Five Things That Make Five Points Residents Really, Really Mad

Five Points is one of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods, so it makes sense that it has a long and winding history, one whose high points include the area's time as the “Harlem of the West,” when it was a must-stop for African-American entertainers — and the only place in Denver where they could stay. Perhaps less remembered are the populations of Jewish citizens, later to be followed by Japanese-Americans and Mexican-Americans, who called Five Points home. All of these changes created a rich stew of a neighborhood over the years in terms of diversity and heritage.

Of course, all that diversity doesn’t help when the financial bottom falls out of a neighborhood, as it did in Five Points in the 1960s and '70s. Only in the past decade has the neighborhood begun to reinvigorate itself, with pricy duplexes wedged in by Victorian homes, and even today, Five Points has a reputation that scares some residents of Denver. Example: When we recently moved to Curtis Park, my children were warned to beware of “anyone wearing Nuggets jerseys, and people with canes.” That’s the sort of casual racism (and inexplicable stupidity, since that advice would suggest that you’d really have to beware of elderly basketball fans who’ve had recent hip surgeries) that infuriates people of all generations who call Five Points home. And so do these other five burrs under the collective Five Points saddle.

5. The term “gentrification”
Gentrification is the thing that really gets most people in almost any Denver inner-city neighborhood fired up these days, judging from the Facebook comments on these neighborhood articles. "Gentrification" is used as a pejorative most of the time, but it’s ill-defined in common usage. For some — mainly the people who hate it — gentrification means a radical change in population within a neighborhood to which they have some emotional tie, and the related exclusion of the original population. And, yeah, when the traditional population of an area is displaced, there’s always some loss. But with that — with some care and attention — can come certain good. In Five Points, there’s a lot of respect for the history, and many newcomers (myself included) actually moved there because of the diversity, not to change it. Yes, the socioeconomic average of the neighborhood is changing, but that can be for the better, too. Safer streets, more stores opening and, yes, property values rising. The thing about gentrification, like most capitalism, is that when it runs rampant, it’s terrifying; with attention paid to the human costs of said capitalism, it can be ethical, and the results majestic. But in the time of transition? Just the word "gentrification" is likely to raise hackles.

4. Going out for supplies
Okay, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. There just aren’t enough places to get your necessities in Five Points. There’s one nearby grocery store (thank you, Safeway), but there needs to be more. The Ballpark King Soopers helps a little, but it’s still something of a drive, and a small store, to boot. And the other types of stores — hardware, especially, since the True Value on Welton became a church over a decade ago — are completely lacking. Most of this has to do with the demise of the mom-and-pop establishments that served the area (and well) back in the day, and were pushed out in part because of the decline of Five Points. And that’s what needs to return to the revitalized area: small stores. No one wants a Home Depot or a Walmart moving in and razing a city block of beautiful old houses to do it.

3. The closure of Tom’s Home Cooking
The recent closure of this beloved Southern comfort-food fixture of Five Points has become something of a watershed moment in the rejuvenation of the area. Sure, Tom’s was only there for sixteen years (if indeed the word “only” belongs in a sentence like that), but Tom’s had been taken into the hearts of many in the area as one of its own. It was a stalwart in a planned renaissance of the area back in the late 1990s that never really developed. But Tom’s hung in there, attracting patrons to the neighborhood when they wouldn’t otherwise have come, serving gut-pleasing fare for years. Who knows? Maybe Tom’s also served as an anchor for the redevelopment that’s now finally under way in Five Points, and closed only because that gap between the old and the upcoming had finally, once and for all, been bridged. Might be overly positive thinking, but you gotta find a way to look on the bright side after one of the best lunch places in Denver closes up shop.

2. Alley poopers
As the book says: Everyone poops. Even the homeless who congregate in a few areas in and around Five Points. After all, they can’t use the half-doored stalls in the Blair-Caldwell Public Library after it closes, can they? So they do their best, and squat next to a dumpster in what they hope will be a quiet alley for the next few minutes. It’s understandable, but for those residents who use those dumpsters, it’s not a pleasant surprise. Not long after we moved into our new place, we noticed that there was someone who’d been using our dumpster as a toilet for some time — our house had sat vacant for a while — but as soon as he (or she!) realized the house was lived in again, the pooper must have moved on. We were grateful: A friend of mine who lived in the neighborhood back in the '90s had the same problem, but badly placed (the pooping spot was right by his driver’s-side door where he parked in the alley), and disturbingly regular (every night for over eight weeks steady). As he put it, it was annoying and gross, but an impressive amount of fiber for a street person. He finally solved the issue the way many people in the neighborhood have: security cameras. Because even though everyone does it, it’s not a moment most of us want captured on film.

1. Losing its history
And in this neighborhood, there’s a lot to lose. As one of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods, pre-dating even Capitol Hill (which actually replaced the Curtis Park section of Five Points back in the early twentieth century as “the place to be” for the wealthy and powerful), Five Points has hosted a rich tapestry of eras and populations. So it makes sense that such a thing should be respected and preserved. Some of this is taken on by neighborhood groups like the Curtis Park Historical Society; other things are preserved by responsible entrepreneurs and developers, like the one renovating the property at Welton and 28th Street and restoring the ghost sign left by the old Yuye Café. But all this positive news tends to be viewed with a healthy dose of suspicion by longtime Five Points residents, who have seen this cycle run through many times over the past few decades, and each time the promises are made, the plans are set into motion, and then…nothing happens. Or very little happens — not enough, certainly, to revitalize the area in a manner that keeps with the area’s traditions. While it might be true that to everything there is a season, it’s also true that rebirth is hollow if the past life isn’t taken into account. And even if there are some positive signs, the true nature of the resurrection of Five Points is far from determined at this point.

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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen