There is so much more to Colfax Avenue than what appears on its often misunderstood surface. As an advocate for the 26-mile drag and its unique history and culture, local non-profit 40 West Arts set out to collect information about Colfax — West Colfax, in particular — through a survey of its still-standing architecture from the past century-plus. In 2014, the organization — along with the Lakewood-West Colfax Business Improvement District — received a $50,000 state historical grant for the project, and after more than a year of scouring West Colfax from Sheridan Boulevard to Simms Street with cameras and notepads, the groups and their volunteers — led by historians and project heads Robert and Kris Autobee — are ready to present a more complete picture of the area. The results of their detailed work will be presented this Saturday, May 30, at the West Colfax Historic Preservation Symposium.
The event is meant to be a fun, conversation-driven gathering where these experts will share their findings with the public. According to 40 West Arts chair Bill Marino, the goal is to engage the community with fascinating stories and future plans for the massive database of photographs and history collected about West Colfax. "Not only are we creating an archive of this information for posterity, we want to do cool and fun things with it," says Marino. "We're looking at some different art-driven ideas as well as historical interpretive signage that we can put throughout the district. We may put some plaques in different places to commemorate both famous and infamous things in both history and pop culture to further the whole lore of Colfax, particularly here on the west side."
That lore will be discussed by Marino, the Autobees, administrator Jeff Murray of the Lakewood Heritage Center, author and Colorado expert Lyle Miller and many more voices. Going into the project, the organizers guessed they would be surveying around fifty buildings that were at least a half-a-century old, but not many more, Marino says; they ended up studying more than 500 structures along this strip of West Colfax, with some dating back to the turn of the last century.
They reviewed those initial findings and decided to focus on around sixty buildings that trace West Colfax's history as a once-vibrant agricultural community, then a hot spot for motels beckoning weary motorists, and now its current life as a busy thoroughfare connecting the people and cities of the metro area. "Bob and Kris (Autobee) looked at which buildings had a real significance to them, either in their architecture or the use that they've had over the years or a combination of those things," Marino says, "and it's those buildings that we're going to drill deeper into and tell their story."
Along with tomorrow's event, other steps in the historic survey project include studying opportunities for state and federal tax credits for future historic preservation efforts. "Preservation comes in different flavors — it's not just plaques on a building or photographs on an interpretive sign," says Marino. "It's about how do you take that historic building and make it part of the community again — even with a different use — while also celebrating its past?"
Marino sees a great value in telling the thoroughfare's story, not just for the benefit of the city of Lakewood and the area around West Colfax, but for all the communities connected by the main street. "Colfax in and of itself has been at the epicenter of this area's history for 150 years, if not more, and a lot of that is because of geography. I mean, it's Colfax; there isn't any other Colfax. Whether it's our section out here in Lakewood or downtown Denver or out in Aurora, that's what is so wonderful about it — we can all claim Colfax and celebrate it."
The West Colfax Historic Preservation Symposium takes place Saturday, May 30 from 9 a.m. to noon at Edge Theater at 40 West Gallery and Studios; the event is free. For more information, visit the West Colfax Corridor's website.
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