History of Colfax Avenue

Schuyler Colfax
When Denver was founded in 1850, scores of miners came looking for the motherlode. Colfax Avenue was the major artery linking them to the riches of the Rockies. Originally called "Golden Road", as well as Grand Avenue, Colfax Avenue later had its name changed in honor of Schuyler Colfax, a powerful Indiana congressman, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Vice President of the United States under Ulysses S. Grant.
 In his 1878 autobiography, Cursed Rickets, Schuyler envisioned the street much like it is today:

"And that thoroughfare, born beneath the mountainous mountains of rocky peaks so high, seeing as it shall victual to prospectors, explorers, and men of chance, and whereas said men, in their sparse moments of recess and requiescence, require relief of an immediate and carnal conformation, let Colfax Way be a den of avarice, a cauldron of covetousness, a peccadillo wharf in a sea-storm of morality. Let not a man walk Colfax Way and wonder, 'Where shall I deposit my virility this eve, where may I encounter mine intoxicant?' for he shall find all he seeks on Colfax. Curse these vexatious rickets!"

Colfax Avenue extends a total length of 26.5 miles from the plains to the mountains through the cities of Aurora, Denver, Lakewood and Golden, Colorado. While Colfax Avenue is commonly considered to only run through the Denver metro area, the road extends much farther. Colfax Avenue is a part of U.S. Route 40, the highway which, during its heyday, ran 3,157 miles from Atlantic City to San Francisco, traversing the midsection of the United States.

Route 40 served America well, carrying more automobile traffic than any other transcontinental highway. Back then, if you needed to go from coast to coast, there simply wasn't a better choice. As U.S. 40, Colfax Avenue bends east of Aurora and follows I-70, U.S. 36 picks up the Colfax name as a virtually seamless route to Watkins, Bennett and Strasburg. Farther east in Byers, some residents continue to use East Colfax in their addresses, though the name is rarely, if ever, used beyond the town. This makes Colfax Avenue the longest continuous commercial street in the United States. Colfax is said to be the "Gateway to the Rockies" as it takes you from the plains to the mountains.

At first, most of the neighborhoods lining central Colfax Avenue were filled with mansions of the wealthy and elite of Denver. After the Silver Panic of 1893, the cost and demand for lavish houses decreased substantially. After a massive relocation to Denver's suburbs began, many of the large homes built along Colfax were transformed into group homes or apartments. Others were converted to commercial use and still hide behind deceptively modest store fronts.

The car culture of the 1950's led to an increase in travel throughout the nation. Over the course of 130 years, Colfax evolved from a dusty, dirt road to a bustling trolley route and now an urban boulevard; always serving as a main street throughout the city. Colfax's status as a major thoroughfare led to more tourist traffic along the street. The motels that currently line Colfax are a memory to the Highway 40 era. However, when Interstate 70 was completed, tourists no longer used Colfax as frequently and businesses and neighborhoods suffered. Unfortunately, over the years, Colfax lost much of its vibrancy and main street feel and became noted for abandoned properties, large parking lots, and gritty images of prostitution and drugs.

Saturday's - 8315 E. Colfax Avenue
The Colfax Avenue corridor has a long history of street-level prostitution which drew substantial attention to the area, not only from sex workers and solicitors, but also from business owners, law enforcement, local residents and social service agencies. But a dramatic improvement has recently occurred through the interconnected series of programs, people, and organizations working together to halt the cycle of crime that has plagued the landscape of Colfax Avenue.

The Colfax Avenue of today is awakening and regaining its Main Street glory without losing its unique charm. Currently various revitalization efforts have been established to revitalize the street and the old girl is making a comeback. Although its status as a highway has declined, Colfax is still a major transportation route. The 15 bus which services Colfax Avenue (affectionately called the "Nifty 15", "Dirty 15" or the "Vomit Comet"), has the highest rider-ship in the RTD system.
Photo courtesy Save the Signs on Colfax

