One of Denver's most storied streets is starting a new chapter.
In a few days, the cameras will roll on The Real World: Denver, the eighteenth installment of the show that made reality TV a reality, capturing the antics of seven pretty people who work together and live together in a fabulous warehouse loft complete with hot tub and basketball court. And when these pretty people venture out of their make-believe home, they'll find themselves on the 1900 block of Market Street, in the heart of LoDo, Denver's true hot spot.
Too much heat, of course, and you can get burned. That's what happened a few years ago at Let Out, when thousands of kids would spill out of the clubs and into the street and nearby parking lots after last call. The sound of their socializing alone was enough to bother neighbors who'd paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own fabulous warehouse lofts (and who somehow overlooked the fact that those lofts were a few steps from a sports bar or a pizza joint or a train station where pesky horns might occasionally toot in the wee hours). But what got the neighbors really hot and bothered were the sounds of gunshots and sirens during the long, hot summer of 2004.
As a result, after a decade of increasing prosperity, last year was not a great one for the area around the 1900 block of Market. Some businesses moved, others closed -- including B-52 Billiards, whose former home at 1920 Market is now occupied by The Real World. To cope with the unpleasant realities, bar owners started working with city officials and residents to see how they could co-exist peacefully -- even agreeing to pay for added security to keep that peace. The goodwill got even better as the rejuvenated Rockies started drawing crowds not just to Coors Field, but to the businesses around the ballpark.
And then on April 10, The Real World revealed its next home. "Denver has absolutely everything we could hope for," said Lois Current, executive vice president of MTV Series Entertainment. "Diversity, activities, energy and nightlife."
Sometimes the world can get all too real.
In June 2004, Quincy Shannon was just back from his first year away at college when he decided to head to LoDo during Let Out. It was a chance to see friends he'd grown up with in northeast Denver, and also to work on an assignment for one of his journalism classes, to videotape some "action." There was always action around Let Out.
Shannon got more action than he'd bargained for. He saw a half-dozen kids, one of whom he recognized, pounding on cars and people, and he filmed them. Then the police arrived in force, and he filmed that. When the friends who were giving him a ride back to Park Hill pulled up near Bash, at the corner of 19th and Blake streets, Shannon hopped in -- but they hadn't gotten a block before a cop stopped the car and pulled them all out. Ultimately, a couple of parents arrived and the kids got to go home -- but the cop kept Shannon's videotape.
Two weeks later, Shannon started getting calls from people calling him a "snitch": Somehow, his tape had made its way from the police evidence room to a couple of newsrooms, and the "wilding" incident was all over TV. No one from the stations ever talked to Shannon about using his work, but their stories provided quite a journalistic lesson anyway. "The news had a field day with it," he says. "The different stories were humorous, but scary. You can see how it evolved from an altercation downtown to kids going crazy downtown to it's a racial thing downtown, and then how the police responded to it."
The response extended to zero tolerance for the rest of the summer. When Shannon got caught up in a LoDo sweep a few months later, he dialed 911 to protest the police use of pepper spray. The tape of that 911 call -- which captured a cop shouting that Shannon was "a serious pain in my ass" -- was enough to get a charge of failure to obey a lawful order dismissed that November. But the next day, an arrest warrant was issued for Shannon, on charges that he'd incited a riot -- the five-month-old "wilding."
A half-dozen young black men were charged in connection with that night; three quickly took plea deals. Shannon was the first set for trial, even though he'd done no more than film the action ("A Piece of the Action," May 12, 2005). He drove all night from school in Missouri to make his May 17 court date in Denver -- only to learn that the case had just been dropped. (His attorney subsequently filed suit against the City of Denver for violating Shannon's civil rights; that case is pending.)
Now it's May 2006, and Shannon is back in his home town again. "It was an amazing year," he says. "It was crazy. It seemed like every two weeks, I was in and out of the state, in and out of the state." There were all his duties as Mr. Lincoln University, as well as his work with the black journalists' group, and with his fraternity chapter, and with a special program sponsored by Honda that got him a spot on a nationally syndicated TV show on BET. "I was road-tripping everywhere," he says. And although Shannon's doing public-relations work this summer, he's still pursuing a career in journalism, still focusing on broadcast.
But while he usually carries a camera with him -- he even started his own production company at school -- he now leaves it at home with the folks when he's in Denver. "I won't even bring a camera out, for the simple fact that you don't know what you'll catch on camera, you don't know if you'll go to jail, you don't know if people won't trust you," Shannon says. "There's no credibility when it comes to cameras here."
He doesn't go to LoDo much anymore, either. Now that he's 21, he has other options. "And besides, it's just too much hassle running from people who might shoot you, running from the police," he adds. "There's nothing down there anymore, really."
Not even The Real World?
Somehow, media-savvy Shannon missed the news that The Real World will soon start filming the block he captured on video that night two years ago. "That's mind-blowing, The Real World coming to Colorado," he says. "The Real World will probably be a reason to go there."
But sometimes the world can get all too real. Bruce Harrell, the only bad actor Shannon recognized the night of the "wilding," was scheduled to go to trial early this year on two counts of third-degree assault and one count of engaging in a riot without a weapon.
That case was dismissed in January, after Harrell was shot to death over by the Denver Pavilions. As LoDo chills, other areas heat up.
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In 1977, Westword moved into its first office, three rooms painted six colors on the second floor of a Victorian storefront that had once housed a brothel. Some people will tell you that prostitution is a more honorable profession than journalism. It's certainly older, and a hundred years ago it flourished across the part of lower downtown that would come to be called LoDo.
From our perch at 1439 Market Street, we could see Larimer Square, saved from the wrecking ball just a decade before. At the end of our block was Speer Boulevard and then Cherry Creek; in the other direction were century-old warehouses -- some occupied, some not, a few boasting longtime tenants and others ambitious eateries or adventurous galleries that would pop up overnight, then disappear almost as quickly. But aside from a few now-long-gone Japanese joints and dive bars, there was little further activity until you passed the long-ago home of famed madam Mattie Silks (right next to The Real World house) and reached the far end of the 1900 block and El Chapultepec, where then, as now, the beer was cold and the jazz hot.
The current edition of Vanity Fair cites El Chapultepec, which Jerry Krantz has run for 55 years but which existed for decades before that, as one of the town's two great bars and one of the best saloons in the world. This is not one of the spots that's signed a deal to host The Real World cast and crew. But then, from a seat at the bar here, you've always had a view of the real world.