Weblog of Leland Rucker
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Category — Five Points Neighborhood/Denver

Five Points: Johnny Winter?

Winter: He don't play no rock and roll. (click to enlarge)

Yeah, that’s what it says: Johnny Winter . I saw this name on the train this morning and had to come back down and take a picture to make sure it was 2010 and not the early seventies, when you could have seen Winter play at Tulagi up on the Hill. The opening act back then would have been Redbone, not Redman.

Cervantes, as the marquee notes, is the room that was Casino Cabaret, once a top room for jazz and R&b bands. I’m taking the photo from in front of the Rossonian Hotel, another hot nightclub spot and once the only hotel in Denver that sold rooms to blacks, no matter how popular an entertainer you might be. Right now its primary occupants appear to be pigeons. About eight or ten were perched on the north facade behind me.

I have long lost track of Winter, but a little Google research shows that though he’s had some health issued, he continues to tour and perform. He turned 67 in February. Don’t expect “Rock and Roll Hootchie Coo.”

September 28, 2010   No Comments

Five Points: Prayer Box/Bike Rack

If you missed services, you can still get a word in -- or park your bicycle. (click to enlarge)

I’m not a religious man myself, but I found this combination drive-by bike rack/drive-up prayer box irresistible. It is part of the Kingdom of Glory Christian Center at the corner of 25th and Welton streets.

The double use applies to the center itself, which is located in a former True Value hardware store. In a nice irony, the former tenant’s sign still sits above that of the current one.

The church and prayer box are a short walk from the 25th Street station of the D light-rail line.

For its members, the Kingdom of Glory Christian Center is a true value. (click to enlarge)

August 31, 2010   No Comments

Five Points: A Human Scale

Looking southwest on Welton Street at 29th Street. Downtown Denver is less than a mile but a world away from Five Points. (click to enlarge)

One of the things I like about the Five Points District is its human scale. Quite simply: There are no tall buildings. Except for the four-story multi-use structure built recently on the east side of the Five Points intersection, no building is higher than two stories, which offers a sharp contrast to downtown Denver, whose skyscrapers can be observed from almost anywhere in the Five Points neighborhood by just looking southwest.

Walking down Welton from the Free Speech TV offices at 29th Street, I pass storefronts that are single story and completely unimposing and inviting. It’s the kind of ambience that planners try to emulate in suburban malls.

Along the west side of Welton near 28th St are homes that double as storefront businesses. (click to enlarge)

Adding to the human dimension of the commercial district is the fact that some of the businesses are attached to the homes originally built along Welton Street. I’m not sure if they were built that way or whether the storefronts take up what would have once been the front yards, but it gives the street the feel of residency as well as commercialism.

The tallest structures are at the Five Points intersection: the landmark Baxter Building, which houses the famous Rossonian Hotel, which housed jazz musicians before the Civil Rights Act, and the Fern Building, which is about the same height and has a long history as a ballroom, Prohibition tavern and the place where Sonny Liston trained for his fights against Cassius Clay in the 1960s.

Christ in the City Church is a good example of the human scale of buildings along Welton Street. The brick building on the right has been rehabilitated since this shot was taken. (click to enlarge)

It’s apparent that there have been attempts to revitalize the area recently, and Sen. Mark Udall gave a mod to a new redevelopment plan after a tour of the area in July, but Five Points remains a mish-mash of businesses that cater to the neighborhood amidst boarded-up storefronts and buildings in need of repair or rehabilitation.

There are several barber and beauty products shops, legal offices, shoe-shine parlor, men’s clothing store, a market, churches, a couple of live music venues, Wells Fargo and Bank One outlets, soul food restaurants and take-out tamale and burger spots.

The Rossonian Hotel is an elegant building at that is at the height limits of the Five Points district. (click to enlarge)

A couple are being or have recently been rehabbed. A marijuana dispensary recently opened discretely. The Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles License Bureau has an outlet in Five Points Plaza, part of one attempt to rejuvenate the area. Next door a Romanoff for Senate branch closed after he lost to Michael Bennet in the primary.

The 30th and Downing light rail line runs along Welton Street, with stops at 25th, 27th and 29th, all of which are places where people gather, especially in front of Five Points Plaza and the Welton Street Café, a Carribean/soul food restaurant that, though in a new building, epitomizes the tradition of the area.

August 20, 2010   No Comments

Five Points: Sonny Lawson Park

Scoreboard at Sonny Lawson Park. The vacant lot across the street is scheduled to be turned into high-end condos.

The offices where I work are in Denver’s Five Points district. Free Speech TV, where I have been happily employed the last year, the jazz radio station KUVO and TV station KBDI are located at 2900 Welton Street, just two blocks north of the conjunction of Welton Street, 26th Avenue, 27th Street and Washington Street, the five-way intersection that gives the area its name.

Architecturally and politically, Five Points is an important part of the history of Denver, one of its oldest neighborhoods and now again, as it has many times in the past, is in transition. I have been walking the maze of streets that give this area its unique feel (more about the maze some other time), both the commercial area in and around the Five Points intersection and the adjacent residential neighborhoods. and I have become both curious about and fascinated with the area.

I take the D-train light rail from 18th and California to the 29th and Welton stop, the last before Welton Street and the light-rail end at 30th and Downing St. Along the way, the train passes Sonny Lawson Park, at the intersection of Welton Street and Park Avenue West. It includes a lighted baseball field, and though I have never seen athletic contests there, I understand that during the summer, it is used every evening for everything from city softball leagues to sloshball. There is a shaded, landscaped area to the east (beyond the left field fence) with a basketball court and children’s play equipment that has been integrated with the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library.

There is a certain serenity in its simplicity. No matter what time I pass, the park is always in use as a popular location for people to hang out and meet. Transients can be seen in the mornings spread out on cardboard and blankets along the outfield fence beneath the trees, but as the day goes on, families and kids move in and pickup games form on the basketball court. No matter the temperature, and it has been hot this summer in the late afternoons, it is always cooler beneath the trees.

I found that the park, named after Denver pharmacist and political activist Sonny Lawson, is a stop along the Beat Experience Tour, mostly because Jack Kerouac wrote about a night he spent at the park while exploring Neil Cassady’s childhood neighborhood.

The park is near downtown Denver at the western edge of the Park Hill residential district.

“Down at 23rd and Welton a softball game was going on under floodlights which also illuminated the gas tank,” Kerouac wrote. “A great eager crowd roared at every play. The strange young heroes of all kinds, white, colored, Mexican, pure Indian, were on the field, performing with heart-breaking seriousness …  Near me sat an old Negro who apparently watched the games every night. Next to him was an old white bum, then a Mexican family, then some girls, some boys — all humanity, the lot. Oh, the sadness of the lights that night!”

That was written almost a half century ago,  and although the gas tank is gone, it describes Sonny Lawson Park even today and opens up another piece of the history of this area. Neal Cassady, upon whom Kerouac based Dean Moriarity, the protagonist of On the Road, grew up in Curtis Park, attended school and church in the neighborhood and played baseball on this very field. White kids like Kerouac were drawn to the underground black jazz scene in the many clubs around Five Points, just a few blocks east of Sonny Lawson Park. More on that relationship as we find out more about this historic area.

August 13, 2010   No Comments