Colfax Avenue Timeline
1864: Land north of the eventual state Capitol building is dedicated as Grand Avenue and becomes one of Denver's main streets.
1874: A drawing of the city shows the street, renamed Colfax Avenue, as a six-block street with a handful of homes lining it.
1880s and '90s: The city grows around Colfax, but an economic bust is the avenue's first major hurdle.
1886: Denver Tramway builds the first rail lines on Colfax.
1890: With 106,000 people, Denver is the 26th-largest city in the U.S., in part due to the growth on Colfax.
1893: A silver crash forces some Colfax businesses and homeowners to leave, beginning a dark period.
1900s to '40s: Aurora and Lakewood emerge; boom times for Colfax as U.S. 40 makes the avenue a gateway to the Rocky Mountains.
Colfax Trolley
1900: Denver Tramway and Denver City Railway build a trolley system that allows commuters to move between Aurora and Denver.
1908: The Westside Benevolent Society creates the Golden Hill Cemetery, on West Colfax, which later becomes a historic landmark.
1916: Colfax is paved.
1917: The Colfax viaduct links the east and west portions of Colfax, creating a near-seamless road across Colorado. Colfax, part of U.S. 40, channels people through Denver on their way to the mountains.
1925: The most liberal zoning laws in Denver are put on Colfax Avenue, eventually paving the way for adult-oriented shops decades later.
1928: Buses are introduced.
1950s to '80s: Good economic times end with the arrival of Interstate 70, which routes traffic around Colfax.
1950: Colfax sees its last trolley.
1957: Land in front of the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society is sold, making room for a shopping center that will one day be home to Casa Bonita restaurant.

1960s: North Capitol Hill sees an era of prostitution and drug sales.
1962: The interstate highway system is in full swing, beginning a steady decline on Colfax Avenue.


Colfax Avenue in the 1970's
1974: Casa Bonita opens.
1983: Sid King's Crazy Horse Bar, the city's most notorious strip club, closes.
1990s and 2000s: A major Colfax revival is considered, then acted upon.
1994: A coalition among Aurora, Denver and Lakewood forms to rehabilitate the avenue.
2001: Construction begins on the Chamberlain Heights development in Denver. It is the first new residential development on Colfax in 80 years.
2004: Lakewood begins creating development guidelines to accentuate a retro feel for West Colfax.
2005: Denver adopts a "Main Street" zoning designation to lure more pedestrian-friendly and mixed-use development to Colfax.
2007: The University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and The Children's Hospital plan to open at the old Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, creating a campus that could employ 16,000 people by 2010.

2012: The first annual Root 40 Music Festival is held on Colfax Avenue. The 40 West Arts District is created.
2013: The Aurora Cultural Arts District is designated.

Historic Buildings
U.S. Mint
      Every year, the U.S. Mint strikes over ten billion coins identifiable by the small D that appears below the date. The free guided tours of the Mint are one of Denver’s top attractions. Visitors can see the huge, noisy high-speed presses spitting out 40 million coins each day onto conveyor belts overflowing with a bright, glittering hoard to be counted, sorted and bagged. In the basement, lies the biggest collection of gold bars outside of Fort Knox. The shop is a haven for coin enthusiasts, with boxed sets of mint coins available. During the summer, queues frequently stretch round the block with waiting times of one hour or more. Tours last 20 minutes and begin every 20-30 minutes.
320 West Colfax Avenue at Cherokee Street Tel: (303) 405-4761
Website: www.usmint.gov
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 8:00 am - 3:00 pm (opens 9:00 a.m. last Wed of the month).
Admission: Free.  

Colorado State Capitol
      Built in 1908, in the domed classical style, Colorado State Capitol embodies the confident civic pride of the young America at the turn of the century. The brilliant dome gleams with 24-carat gold leaf outdone only by the unique rose-colored Colorado onyx wainscoting inside. Quarried in Beulah, Colorado, the entire world supply of this onyx was used here. The highlight for the fit and healthy is the winding 93-step climb to the top of the dome, rewarded by panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. Back at ground level, a brass marker on the steps reminds visitors that they are still ‘one mile above sea level’. 
200 East Colfax Avenue, at Broadway
Tel: (303) 866-2604
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 7:00 am - 5:30 pm. Tours depart every 45 minutes 9:00 am to 2:30 pm. Dome open 9:00 am - 3:30 pm.
Admission: Free. 

