Colorado History

New Name for Stapleton Neighborhood Just Weeks Away

The name Stapleton is on its way out from this Denver neighborhood.
The name Stapleton is on its way out from this Denver neighborhood. Courtesy of Liz Stalnaker
The Stapleton neighborhood in northeast Denver, named after an airport that got its name from a mayor of Denver with ties to the Ku Klux Klan, is just weeks away from getting a new name.

"The underlying goal is that we produce a community environment that’s more welcoming and inclusive to everybody, and this is a gesture and signal to that intention," says Amanda Allshouse, president of Stapleton United Neighbors, an organization that now goes by SUN online.

SUN has been working through June and now into July to come up with a new name for Stapleton. The neighborhood is located on the former site of Stapleton International Airport, Denver's original municipal airfield, which in 1944 was named after Mayor Ben Stapleton, who'd first been elected in 1923 with the KKK's help.

For much of June, SUN took submissions for a new name for the community. Now, residents can voice their preferences for the 300-plus names submitted through an online poll live until July 5. And, next week, a newly formed eleven-person advisory committee, comprising neighborhood advocates and high school students, among others, will narrow down that list to somewhere between eight and sixteen names.

"Then we will jump into community voting as soon as physically possible after that and then, I guess, looking at the number that they give us, that’ll dictate whether we try to do two or three waves of voting," says Allshouse. The voting will take place online and will run from July 10 to August 1; the multiple rounds will ensure that the final choice receives a majority of votes rather than just a plurality.

SUN has broken down the full list of names into various categories, such as elected officials (Wellington Webb, Federico Pena), aviation-connected ("Harmony Field," "Crosswinds"), and directional: SoDoField, Upper East Side. Some refer to current, unofficial references for Stapleton: Hamlet, Gaypleton.

And many of the proposed names pay homage to historic black residents of Denver. Mosley, for example, refers to John Mosley, a Denver native who served in WWII as a Tuskegee airman and was Colorado State University's first black football player. Another suggestion would honor Justina Ford, the first licensed black medical doctor in Denver. And then there are those who want the neighborhood to become a memorial to Joseph H.P. Westbrook, another doctor in Denver who, as a light-skinned man who could pass as white, infiltrated the local KKK chapter.

Once a name is chosen through the voting process, SUN will present it to the Master Community Association of Stapleton, which has already dropped "Stapleton" from its title, for final approval. Both the community delegates to the association and its board of directors have said that they'll approve the name change suggested by SUN at the MCA's August 19 meeting. The master developer of the neighborhood, Brookfield Properties, has also noted that it's ready to sign off on whatever name is selected.

"I imagine the legal work would take just a few weeks," says Tom Downey, an MCA delegate, about the MCA legally changing the neighborhood's name in its guiding governing document. "It can be done before the end of September."

The administration of Mayor Michael Hancock has also made it clear that the City of Denver is ready to assist with changing signage and official neighborhood labeling as soon as the name is switched.

The coming name change for the Stapleton neighborhood is the culmination of a lengthy period of activism aimed at getting rid of honorifics for Mayor Stapleton. When Denver International Airport opened and Stapleton Airport closed in 1995, that opened up 4,700 acres of space for development, including residences and open space; the name of the airport simply transitioned over to the neighborhood. Construction began in 2001, and the first residents moved into Stapleton in 2004; today it's home to over 20,000 residents.

Activists have wanted the Stapleton moniker dropped from the area for decades, though. And over the past five years, activists associated with Black Lives Matter 5280 and the Rename St*pleton for All group have pushed hard for a name change.

Even so, the name had staying power.  A referendum of neighborhood property owners last year found overwhelming support to keep it.

But with the George Floyd protests shifting the historical narrative on racism in America, names with racist affiliations are being dumped by the wayside. On June 16, MCA delegates voted unanimously in support of a name change, clearing the way for the Stapleton neighborhood to become a thing of the past.

While only Stapleton residents can vote, the list of current contenders in the straw poll is worth a look; see it here.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.