Breeality Bites

Storied DIY Space Rhinoceropolis Lives — So Enjoy It While It Lasts

In the last half a decade, Denver has lost quite a few places where our counterculture once thrived. Paris on the Platte, Gabor's, Cafe Netherworld, Unit B, Old Curtis Street, even Smiley's Laundromat and so many more places I could name (and I list quite a few in a love letter to old Denver that I penned last year) are all gone. The truth is that all cities have cycles; it's natural for hangouts and places of business to come to an end. Generations grow up and out, and so do parts of the city. But with the pace at which Denver is currently changing, it's hard to not get caught up in what we're losing. 

When we love a place, it's hard to believe that place won't always be around for us when we need it. But that's a selfish and self-serving idea. Sometimes we stop needing these places and forget they exist — and when we stop being patrons of a business because our lives have moved on, those businesses die. Other times, factors like rising rents, ended leases, mismanagement and other situations out of our control take over, and the spots that once anchored our lost souls in a quieter, more strange and slightly seedier Denver disappear. 

Last week, Denver residents/lovers of that weird side of town (and mostly people who have lived here for more than three years) got a wake-up call when it was announced that the 3500 block of Brighton Boulevard had been sold, a fact shoved in our faces with an equally hard-to-swallow headline about the sale. My social media was buzzing about what was going to happen to the artist spaces/venues on the block — Rhinoceropolis, Glob, Club Scum and Guerrilla Garden are all located here, along with other functioning businesses.

Because I write a lot about Denver changing, several people tagged me in posts about the sale — and in the moment, I freaked out. I had fallen into the "of course" mentality affecting so many people I know — the idea that everything happening under the veil of "growth" in Denver is terrible, so "of course" a section of the city I have long championed as a hub of art and music was being dismantled by development. (A few months ago, I was so irritated by the way this "reimagined" version of Brighton Boulevard was being repackaged and sold, I created a fake tour of the area using the kind of gross buzzwords rampant in redevelopment propaganda these days.)

But what's wrong with this "of course" mentality is that so often, we don't know the whole story. I certainly didn't; I could only guess that some big developer was coming in to tear apart our precious string of surviving DIY venues. This is where I, like many others, was wrong about the whole situation. And instead of going to the source(s), I brought my own social-media hysteria levels to a new high. I began posting and rattling on about bad development, making others as upset as I was that the DIY-ness of Brighton Boulevard was supposedly going to be wiped off the map. And then I realized it was time to make a few calls and find out what was really happening.

"I want to emphasize that this is not a surprise; we've known about this," musician John Gross tells me over the phone about the fate of 3553 Brighton Boulevard, otherwise known as Rhinoceropolis, the property he leases. "I've known about this whole plan [since] before I ever signed a lease. There's nothing surprising about it; it's just that it's something that we've had this nebulous idea [about] — but now there's an actual finite time frame to it." Rhino is part of the parcel situated between 35th and 36th avenues and Delgany Street and Brighton Boulevard owned by Gross's landlord, Larry Burgess. Gross says Burgess had been open from the start about plans to develop the site with a partner company; he'd also promised to keep his lease-holders in the loop as plans progressed. There it was right there, straight from the mouth of a person directly affected by the sale: There was no hidden agenda, no secret sale, no nameless developer kicking out the artists and throwing up a monstrosity. That could be the end result — I don't know. But in the meantime, the tenants are being kept in the loop.

"Larry has been very supportive of us, as far as what we're doing there," says Gross of his landlord, who knows there are several DIY venues on his properties. "We did talk to him about what his expectations were for us [as tenants]. He said that we just needed to stay in contact. In my experience with Larry, he's always been straightforward with me. I told him I wanted to stay until the very end. I wanted to keep doing what we're doing as much as we can."

It looks like Rhinoceropolis and its sister venue, Glob, and neighboring house-show spot Club Scum are part of "phase two" of the block's development, which means they can continue without concern for the next two years. Gross says it may be longer, but it will depend on how construction goes; his lease on Rhinoceropolis runs until May 2016. The south part of the block could be developed much sooner, and the first phase of construction may swallow fellow art space Guerrilla Garden. But until that moment comes, Gross encourages folks to support neighbors like the Filling Station, Happy Leaf Kombucha, the Urban Cyclist, RiNo Vapes, Restaurant Equipment Denver and Guerrilla Garden by patronizing the businesses until they close their doors or move. 

It's true that the life of a DIY venue like Rhinoceropolis has never been typical. DIY spaces are transient by nature; they aren't supposed to last forever. Most of the time, they're lucky to last a few years, and the people who choose to live in, run or frequent these temporary establishments know this. But Rhino really has had us tricked; it recently stepped into a second decade of operation, which is almost unheard of for a true DIY venue. While it was foolish to think it could live forever, it was easy to believe it. Rhino and its companion venues still have plenty of concerts, dance parties, movie nights and other events lined up, and the best thing to do is not to talk about the spaces as if they were already gone, but instead to get out and celebrate them while they're still here.

 Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.
Contact: Bree Davies

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