McNichols Building
       The McNichols Civic Center Building is located at the northwest corner of Civic Center Park, at the intersection of Colfax and Bannock. In 1909, the cornerstone of the McNichols Building was laid. It set the foundation for the then Carnegie Library that would become a center of learning in Civic Center Park. That tradition continues as the building was re-opened in 2012 as a contemporary hub for arts and culture for the people of Denver. This stunning Greek Revival building with its classic Corinthian columns and iconic colonnade across its front, offers new experiences in a classic space.
Address: 144 West Colfax Avenue (corner of West Colfax and Bannock)
Phone: 720-865-4220
Hours of Operation: Thursday - Sunday 10:00am - 5:00pm

For booking, contact Tim Taylor at tim.taylor3@denvergov.org or (303) 906-1396 or visit our Rental Information page.

 
East High School
     East High School, built in 1925, is Denver's first high school. Students of East High included famed actor Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (once expelled for dressing up the campus statues on St. Patrick's Day), singer Judy Collins, Neal Cassady (Beat hero, honed his writing skills at East), Don Cheadle (nominated for a 2005 East Angel Friends and Alumni FoundationAcademy Award for his portrayal of Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda), Actress Pam Grier (films: Jackie Brown, Coffee, Foxy Brown, etc.), Dianne Reeves (received a Grammy Award of "Best jazz vocal album" for A Little Moonlight in 2004), Hattie McDaniel (America's first ever black Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actress, playing Scarlet's servant in the 1939 epic film Gone With the Wind), Olympic gold medalist Jerome Biffle, Philip Bailey, of Earth, Wind, & Fire, Peter O'Fallon (Hollywood film director, who was publicized for the film Suicide Kings in 1998), T.J. Miller (a comedian who starred in the movie Cloverfield), Flobot Jamie Laurie, Miss America 1958 Marilyn Van Derbur, and the mother of the kid who played Spanky (Our Gang, the early-1900's comedy serial), was a teacher there. Spanky also reportedly lived in Denver. In early 1997 the film Asteroids was released using East High for a crowd scene.

     For more information about East High School, be sure to visit the East Angel Friends website. 

City Park Esplanade
The Esplanade Colfax & Esplanade - In addition to the historic nature of East High School, the City Park Esplanade running in front of the school connects 17th Avenue with Colfax. Chicago architect Edward Herbert Bennett designed the gateway at the south end that consists of two freestanding piers, one on each side of the motorway. The figures on the east are of two miners. On the west are two pioneer women. A lion head is mounted on each wall facing east Colfax Avenue.

The Bonfils/Lowenstein Theater - Colfax & Elizabeth. Across the street from East High School is the old Bonfils Theater, which later became the Lowenstein Theater and is now a retail center, anchored by the Tattered Cover Bookstore, a Denver landmark in its own right. The building was built in 1953 for the purpose of maintaining live theater in the midst of the success of Hollywood films.

      The Bonfils served as a multipurpose theater; presenting plays, operas, movies, concerts, lectures and television productions However, in the 1960s the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) opened downtown. As the DCPA took off, the Bonfils Theater suffered. It became part of the DCPA and was later renamed the Lowenstein Theatre, but its location far from the other theaters caused its closure.
Cathedral of Immaculate Conception

The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception is one of the biggest Catholic churches in Denver. J.J. Brown and his wife, the Unsinkable Molly Brown, donated funds for the Cathedral along with J.K. Mullen, John Campion and Dennis Sheedy. The outside of the cathedral is made of limestone and granite from Colorado and Indiana. The altar, statuary and the bishop’s chair are made of marble. All seventy-five stained glass windows came from Munich, Germany. The Cathedral was finished in 1912.

National Jewish Hospital--Colfax & Jackson--The Fisher Brothers, who designed many buildings around Denver, designed the Mediterranean style National Jewish Hospital on the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Colfax in 1926. Frances Wisebart Jacobs and Rabbi William Sterne Friedman founded the hospital to serve the many people who moved to Colorado hoping the climate would cure them of tuberculosis.
      At that time, TB was the leading cause of death in the United States. The hospital opened on December 10, 1899. Its slogan was “none may enter who can pay – none can pay who enter.” National Jewish is still a functioning hospital that provides millions of dollars of free/heavily subsidized care.

