L'CHAIM (FALL) MAGAZINE
NESTLED in its urban corner in the shadows of downtown skyscrapers, Curtis Park is an old neighborhood whose Victorian homes and shady streets have seen much of the ebb and flow of Denver’s history.
When it was first developed, only a few years after Denver itself came into existence, Curtis Park was a fashionable upper-middle class neighborhood.
Many Jews came here in the early days, buying homes and erecting synagogues.
Still later, the area became a haven for Denver’s growing African American community, which left its own unique ethnic and cultural stamp on the neighborhood.
By the mid-20th century — like many aging inner city areas — Curtis Park had fallen considerably. Crime rates went up, property values went down and vacancy rates went up.
The area became home for people with low or fixed incomes, including many who were homeless. Buildings and homes grew neglected or were abandoned outright. The once prospering neighborhood had been reduced to a largely forgotten slum.
By the time the millennium rolled around, however, things started to change yet again.
Young, upwardly mobile types decided it was fun and funky to live in the inner city, close by the hustle and bustle and energy of downtown.
They began to live in once-lovely old homes in serious need of restoration, and to work in long disused commercial buildings that lacked modern conveniences but had character and atmosphere aplenty.
In their determined quest to “gentrify” old Curtis Park, these new residents drove the property values — and the rents — dramatically up. Many of the low income people who had lived there for decades suddenly found themselves priced out of their own neighborhood.
Some left for other parts of town.
Some found refuge in low income apartments, interspersed by city mandate amidst the high or middle income apartments and condos that began popping up once market values justified development.
Some remained homeless, finding whatever shelter they could within a dramatically changed environment.
This is basically where Curtis Park stands in 2013 — a neighborhood on the cusp of change, once an exclusive haunt of the have-nots, about to become a haven of the haves, but with many have-nots still around.
It’s not necessarily a comfortable reality for either party, and, on the surface at least, hardly a recipe for social harmony.
Enter a number of dedicated neighborhood activists with a different recipe for Curtis Park’s new reality — something called art.