The fifth installment of our angry-neighborhoods-of-Denver series takes us to the Baker District. Nestled in the heart of the city and first laid out for residential and business use in the 1870s, Baker’s official boundaries are Sixth Avenue, Lincoln Street, Mississippi Avenue and the South Platte. These days, though, most of the action focuses on Broadway.
Baker is known for being a pretty casual place — the sort of neighborhood that retains its intrinsic self while moving into the hyper-drive property values of modern Denver. Where homeowners can realize market gains with their homes at the same time they can live, walk, enjoy some nearby nightlife, and generally enjoy a high quality of life. Even so, there are things that can rankle the most positive of Baker residents — like these seven common complaints.
Baker residents have a love/hate relationships with antiques, given the neighborhood’s adjacency to Denver’s Antique Row. The problem isn't just parking; sometimes the quest for bargains spills over onto nearby streets. A friend of mine who lived in Baker in the early 2000s once had a two-seater wrought-iron swing on his porch, a family heirloom from his father’s side. After he’d been approached by no fewer than six random antique-lovers asking if he was willing to sell it over the course of a single summer, he built a frame for it and hung the swing in his back yard. History is great until it rings your doorbell and wakes up your napping kids.
You just can’t live near two of the busiest streets in town and not have parking issues, especially with the plethora of places for people to go in the area, from music venues to a whole mess of bars and restaurants to shops and other attractions. If not for Baker, how would Broadway crawlers hit the Hornet for drinks and a delicious base for a night of bar-hopping? How would movie lovers see their favorite tough-to-find flicks, both old and new, without the historic and much-beloved Mayan Theater? There’s a lot to do in Baker, and folks who want to do them grab every available spot on streets in the area — which sometimes gets in the way of the folks who, you know, actually live there.
5. Losing Local Landmarks
Speaking of places where Denverites like to go…Baker keeps losing its stalwart go-to places. (Thank the maker that the Mayan is still going strong.) Last summer saw the closure of one of Denver’s last true burger joints: Griff’s was beloved by patrons for generations, and finally gave up the ghost with a little fanfare and a long line of burger lovers wanting one last Griff's stop. As much as that hurt, the more recent decision to designate the historic Webber Theater as “non-historic” hurt Baker residents even more: Sure, the Webber had been a shell of its former self, operating as porn-cinema Kitty’s South until it shut it doors in 2007, but it’s an anchor in a part of Denver hungry for its own history. Fortunately, the current owners say they plan to save and even restore the building. Here’s hoping these new plans see the light of day and the Webber returns to the glory it once was, for the sake of Baker and Denver alike.
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4. Construction on Broadway
Yes, construction sucks for every neighborhood in Denver, but it sure seems like Baker gets more than its fair share (thank you again for your eternal blessings, Broadway and Lincoln). The street maintenance in the area is constant and loud — another annoyance for residents, especially those who live within a block of the main drags. Yes, everyone wants smooth, drive-friendly roads. But no one likes to be greeted with orange cones when all you want to do is make a left turn.
3. The Baker Boom
With real-estate values soaring across Denver, owners of homes in Baker have enjoyed quite the boost in property values, especially in the past few years. Before that, Baker home prices tended toward the relatively stagnant, even as those in neighborhoods like Highland kept going up, up, up. Realtors kept saying that Baker was getting ready to pop (any day now, just wait, you’ll see), and they kept saying that from the late '90s through 2011…when it finally started happening. Now, with home values having nearly doubled in the last five years, Baker is finally getting the respect it deserves…and all that goes with it. Call them growing pains: Old and established residents move out and sell to upwardly mobile younger folks; investors start paying attention to the area, either buying homes to flip or raze and rebuild; renters find their places priced out of the market; and life in general tends to change. Sure, it’s a good problem for owners to have, but that doesn’t keep it from being a problem — and if the market forecasts are any indication, it’s one that Baker residents are going to be dealing with for a while.
2. Bikes, Bikes, Bikes
Ongoing issues with bike lanes and the lack thereof have dominated local newsletters and conversations in recent years. Installing them, improving them, widening them, repainting them, even just plain honoring them — it’s all big in Baker. And that makes sense, given the district’s proximity to Denver’s many hearts — downtown, Auraria campus, the Speer corridor — and the ease with which you might get there with just a bit of two-wheeling. The “share the road” spirit is strong in Baker, and that’s not fading anytime soon.
1. The Name
Baker hasn’t actually been called Baker for very long. The area came to be called Baker only in the 1980s, when it was officially named “the Baker Historic District” by the City of Denver. Before that, it was just the area around Broadway, and had no one real name by which it was known. Broadway was certainly the heart of the area, and Broadway itself had gone through a number of names, including “Miracle Mile” — which is both sort of cool (miracles are always welcome) and also sort of underwhelming (don’t most American cities have a Miracle Mile?). In any case, the Baker Historic District was named for Baker Middle School, which had in turn been named for the University of Colorado’s third president, James Hutchins Baker, who never lived in the area at all. And then Baker Middle School was closed in 2006 and later became the Denver Center for International Studies, and so now the neighborhood is named after nothing really at all, which it sort of always was.