Capitol Hill State Bank--Colfax & York--The Capitol Hill State Bank was built in 1925 and was only used as the Capitol Hill State Bank for one year when scandal forced its closure. Before 1940, it was a regular bank. After 1940 it became a ladies clothing store and has always been an important Colfax landmark. The building currently houses Three Lion's Pub.

Colfax Viaduct 
     At the viaduct over Interstate 25 and across from parking lots at Invesco Field at Mile High, a long-forgotten piece of Colfax remains. Called the "Bottoms," the area - from the late 1800s through the 1950s - was home to cigar stores, bicycle shops, churches, grocery stores, hay markets and midwives. Eastern European Jewish families first lived there, followed by Mexican immigrants. The viaduct was originally built in 1917 for cars and trolleys, and I-25 came later, wiping away many of the businesses and homes. 

     The Colfax-Larimer viaduct was completed in 1917. Built for both streetcars and automobiles, the viaduct was the longest concrete span of its kind in the world. The viaduct was built to connect downtown Denver and west Denver over the South Platte River and the railroad tracks. By 1983, 35,000 vehicles crossed the viaduct daily, which was in need of repair. The new viaduct was completed in 1983.  

Greek Town
     Colfax’s unique character comes in part from its abundance of ethnic restaurants. Greek Town is Denver's only officially designated ethnic neighborhood. Taki Dadiotis, restaurant owner and Father of Greektown, was a big force is having the six-block stretch of East Colfax Avenue from St. Paul Street to Elizabeth Street designated as Greektown by the City Council. Greektown includes an ice cream shop, a pastry shop and other Greek restaurants. Also in the heart of Greek Town lies a Caribbean restaurant. It serves scrumptious Caribbean food, including their most popular pastry patty.

History of Original Aurora
    In 1891, former Chicago resident Donald Fletcher founded what was thought of as a “trolley town” and he named the town Fletcher, after himself. From a turn-of-the-century rail stop near the corner of Galena Street and East Colfax, Aurora sprang to life. The rail, which allowed easier travel from Denver east along Colfax, propelled Aurora into one of Denver's first true suburbs. However, after the Silver Crash of 1893 he fled town, leaving the residents with outstanding bond payments and other problems. In 1907, the angry residents changed the name to Aurora (Latin word for "dawn").
  • In 1921, the U.S. government selected Aurora as the site for Fitzsimons Army Hospital to treat the wounded—especially those affected by mustard gas and tuberculosis—during World War I.
  • In 1929, Colorado's Secretary of State recognized Aurora—with 2,000 residents—as a city, and tax revenues were appropriated for sewers, roads and fire stations. Most citizens were located just south of Colfax Avenue, an area that is now called Original Aurora.
  • During the Great Depression, Colorado’s congressional delegation managed to save Fitzsimons from closure due to cuts in military expenditures. President Roosevelt later visited Fitzsimons and was so impressed with the facility that he appropriated funds for its improvement.
  • In 1942, the Army Air Corps built Buckley Field, enhancing the military presence in Aurora. This, coupled with the addition of Lowry Field, resulted in more employment, residents and money for the city.
  • In 1947, Buckley Field was renamed Naval Air Station.
  • By 1960, Aurora had 50,000 residents. The Naval Air Station is renamed Buckley Air National Guard Base.
  • The 1970s were prosperous for Aurora with the city benefiting from new highway construction.
  • The 1980s were a time of economic cooling off, as with the rest of Colorado.
  • The 1990s ushered in economic prosperity. However, closures of the military bases, which began with the closure of nearby Lowry Air Force Base, threatened the city's well being.
  • In 2000, Aurora’s population had increased to 276,393 residents.
  • In 1995, the U.S. Congress targets Fitzsimons for closure. That same year, officials with the City of Aurora, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and the University of Colorado Hospital present the U.S. Department of Defense with a plan to reuse the decommissioned base as a world-class medical campus. The Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority is formed through an intergovernmental agreement.
  • In 1998, the first biotech companies move to Fitzsimons.
  • In 2000, Buckley Air National Guard Base re-designated as Buckley Air Force Base.
  • The 1-square-mile life sciences city at Fitzsimons is home to the University of Colorado Hospital and Health Sciences Center, Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute, the Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Building, Research Complex I and Colorado Bioscience Park Aurora, with more to come. 
  • In 2008, the city is home to more than 300,000 residents.
 Fitzsimons Army Hospital 
     Aurora grew slowly until the opening of Fitzsimons Army Hospital and Denver Municipal Airport. After World War II the town grew quickly due to Lowry Air Base, Buckley Field and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. World attention focused on Aurora for seven weeks during the fall of 1955, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower recovered from a heart attack at Fitzsimons. The hospital is also the 1943 birthplace of 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Decommissioned in 1999, the facility is part of the Anschutz Medical Campus of the University of Colorado Denver, and the Colorado Bioscience Park Aurora. The Anschutz Medical Campus also includes the University of Colorado Hospital which moved to Aurora from Denver in 2007. These facilities will employ a workforce of 32,000 at build-out.

