Up the Creek

Ben Kelley sits back on his front porch and looks out across the street at the row of new townhomes, the field of weeds, the boarded-up crack den, the ad for luxury duplexes, and fumbles for the words to describe his neighborhood.

He adjusts his baseball cap, which he wears backward. He squeezes the TV remote, which he brought from the living room. He scratches his bare chest, which is beefy after years of pumping iron. And he smiles.

"The ridiculous," he says at last, "has become the sublime."
Ben and his wife, Vicki, live in a green cinderblock home at Monroe Street and Alameda Avenue, at the southern edge of the Cherry Creek neighborhood. They've been there for three years, renting for $900 a month, but already their bungalow has become an anomaly: It's one of the last original houses on the block. Practically all of the others have been bought by developers, demolished and replaced by earth-tone synthetic-stucco duplexes with two-car garages and $400,000 price tags.

"This is the last outpost of Cherry Creek," Ben says, surveying his little patch of front yard. "You can't find much more contrast than this. This is truly a mishmash of old and new."

It's a Sunday morning, and Ben and Vicki putter around in shorts and bare feet, contemplating brunch. She pads between the porch and the living room, shushing their three woofing dogs, and he works up a four-alarm rant about the demise of Cherry Creek as he knew it.

"Everything is so screwed up, it's hilarious," he says. "There's nothing to do now but laugh."

Ben is a Denver native. He grew up two miles from Monroe Street in the Country Club neighborhood. Vicki is a native, too, although she grew up in Aurora. Between out-of-state jobs and time away at college, they returned to Denver to see their hometown grow, prosper, settle down, then grow again. Change comes in cycles--they understand that--but the current "great land grab" is something they've never seen.

"In the Eighties, people rushed in, bought mansions in Cherry Creek and filled them with art and antiques. Then the economy would rumble, they'd get divorced, they'd move out, and things would quiet down," Ben recalls. "But this is far worse. This is whatever people can afford. This is whatever they want to do. In the Nineties, anything goes."

Ben got his first taste of the building frenzy about six years ago, when he graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder, returned to Denver, began his career as an impressionist painter and rented a house on Clayton Street and Sixth Avenue. The bungalow was modest and somewhat run-down, but Ben imagined himself buying it one day and raising a family there. He never got the chance.

On a lark, one of his neighbors decided to sell her home, an old grocery store that she had spent loads of time and money renovating. A realtor friend offered her a proposition: Would she sell the home if he could get $250,000 for it? The neighbor thought her friend was crazy, but she agreed to give it a try for a month.

It sold within a day.
"After that, it was a chain reaction," Ben says. "Older residents knew they could get top dollar for their homes, so they started selling. Then the developers came in, leveled the houses and started again."

A month after his neighbor sold her house, Ben received a form letter in the mail. He had been evicted. Despite an impeccable record as a tenant, he was given thirty days to leave. A developer had bought the bungalow sight unseen. And it wasn't even for sale.

"It was spooky," Ben says. "Just like that, I was out."
On his last day on Clayton Street, as he packed his final box, Ben met the developer, who looked all of eighteen years old. The developer's partner had bought the house next door, and they thought it would be fun to renovate them both, play the market and sell at a huge profit. Which they did. The developer bought Ben's rental for $175,000--and a year later sold it for $350,000.

"When Cherry Creek started to change, they called it the 'concrete cancer,'" Ben recalls. "At first I thought that was silly. But now, good God almighty, it's true. And if this is a cancer, then we're in the middle of the corpse. There's no remission here. The body is dead."

Ben moved to Monroe and Alameda, figuring he was far enough from the epicenter of the development boom. He figured wrong. As soon as he settled into the green cinderblock bungalow, neighboring houses began to fall.

"Whole blocks were taken down," he recalls. "I jumped from the frying pan into the fire."

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Harrison Fletcher

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