The Rossonian Hotel turns 100 this year, and so far, there hasn't been much to celebrate. This former hotel in the very heart of Five Points, at the intersection of five streets in Denver's historic black neighborhood, was once filled with the sounds of the country's greatest jazz talent. But the last fifty years have been a slow slide into dashed dreams.
Here's how Jack Kerouac commemorated the Rossonian in On the Road:
At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night.
Over the years, we've written many stories about plans to develop the building at 2642 Welton Street, which started out as the Baxter Hotel in 1912, then turned into the Rossonian. In 1994, Arthur Hodges reported on how the city had sunk more than $2 million into the property, with little to show for it. By 2001, when Todd Witcher revisited the Rossonian, the building was about to lose its one big tenant, the Denver Housing Authority, which the city had moved in to bolster the bottom line. But at the time, Denver had big plans to fill the place with new businesses.
Ten years later, the Rossonian is still empty. In 2010, the developers -- now headed by Carl Bourgeois -- were talking about replacing all the systems in anticipation of a big birthday celebration in 2012, when they hoped to have a major outpost of a Washington, D.C., restaurant on the first floor and throw a celebratory party.
There's no party planned yet, but the city has already wrapped up two presents for the Rossonian. One, a controversial redevelopment proposal for the Welton Street corridor, was discussed at a very long Denver City Council meeting last night, where residents expressed their concerns that the city might use eminent domain to take over their properties -- properties that they had resurrected with no help from Denver.
The second gift was delivered more quietly. Late last month, the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses adopted a new rule that would allow restaurants to apply for liquor licenses within 500 feet of a school. Ironically, one of the few recent successes in Five Points has been the Tubman Hilliard Global Academy, a school that opened at 2741 Welton in 2008. That was good news for the neighborhood, but bad news for entrepreneurs who wanted to put restaurants back into some of the area's historic jazz joints but were rebuffed because they were now within 500 feet of a school.
That was the problem when the American Legion tried to move into B.J.'s Port, and it's also the reason for unusual arrangements at Coffee at the Point, a neighborhood gathering place that anchors The Point, the major development to come into Five Points in the last decade; it's a collaboration between the Five Points Business Association and Hope Communities, a non-profit developer of affordable housing.
Since the new rule was adopted, no applications have come for liquor licenses within 500 feet of schools -- anywhere in the city.
But concerns over the city's "blight study" of the Welton Street corridor continue to pour in. Five Points may not be filled with developments, but it is still full of history -- and that alone is reason to celebrate, and protect, this neighborhood. At least now we can do it with glasses full.
See you at the Rossonian.
The Rossonian wasn't the only spot in town frequented by Jack Kerouac. Urban artists recently marked a route highlighted in our photo tour, "Jack Kerouac was here."
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