Evan Almighty

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As newly built railroads made Denver a boomtown, its population swelled to more than 100,000, and high society migrated from downtown to Capitol Hill to escape the riffraff. There were many eager to take their place on Block 162. In 1871, streetcar rails were laid on 16th Street, making the thoroughfare a natural commercial corridor. A two-story structure eventually known as the El Paso Building was built on 16th and Welton, housing tailors and confectioners, a physician and a "medical electrician." Next door, a one-story building advertised Bauman's Millinery and the Alaska Fur Store. "All seem to want to get on Sixteenth above Larimer and below Glenarm," the Denver Daily Times wrote in 1902. "They hit the right spot.... That is the city promenade. There you can meet everybody you know and see everybody you don't know."

In 1903, traveling vaudeville showmen M. Meyerfield and Colonel Martin Beck built a new theater on Block 162 after a successful run in town. At a reported cost of $250,000, the theater included 2,000 seats, the most in Denver, and hundreds and hundreds of incandescent bulbs. One reporter called it "second to none of its kind in the world."

But not everyone was thrilled about the development. Work was halted when porter Alfred Parks and his family refused to leave the two-story frame house they were leasing at 1531 Welton — right in the middle of the construction zone. The contractor threatened to move the house whether the family was in it or not. "There is not anybody going to move my house and family unless they have my consent," Parks told a reporter.

Parks didn't get his way. His house was removed, and construction resumed. Progress could not be stopped.

Evan Makovsky's crinkly, bespectacled eyes and warm, mustachioed smile are more appropriate for his seven grandchildren than for making hotshot development deals.

He uses a wad of notes stuffed in his shirt pocket to keep track of his phone messages. And he refers to his work with the simple, unassuming pride of a merchant describing his wares. It's how his Russian-born father and grandfather must have talked about the furniture they sold in Pueblo.

"I think what I learned from my father and his business, and from my family, is how to deal with people," he says. "Real estate is so inanimate to most people, but it's not a cold brick to us. We deal with real estate where it is much more important to people's needs. I don't know if I even understand how to do it any other way."

He certainly didn't know any other way when he got into the business with his uncle, Motty Shames, shortly after graduating from the University of Denver's business school in 1969. It was a difficult time to get into real estate.

Denver's redevelopment agency, the Downtown Urban Renewal Authority, was in the midst of the Skyline Urban Renewal Project, a massive downtown facelift, and the marching orders were "Out with the old, in with the new." Building after building was razed in the 113-acre Skyline district in central downtown to make room for potential development. To the southwest, an entire community was being displaced for the Auraria Higher Education Center. The businesses that were being evicted from these areas weren't looking for Makovsky's real-estate deals. They were trying to stay alive.

"I met a lot of people who were scared to death about what was going to happen to them," Makovsky says. "All they knew was that their buildings were going to be torn down and they were going to have to find a new place to move to."

More qualified real-estate brokers had ignored the problem, but Makovsky, not knowing any better, lent a hand. "These people needed help, but they didn't know where to turn to get it," he says. I learned about various programs that the city and state had put in place. I helped them get answers, get new property, and helped them get financing."

These small businesses didn't forget the favor. When they flourished in new digs and needed bigger buildings, they called the Shames-Makovsky Realty Company. When the economy collapsed in the 1980s and the banks wouldn't lend these businesses money to buy more real estate, Makovsky, whose uncle had retired, got into the mortgage industry.

Later, Shames-Makovsky began buying and leasing real estate as a way for the firm's investors to earn long-term returns. Finally, Makovsky started building his own projects.

By that point, he knew so much about Denver real estate and had so many downtown connections that he was able to score major developments, like the deteriorating Colorado Business Bank building, at 821 17th Street, which he saved from further decay in 1999 by slowly acquiring most of the land leases under the property and spearheading its renovation. Instead of broadcasting his success to the newspapers, however, he just quietly leveraged his enhanced reputation and new connections into his next deal.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner