Dixie Darr

Down Among Them

In Denver, Home on May 3, 2017 at 6:24 am

My block on Alcott Street

I went to brunch in my old neighborhood with a couple of friends, and it made me a little nostalgic.

When I moved to Highland neighborhood in 1978, a coworker who lived in North Denver advised me to stay north of 38th and west of Federal. Of course, I did neither of those things. I moved to the heart of the “bad” neighborhood. Friends didn’t feel safe visiting me. One who gave me a ride home one night said, looking around, “you really live down among them, don’t you?” A pretty racist thing for a smart, educated man to say, and I never looked at him the same after that.

About half of my neighbors were Chicano.

It had always been an immigrant neighborhood, just above the Platte River and downtown Denver, housing first Italians and then Irish before the Chicanos and Mexican immigrants moved in. Churches in the area reflected the residents’ ethnicity: Mount Carmel, Saint Patrick, and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Houses dated from every decade since Denver was founded in 1858, and it was rare to see two houses in a row that looked alike. We had tiny Italian markets, some of Denver’s best restaurants, businesses, government offices, community gardens, galleries, a community center, and more than our fair share of bars and liquor stores. I delighted in walking all over because there was always something interesting to see. I loved it.

Then in 1995, two things happened that changed Highland forever. Denver Public Schools ended court-ordered busing and Coors Field opened an easy walk away across the 20th Street viaduct. Young white families started to move in, and seemingly overnight we became the “it” neighborhood.

New owners gutted little old houses, expanding and modernizing them to suit their suburban sensibilities. Then developers started to tear down houses and replace them with big boxy glass townhouses. Bars, liquor stores, even a gas station and a mortuary metamorphosed into chic restaurants.

Because I had always liked the mix of housing stock, I never lamented the addition of contemporary houses. “You mean you like them?” people would ask. While others seemed to think the neighborhood should be preserved as a kind of living Victorian museum, to me the new construction just increased the variety that I adored.

Those friends who were afraid to visit me in 1978 now said, “I wish I could afford a house in Highland.”

Did you expect this to happen?” one friend asked.

Yes, I did. I just didn’t expect it to become quite so high-end. I always loved Highland and never did understand why others looked down their noses at it. I love it still, but it is no longer my neighborhood. Its shabby quirkiness seeped into my soul decades ago, curled up and made a permanent nest there.

Although I’ll never again be a part of Highland, it will always be a part of me.

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