Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Su Teatro's former home will anchor housing for female veterans

The former home of Su Teatro is about to start a second act. Make that third act -- the building at 4275 High Street was originally the Elyria Elementary School, then became the base for the theater company founded by Tony Garcia. But for the last few years the empty structure has been the subject of much discussion in the neighborhood, which is facing uncertainty over the future of the I-70 viaduct and the Stock Show. But now the future of the school is set: It will become housing for veterans.

Yesterday the non-profit Empowerment Program announced that it had received a second-round, $5.6 million tax-credit award through the Colorado Housing Finance Authority to fund the development of 36 new apartment units on the property to serve women veterans and other at-risk females participating in their service programs. Groundbreaking is scheduled for early November.

The existing school building will be renovated for program space; the Empowerment Program, which owns five other residential properties in Denver, has been providing services for women for 26 years. "We are excited to finally realize our dream of starting the Odyssey development, as the crucial need to house and assist our returning military servicewomen increases throughout the community" said Carol Lease, Empowerment executive director, in announcing the deal. "This site provides a safe and secure environment for the residents and allows us to re-purpose the beautiful school building for activity space." Su Teatro had bought the empty school for $142,000 in 1989, and put it on the market for $435,000 twenty years later, when the organization decided to build a new facility just north of Alameda on Santa Fe Drive. While developer Jim Mercado worked with Tony Garcia to come up with a plan for the school building, Su Teatro wound up in another spot altogether: With the city's help, three years ago it took over the Denver Civic Theater building in the heart of the Art District on Santa Fe, where it just marked its fortieth anniversary.

Here's Garcia's account on the Su Teatro website:

June 1972 was an eyeblink ago: a time that without perspective would not seem as significant, and the actions that we were engaged in would not seem as great.

In reality, it has been many miles, and moments that Su Teatro has traveled to reach our present state. This June, it will be 40 years since, as a 19 year old college student/former high school dropout, I walked into a rehearsal and became a member of the only club that I felt would have me.

Many people think that Su Teatro benefited from that encounter, but the truth is, it was I who was changed.

I had dreamed of being a writer: why I thought I could be a writer, I don't remember. What significant insight did I have to offer? Who would care to read what I had to write? I only knew about being a Chicano, and I didn't know too much about that. Su Teatro gave me a path to learn about myself.

Hundreds of actors have appeared in more than a thousand Su Teatro performances and all so that we could return to the place where we began, here in Denver's Westside. Many more people have attended performances, workshops and classes.

In this 40th year, as we look back with nostalgia and pride, we also look forward to the future.

Rather than reaching a plateau, we have been placed on a launching pad. Su Teatro now not only represents my dream, but the dreams and aspirations of a new generation of actors, writers, directors and audience members, who believe that their stories have value and substance and are important in the public discourse that the arts provide.

Su Teatro has been responsible for many entertaining evenings -- and was the setting for a Westword-sponsored immigration discussion in November 2010. Read more in "Border lines: Tom Tancredo and Gustavo Arellano, opponents on immigration and allies on legalization."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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