I love my city, I really do. Even if it is frustrating at times, with our traffic problems, the flood of ugly development, the constant "reimagining" of already-established neighborhoods, an embarrassing dog-poop epidemic and the inhumane treatment of our most vulnerable population, Denver is still a pretty great place to live.
I've lived all over the city, but my true home will always be Virginia Village. It's a quaint suburban-ish area of southeast Denver, a collection of post-WWII shoebox homes scattered on square blocks and the occasional angled plot of land, all surrounded by working-class roadways that dead-end into each other. This is a part of Denver I really like; this is the 'hood where I grew up.
In Virginia Village, I learned to ride my bike on traffic-free streets and collected crawdads from Cherry Creek, the little waterway that ran along the end of my block. In my small world called Virginia Village, I regularly made the quarter-mile trek — often with several siblings in tow, some of them barely old enough to walk — to a pedestrian shoppette on the corner of Holly and Florida streets to spend my babysitting money on Slurpees at 7-Eleven and VHS rentals at our beloved Video Movie Madness.
I spent thousands of hours of my childhood hanging with my friends in the streets — gossiping, devising late-night teenage plans and smiling at neighbor boys on their bicycles. Being a kid in Virginia Village was the best because our teeny 'hood was a little too invisible and a little too ordinary for the rest of Denver to notice. Unsurprisingly, I never thought twice about the actual architecture that made up this neighborhood that most people couldn't find on a map if they tried.
Even though I grew up to become a preservation advocate and architecture junkie, I'd never given the actual structures in my slice of Denver much thought. Recently, I received an e-mail about Historic Denver's "Virginia Village Discovery Day." But what was there to discover? As it turns out, so much.
The day of discovery — actually running from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 8, at the Virginia Village Library at 1500 South Dahlia Street— is geared toward Virginia Village residents of the past and present. They're invited to bring photographs, stories and regional ephemera in order to compile a composite of the neighborhood as its own unique place. Volunteers will be on hand to scan these pieces of history and add them to a growing archive, one that the city hopes to create for each of its neighborhoods. Here's a clearer outline of the Discover Denver project via Historic Denver:
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Discover Denver is a building and neighborhood survey meant to identify historic and architecturally significant structures citywide. Historic Denver, Inc. leads this collaborative project in partnership with the City and County of Denver and History Colorado. The survey gathers information using public records, neighborhood canvassing, academic research, and tips from the public. Findings will be accessible online so that everyone can learn about Denver’s past — building by building.
Discover Denver’s mission is threefold: to identify the places that matter to Denver’s history (Know It), to share the value of these historic resources to promote public pride and awareness (Love It) and to encourage a culture of reinvestment (One Building at a Time).
Knowing this was happening made my heart swell with pride: I'm from Virginia Village, and the city is excited that it exists! The e-mail inspired me, and I started to look at my home base differently. Walking my dogs around the 'hood in the burning October sun earlier this week, I started to take notice of the architecture. Suddenly, the mix of shoeboxes, pseudo-ranch styles and tri-level homes was obvious. Virginia Village does have architecture of note — even if it was made for (and is still mostly inhabited by) working-class families, first-time home buyers, renters and residents who have called this place home since it was built more than half a century ago.
We're no Arapahoe Acres (though our own Krisana Park could give that historic area a run for its mid-mod money), but Virginia Village has a blue-collar style all its own. Even at the height of Denver's terrifying housing-market boom, when people were paying cash up front on properties they had never laid eyes on, I didn't get too worried about my quaint, charmless-on-the-outside subdivision. I laughed when I heard someone had paid over $400,000 for "Burt's house," the shittiest structure on our block, home to a creep (named Burt, obviously) who cruised our 'hood for hours every day, going 15 mph under the speed limit while incoherently screaming "Hey, Juanita!" at us kids for no reason while we sat in our front yards listening to the radio.
When my mother gets ready to sell her house in Virginia Village one day so that she can move to a tropical island, I hope someone in my family can buy it. Because it may not be an architectural gem, but it's a Virginia Village staple, a place where four kids, two parents and various family members and friends who needed a home grew up sharing three bedrooms and one bathroom. Oh, and the house has two functioning bathrooms now. That's a big deal in Virginia Village.