Our Neighborhood History
Current Story of the East Colfax Neighborhood
Not so long ago, as recently as 160 years, the only inhabitants of the area we now know as the East Colfax neighborhood were native peoples, specifically the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe tribes. East Colfax sits on their traditional territories, which they were forced to leave by settlers. What happened to these populations? What did their displacement look like, how did it work, and how did it feel to them? We may never know, but we can continue to ask. (The above image, from the Denver Historical Society and taken in 1874, is an area near Denver that may well be East Colfax.) In recognition of this difficult time in our past, the East Colfax Neighborhood Association maintains a reparations fund for native peoples. We collect donations throughout the year and send any amounts to tribal organizations. (Click here to donate.)
In 1858, settlers found gold roughly 3 miles south of present day downtown Denver. Within 2 years, 50,000 fortune seekers flooded into the area, creating the City of Denver. Many of these settlers arrived via the Smoky Hill Trail and a branch of the Overland Trail, bringing the gold seekers arriving by horse and wagon on what today is East Colfax Avenue. Over time, farms and houses appeared along the trail, which soon became known as the Kansas City Road, because it connected early Denver to the nearest big city in the east, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
By 1900 there were 88 homes in Montclair. The town also boasted a zoo, college, golf course, art gallery, and private and public schools. St. Luke's Episcopal Church was built in 1890 and the Stanley School in 1891. What is now Lowry Field was owned by the Episcopal Church and included the Jarvis Hall Military School. Students at the military school marched along a road that ran northwesterly from the school to St. Luke's Church on 13th Avenue. The road can still be seen today on the short section of Richtofen Place between Quince and Roslyn streets.
After 14 years as a suburb, Montclair was annexed to Denver on December 1, 1902. This annexation included the area east of Monaco Parkway and north of 6th Avenue Parkway, eastward to Yosemite Street and northward to 26th Avenue. Denver's neighborhoods of Montclair, East Colfax, and Lowry Field became part of Denver through this annexation over 110 years ago.
A East Colfax Avenue streetcar line once extended east from downtown through the East Montclair Neighborhood to the town of Fletcher (Aurora today). One of these restored streetcars can be found at the Aurora History Museum after it was discovered in the early 21st Century in a remote Aurora barn. In later years the streetcar line ended at the Poplar Street turn-a round, and a bus continued east on Colfax to Fitsimmons Army Hospital.
Development came slowly, especially in areas north or South of East Colfax Avenue. As late as the 1930’s, it was still possible to look to the east and see Fitzsimmons Army Hospital. Neighborhood boys hunted pheasant and rabbits in open field in the area east of Wabash Street.
In 1922 the "Greeters of America," a national organization of hotel employees, established a home in the neighborhood for its members who were indigent because of sickness or other misfortune. Located on five acres, the home was surrounded by orchards and gardens, and enlivened by chickens tended to by the patients. The Greeters of America Home was dissolved in the 1950s and converted into two private residences. The home was established as a Historical Landmark in 1990.
The Ex-Patients Tubercular Home opened in 1930 at 8000 East Montview. The home’s cow barn was located at East 19th Avenue and Trenton Street. The milk cows were sold after there were problems with the cows getting loose and wandering into neighboring yards and flower gardens of nearby newly built homes. The Ex-Patients Tubercular Home closed in 1966.
As the decades passed, technology and world events brought growth and change to the area. To the north, the Denver Municipal Airport was opened on October 17, 1929 to accommodate air travel to and from Denver. Until the 1940's, Ulster Street led directly to the terminal. In 1944 the airport became Stapleton Airfield after an expansion in honor of Benjamin F. Stapleton the mayor of Denver from 1923 to 1947.
In 1937, Lowry Air Force Base was established to the south. Although there was nearly constant sound of aircraft landing and taking off on two sides, residential development came to the neighborhood to house workers from these two nearby air fields. Construction of single-family homes flourished after World War II and continued into the 1950’s. Paved streets and houses soon in filled around older houses and rural farm buildings.
Dating back to the early 1930’s, East Colfax between Ulster and Uinta functioned as a town center. For several decades there was a drug store, beauty shop, barber shop, hardware store, dry goods store and several grocery markets. The Davis Dry Goods Store closed in 1956 after 20 years in business and the building was torn down to make way for a new Italian restaurant known as Paisan’s.
