happen, and it brings money into the neighborhood. But even with all this change, I think it's important that we maintain the history of the neighborhood."
The new mural will be painted by Larry Polzin -- of Side Show Studio gallery and Stargazer Creations -- and is intended to be more than just an Instagram-style, sepia-toned faux antique: It will pay tribute to the undignified underbelly of a pre-gentrified Highlands. "When it was a more working-class neighborhood, there used to be a lot of underground boxing matches here," says Black Eye co-worker Dustin Audet. "At one point, our building was a barbershop, and in the back there were illegal bookies who took bets on the fights. It was dangerous and seedy and kind of grimy."
"This will make the building more of a landmark in the neighborhood," says Ferrari, who is as meticulous about history as he is about his hand-crafted, pour-over coffees, which earned Black Eye our Best New Coffeehouse award in the Best of Denver 2013. "There are only a few of those left. Little Man Ice Cream is one, and Root Down is an old gas station -- there are a lot of these old buildings that have been repurposed for new businesses. And when we came in, we didn't want a business that didn't fit our neighborhood. We didn't want to change things. We keep a lot of the exposed brick, our tables are made out of seventy-year-old grocery pallets. We recently pulled an old moonshiner's door out of a neighborhood basement -- it still has a peep-hole in it. That's one of our new tables.
"The mural will be another thing that helps Black Eye Coffee stand out," he continues. "We're not denying that. But I don't anticipate my business being here for fifty years -- businesses come and go. I hope this mural will outlast us, and I hope this building survives long after I'm gone."
Black Eye Coffee is just short of halfway toward its goal of $6,000 needed to complete the mural. Click here to donate to the Kickstarter campaign.
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