Arts & Entertainment

Curtis Park tour is stroll into history

Oldest residential area in Denver dates to 1870s

Tom Torgove
The parlor of the West Residence at 2826 Curtis St. will be open during the Sept. 13 and 14 historic home tour.
Tom Torgove
The Queen Anne style Hayden-Pryor Residence at 2418 Champa is included in the Sept. 13 and 14 tour.
Tom Torgove
The Italianate West Residence at 2826 Curtis St. in the Curtis Park historic neighborhood is included in the Sept. 13 and 14 tour.
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Located just seven blocks from Denver's 16th Street Mall, the historic Curtis Park neighborhood is Denver's oldest. A Home and Community Tour on Sept. 13-14 will offer visits to 15 of the more than 500 historically significant Curtis Park homes protected by Denver Landmark Preservation status and serve as a fundraiser for Curtis Park Neighbors Inc.

When the railroad arrived in 1870, Denver's population boomed and population increased 700 percent by 1880 — to 35,000. In 1871, the first horse-drawn streetcar system started at Seventh and Larimer streets, turned on Champa Street at 16th Street and went out Champa as far as 27th Street, then undeveloped. Soon there was a mix of mansions and more modest middle-class homes in a variety of architectural styles, including Queen Anne, Italianate and Second Empire.

Residents included department store owner John Jay Joslin and Mayor Wolfe Londoner as well as clerks, bankers, teachers and blacksmiths.

In subsequent years, the neighborhood became one of the city's poorest, with most large homes carved up into small units and neglected until the area was rediscovered in the 1970s. This neighborhood now contains eight landmark districts and has many residences on the National Register of Historic Places.

Among the landmarked homes is the Italianate cottage at 2826 Curtis St., known as the West Residence — probably designed by Orlando Scobey, listed as residing there in 1883-84. It shares another part of Denver's history in that it housed two successive Japanese-American owners in the period after Pearl Harbor in 1941. Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr had expressed sympathy for these families displaced and ordered to relocation camps. Some moved to Denver hoping to be welcomed by local residents — which was not widely the case, at a time of widely spoken anti-Japanese rhetoric. Five Points was a home for others not welcome elsewhere in Denver. (The present owner has designed the garden except for a large blue spruce.)

Also open for the tour is the Hayden-Pryor residence at 2418 Champa St., an example of Queen Anne style, dated 1886. It is said to parallel Curtis Park history. It was built by Marks Amter, who borrowed $6,000 to build it and lost it to the bank in 1893, the year of the silver crash and ensuing depression, which affected the state. It was carved into nine units with only three bathrooms to serve many residents — perhaps as many as 27.

It was also included in 1956 B-8 (business) zoning by the Denver City Council, when 88 neighboring homes were torn down. This one survived and is now protected by historic designation.

Other residences will be open and visitors can get a sense of the area's colorful history. Advance tickets are available through Historic Denver, historicdenver.org, and at the Matthews-Gotthelf Mansion, 2601 Champa St., on Sept. 13 and 14.

If you go:

The 2014 Historic Curtis Park Home and Community Tour is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 13 and 14. Tickets cost $15/$12 Historic Denver members, and are available at historicdenver.org and on tour days at tour headquarters: the Matthews-Gotthelf Mansion, 2601 Champa St. (Information provided by resident/tour chairs Gerald Horner and Linda Dowlen.)

Free Curtis Park lectures:

● Sept. 13, 11 a.m., RedLine Gallery, 2350 Arapahoe St.: Tom Noel, “Dr. Colorado,” will give a slide presentation: “Curtis Park: Denver's Pioneer Streetcar Suburb.”

● Sept. 14, 11 a.m. RedLine Gallery, 2350 Arapahoe St.: Phil Goodstein, author and historian, will present a talk on the Jewish history of Curtis Park and will have his new book available: Curtis Park, Five Points and Beyond — The Heart of East Denver.”