Off Limits

Westside story: They might have learned everything they needed to know in kindergarten, but when alumni of the Cheltenham School kindergarten class of 1936 gathered this past weekend, they still had plenty to talk about.

"We had a blast," says Mike Licht, the event's master of ceremonies, who set off plenty of fireworks of his own when he served as Denver city auditor a decade ago. Of the 82 original classmates, 38--from doctors to businesspeople to recovering politician Licht--made the reunion; organizers couldn't find addresses for fifteen, and nine had passed on. One recent loss was Sid Mozer, founder of Sid's Fine Foods, once the city's premier gourmet grocery, who died last month. "It made us feel more vulnerable," Licht says. "Everybody thinks he's going to live forever."

Especially when he's five years old. Sixty years ago, says Licht, the West Colfax neighborhood around Cheltenham was a Jewish ghetto, with a synagogue every three to four blocks. The kindergarten teacher, Bessie Balaban, taught Licht's mother how to speak English; like many in the area, she'd fled the pogroms in Russia. Most of the students were Jewish, and they spent almost all of their time together. "There's a special bond that we have," Licht says, "and it continues."

That bond could be scar tissue--in the reunion guide, Licht recalls how six kids got their tongues stuck when they licked the frozen railing in front of the school. Another student, Morey Lesser, remembers being sent home on the third day of school and "told I can't come back unless I speak English and not Yiddish." Billy Gart, who lived outside school boundaries, used a relative's address so he could go to Cheltenham; although the principal caught on to the ruse, he let Billy stay at the school--earning himself a lifetime of free sporting goods in the process, Gart says. Cheltenham had a tendency to stay with its former students: Florence Weiner Sloane recounts how she was sitting at a Las Vegas blackjack table in 1957 when she felt a tap on her shoulder. "I didn't teach you this in kindergarten," Mrs. Balaban told her.

The class first reconvened 27 years ago, for its one-third-century reunion. Mrs. Balaban was still alive then, and "she remembered something about each of us," Licht recalls. "I was a pretty good guy then. I hadn't learned how to be naughty."

Somewhere along the line, though, that changed--as evidenced by Licht's controversial tenure as city auditor. "Some of the times the media got on my butt," he acknowledges, "it wasn't much fun."

So what did he enjoy more--Cheltenham or City Hall? "Are you kidding me?" Licht responds. "When I was the city auditor, I thought it was more fun than kindergarten; I really thought I was having a good time. But after 29 years of politics, I realized working for yourself is so much nicer."

Licht, who now has his own real estate appraisal company, says several former classmates remarked on how young he looked. "That's because I've been out of politics for nine years," he explains. "I don't think politicians know what they're missing."

A Terminal condition: Soon to be among the missing is the venerable Terminal Bar. On Friday, longtime owner Nancy Archer is scheduled to sell LoDo's last true dive to Dave Query, who owns the yupscale JAX in Boulder. Can Tyler Wiard--who recently left Napa Cafe and is rumored to be interested in working with Query--be far behind? Make that double a decaf.


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