Colorado History

Denver Development & Possible Impact of Emily Griffith School Landmark Vote

The Denver City Council is about to get a crash course on one of Denver's most enlightened citizens: Emily Griffith. The legendary educator got her start in Denver as a substitute teacher, became a deputy superintendent of schools for Colorado in 1904, and founded the Opportunity School a century ago. Its groundbreaking goal was to give an education to anyone in the city — no matter where they were from, no matter their age, no matter their income.

The free school started out in 1916 in an abandoned Denver Public Schools building, but a decade later the Opportunity School moved into a brand-spanking new DPS facility at 1250 Welton Street, a structure with the word "Opportunity" over the entryway.

Today that building — and others added along the block as the Emily Griffith complex grew, and grew — is empty. The school, which was renamed after Emily Griffith retired in 1934, has moved into separate complexes: The Emily Griffith Technical College and Emily Griffith High School are based at 1860 Lincoln Street; many of the more technical classes are offered at a new facility on Osage Street. None use the word "Opportunity." 

But tonight, Denver City Council has an opportunity to remember Griffith permanently, in the process offering people in Denver an ongoing education in this city's history.  

Last month, after more than three years of discussion on what to do with the original Emily Griffith complex, Denver Public Schools and Historic Denver filed to have much of the block declared a historic landmark; any developer who buys the site — a prime piece of downtown property — would have to preserve the circa 1926 building, and create a design that works with much of the rest of the complex.

But first, city council has to approve the landmark designation, which has already gotten the okay from the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission.  A public hearing on the proposal is set for tonight at the Denver City Council meeting that starts at 5:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers in the Denver City & County Building; to sign up to speak, get there early.

Read more about Emily Griffith and the building where she gave generations of Denver residents new and old an education, on the Historic Denver website.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun