Art News

Chicano/a/x Community Murals of Colorado Named to National Endangered Historic Places List

When planning the May 4 announcement that the National Trust for Historic Preservation had added the Chicano/a/x Community Murals of Colorado to its 2022 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, organizers didn't realize that the place they chose for the ceremony was itself endangered. The May 4 reveal was originally scheduled for outside the La Alma Recreation Center at 1325 West 11th Avenue, where Emanuel Martinez painted his iconic "La Alma" mural back in 1978 — but the location was changed after both the rec center and the park were closed following a murder there a week before.

On April 27, 63-year-old Gary Arellano was shot when he attempted to break up a fight between two young women in the park. The next day, the park and the popular rec center were closed "until further notice," according to the city. But Arellano's family wanted to change that, and has started a "Save La Alma Park in Honor of Gary Arellano" petition on change.org, asking that the park be reopened.

"This is the last thing Gary would want to happen especially as a result of his death," the petition reads. "La Alma Park and Recreation Center is a place he called home for over 40 years. We are asking the community to save our park and actively protect the families that frequent the facility. Without the availability of the recreation center and park programs, many of our youth may not have this as an option, therefore, creating a possible pathway to illegal activity. We need to save this center and park, to save families. We need to step up as a community and reclaim this area and make it safe.

"Gary Arellano gave his life to stop violence, please don't let this tragedy continue and his life lost in vain."

Whether or not the petition influenced the city's schedule, both the La Alma park and rec center reopened on May 5 — just in time for Cinco de Mayo. The pool will not reopen this summer, however; it's been closed since the pandemic began, and is still being repaired.

Not only is La Alma Lincoln Park one of Denver's oldest residential areas, but it was also the heart of the Chicano movement in the ’60s and ’70s. In August 2011, Denver City Council voted to make La Alma Lincoln Park Denver's second historic cultural district (Welton Street was the first). And last month, the La Alma Lincoln Park Historic Cultural District received the State Historic Preservation Officer Award from History Colorado, recognizing the community's five-year process to make the area a cultural district. Neighborhood advocates Felix Herzog and Cathy Prieto, along with Historic Denver, got a shout-out at the ceremony.

Although the La Alma Lincoln Park area is home to some of the works cited in the Endangered Places award, the roster includes as many as forty historic Chicano/a/x community murals across the state, including others in Greeley, Pueblo and San Luis.

Since 1988, the National Trust has used its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places to raise awareness about the threats facing some of the nation's most important sites. A Denver location has made the roster before: Civic Center Park was selected for the 2007 Most Endangered Places List after deferred maintenance and a proposed radical redesign would have destroyed much of the historic fabric of the area, created during the City Beautiful movement of a century earlier. Instead, after a $9 million rehabilitation project with funding from the Better Denver Bond Program and the efforts of the Civic Center Conservancy, Civic Center is not only listed as a SAVED! site by the National Trust, but elevated to the level of National Historic Landmark — the only one in Denver. And after over two years of closures, Civic Center Park will be open for this weekend's Cinco de Mayo festival.

With La Alma closed, the Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project announcement was moved to 2895 West Eighth Avenue, where muralists have been continuing the tradition.

“The Chicano/a/x community believes that erasure of these murals is more than a loss of artwork; it is an erasure of cultural identity and a signal that Chicano/a/x heritage ‘does not matter.’ In many instances, the murals were created by the community, for the community — literally illustrating the significance of these neighborhoods,” says Lucha Martinez de Luna, the director of CMCP (and muralist Emanuel Martinez's daughter). “The murals represent the memory of a people. They say 'I am here,' and validate voices who are facing ever fewer cultural support systems.”

This story has been updated to reflect the reopening of La Alma Park and the rec center.