Denver Deals Preserve El Chapultepec Walls, Jazz Legacy | Westword

If These Walls Could Talk, They'd Be Cheering an El Chapultepec Deal

"The demonstration of is what Denver is about as a city. Progress is going to occur, but we can't forget where we are and where we come from."
This old sign will be saved.
This old sign will be saved. Evan Semón Photography
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Don't call it a compromise. Call it a win-win, suggests John Deffenbaugh, director of Historic Denver, who started the street fight to save El Chapultepec three months ago, filing a non-owner application for historic designation of the building at 1962 Market Street that had housed the legendary jazz club before its current owner could push through development plans that included its demolition.

In response, that owner — Monfort Companies, led by executive vice president Kenneth Monfort, son of Rockies co-owner Charlie Monfort — called in the media last March, offering tours to show just how decrepit the property it had purchased in late 2022 had become, thanks largely to unpermitted renovations done by Valentes Corleons, its last tenant. It couldn't be saved, Monfort suggested, instead offering a proposal that would turn that corner of 20th and Market streets into an outdoor patio.

But that was then. On June 18, Monfort and Deffenbaugh, along with former Denver City Council member Elbra Wedgeworth, who'd signed on to the landmark application, shared more media interviews — and the news that after working together through many meetings over the past three months, they'd come up with a new concept. "We got in a room, planned next steps, launched a fact-finding mission," says Monfort. "We took time to seriously explore designs."

And they came up with a serious winner that preserves both the hypotenuse shape and two walls of El Chapultepec, with a new glass building on Market that flows into a project that includes the renovated historic building on 20th that currently houses the Giggling Grizzly and emphasizes its 130-year-old brick exterior. An enclosed rooftop deck will replace the indeed decrepit second floor of the former jazz club, and above that will be another outdoor level set back and above both buildings...the perfect spot for watching all the action in both LoDo and the Ballpark neighborhood.
click to enlarge
Circle West Architects

The club's neon sign on Market will be saved, as will the Eat sign on 20th. And the red door at the corner will remain, though it will be locked, with a plaque that honors all the talents who once walked through that door. Inside, there could be additional signage and photos of El Chapultepec's past, and perhaps even live music, Monfort said.

The new design was created by Circle West Architects in consultation with other historic experts, and after all the parties agreed — and Monfort signed on for costs that could add over a million dollars to the original proposal — Historic Denver pulled its application for landmark designation, and Monfort withdrew that initial proposal. Instead, on June 18 he filed the new plan with the Lower Downtown Design Review Commission, which will consider it next week. After that, Monfort estimates, the final approval and design process could take eight months and construction another ten.

But with this deal, no one envisions any roadblocks.

"I commend both parties. The demonstration of is what Denver is about as a city," Wedgeworth said. "Progress is going to occur, but we can't forget where we are and where we come from."

And where we're going, in what really could be called a win-win-win. This fall, El Chapultepec will be inducted into Colorado Music Hall of Fame, as will its founder, the late Jerry Krantz. And at the same time that parts of the physical structure that housed El Chapultepec will be saved, its heritage is being preserved a mile away at Dazzle.

That relocated jazz club at 1080 14th Street is home to the El Chapultepec Piano Lounge, which on weekends offers live jazz for free — just as Krantz did at El Chapultepec. The space is decorated with the El Chapultepec Legacy Collection, an installation of paintings by Shay Guerrero that honor the Denver jazz scene's Hispanic and Chicano heritage; Krantz's daughters plan to add memorabilia through the El Chapultepec Legacy Project. And on July 21, Dazzle will host "Ode to the Early Days," a musical celebration of the new partnership between that project and Colorado Music Hall of Fame. (The Hall's induction ceremony for the jazz class is October 29.)
click to enlarge crowd in front of old building
El Chapultec on opening day of the Colorado Rockies, pre-pandemic.
Evan Semón Photography

El Chapultepec opened the day that Prohibition ended in 1933 as a restaurant and bar, but after Krantz took it over in 1958 from his father-in-law, he turned it into a jazz spot. After he passed in 2012, the Shames Makovsky real estate company bought the building, and Krantz's daughters, Angela Guerrero and Anna Diaz, took over the club. But in December 2020, they closed its doors for good. “I want to make sure we're not going to be too quick to point the finger at COVID and our shutdowns for being the reason for this closure,” Diaz said at the time. “Undoubtedly, that makes an impact in our decision. But there are so many things that led to this choice."

Among those things, Rockies fans disrupting shows after games, safety concerns from nearby tent cities, and LoDo drunks pouring out of Market Street bars. "It's just really taking a toll on us," she added. "And it's just that Denver's different than it used to be, and 20th and Market is different than it used to be.” 

Three and a half years later, downtown is different again. While Krantz's daughters took the music to Dazzle, those tent cities are gone, Corleons left the building and closed other nuisance clubs, and Monfort Companies bought 1962 Market from Shames Makovsky, adding it to the properties it already owns and manages on that block. "We're the ones down here every day," Monfort said, noting that improvements in safety and health have seen "a lot of momentum over the last few years."

Now the move is to change perception, and this new project — as well as the spirit of collaboration it exemplifies — will help push the vision of a "culturally vibrant downtown," concluded Deffenbaugh. "It will continue to tell the story and honor the past."

The song remains the same.
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