A feed store was built and opened at 8001 East Colfax Avenue by Howard Kurtz in 1926 as a small grocery & market. In 1934 it was converted into a tavern by an enterprising woman named Rose Baker. There is very little known about this mystery woman, or about the other owners who came & went over the next few years but according to old U.S. Telephone Directories and Denver City Directories, the bar was called Kolman's Tavern from '35 to '37 under the reins of Lou Kolman, then briefly Roy's Tavern from '37 to '38.
The real story begins when two women, Louella Kaiser & Eulalia Verdeckberg, purchased the bar in late '38... from an apparently rather skittish Roy Mayfield, who seems to have high-tailed it away from bar ownership after less than a year, though his actual story is lost to history, as is much of the Hangar's. Enter Luella Kaiser, an operator at the Metropolitan Beauty Salon (2902 York Street) & wife of a local cop named Harry, and partner Eulalia Verdeckberg, a saleslady at Denver Dry Goods Company downtown (16th & California) & wife of a local Engine Company 7 fireman, uncannily also named Harry. These two early female entrepreneurs dubbed their new enterprise 'The Hangar' that year, the same year nearby Lowry Air Force Base opened, and legend has it that a shuttle service for base employees, pilots & military personnel was initiated shortly thereafter. Luella & Eulalia ran the Hangar for several years & it subsequently changed hands at least half a dozen times during the decades that followed.
At the end of World War II with the return of many serviceman and woman new houses were constructed within the neighborhood, a large majority of the current homes were built between 1949 to 1954. In 1955 the Lowry Air Force Base would house the first U.S. Air Force Academy and eventually the Titan I ICBM launch complex.
In the early 1960’s in order to house construction workers from the Titan missile project at Lowry Air Force Base, apartment buildings were constructed on Yosemite Street south of Colfax. On August 4th, 1961 construction started on nine missile silos at three launch complexes in Lowry and one year later would be fully operational. Apartment construction continued at other locations into the 1970’s, in part as a response to a housing market for military and commercial airline employees.
Over the years, businesses prospered along East Colfax Avenue. As Denver’s primary link to the east until Interstate I-70 was completed in 1965, the avenue was lined with restaurants, motels and motor lodges, gift shops, service stations and garages to serve tourists coming to the Rocky Mountain region.
In 1989 Denver and Adams County voters approved the plan to build a new airport northeast of Denver. On February 25, 1995, George Hosford, Air Traffic Controller, cleared the last plane (Continental Flight 34, to London’s Gatwick Airport) to depart from Stapleton International Airport. This would mark the end of Stapleton; Denver International Airport would officially open the next morning.
On April 27, 1994 the Lowry Air Force Base was closed as part of a national downsizing of the U.S. armed forces. Much of the housing and businesses in the East Montclair/East Colfax neighborhoods were a result of the close proximity of both the Stapleton International Airport and Lowry Air Force Base. The closing of both facilities had an enormous impact on the old motels, motor lodges and businesses along East Colfax Avenue taking a large amount of residents out of the area, and would lead to a decline along the corridor. The closing of the Lowry Air Force base resulted in the loss of 7,000 local area jobs and over $295 million dollars in annual spending in the area.
Eventually in 2001 construction would begin on the Stapleton Community, a housing development to the north of the East Colfax neighborhood which would start to revitalize the area and home values and business prospects along East Colfax Avenue. By 2009 the former Lowry Air Force Base would be developed as part of the Lowry Redevelopment Authority’s plan into a housing community with over 25,000 residents.
The East Montclair/East Colfax neighborhood looks forward to growth and development in the future along the East Colfax Avenue corridor and at the same time to connect to its past history. A number of long-time East Colfax Avenue businesses continue to provide convenient shopping, services and employment for residents. Among the neighborhoods landmark businesses are:
Hangar Bar – 77 years, West Auto Body - 67 years, Dairy Queen – 65 years, Montclair Animal Clinic – 39 years, State-Wide Lock & Safe – 33 Years, and Trailer World – 50 years.
The East Colfax neighborhood story is one of growth, change and development reaching back to the first gold seekers and continuing with today’s residents and businesses. Our history is important in order to understand our community’s strengths and growing pains today, and to see clearly our way into the future.