Immigrant Center 
    As Army Hospital 21 in 1918, and later as the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, the site at East Colfax and Interstate 225 attracted many of the area's early immigrants who worked in and around the Aurora hospital. Now the site for University of Colorado and Children's Hospital, a new medical and research campus, old Fitzsimons is has injected new life into Colfax.

Aurora Fox Theater
     The Aurora Fox Theater, located at 9900 East Colfax Avenue, was built in 1946 as a movie theater. It was one of the first commercial buildings built after World War II. The theater’s popularity led to the development of Aurora’s downtown. The stores that lined the Colfax portion of downtown included Penny’s, Joslins, Fashion Bar, Miller’s Grocery, Hesteds and Woolworth’s. In the early 1980’s a fire closed the theater. The newly renovated theater reopened in 1985 and changed its focus to live theater. Today, it is home of the Aurora Fox Theater Company and the Aurora Fox Children’s Theater Company and is now celebrating it’s 21st season.

History of West Colfax Avenue

     West Colfax Avenue has a long and colorful history. Thousands of years ago Native Americans first made the trek between the foothills and plains on paths that would someday become West Colfax Avenue. By the mid 1800's, Ute Indians routinely used this route to bring trade goods to markets in Denver. Golden Road, as it was first called, ran through the countryside connecting the early settlements of Denver and Golden. That countryside today is West Denver and Lakewood. In 1896, Golden Road was officially renamed Colfax Avenue after Schuyler Colfax, Vice President under President Ulysses S. Grant.
West Colfax Trolley
     In Denver, the area between Decatur Street and the Platte River was known as Brooklyn. Brooklyn provided employment and a new streetcar line bringing families looking for more land to build homes. Residential development boomed. Except for the Voorhees subdivision, a small enclave of relatively expensive homes between Irving Street and Julian Street, Conejos Place and 16th Avenue, most of the houses were small residences occupied by factory workers and laborers. In 1889, eastern entrepreneurs Charles Welch and W.A.H. Loveland platted the Lakewood Subdivision located between Harlan Street and Carr Street on the south side of West Colfax Avenue. By 1892, a new hardware company located along the roadway was looking for 400 men to employ. The company was offering more than just jobs, housing and a general store were also available. While many of the early structures are long gone, the Loveland Home at 14th Avenue and Harlan Street remains today as a reminder of bygone days.
       One of the most significant neighborhoods in the area west of Denver was the Jewish community that moved across the Platte River from Auraria (there was no viaduct at that time) to settle near Federal Boulevard and Avondale West to Sheridan Boulevard. "The West Side" as it was called, was a thriving community that offered kosher markets, a dry goods store, drugstores, and all the services needed for the families in the neighborhood. One famous resident was Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, who lived at 1606 Julian Street when she was a teenager. Her home has been restored and relocated to the Auraria Campus in Downtown Denver.
       Another neighborhood that is worthy of note is the Glen Creighton Subdivision. "The Glens" is bounded by West Colfax, 20th Avenue, Garrison Street and Dudley Street. Platted in 1923, the Glens was planned and designed as a "residence park" with winding streets and oddly shaped lots by the prominent Denver landscape architect Saco Rienk de Boer, whose graceful designs include many parks, colleges, parkways, and the Bonnie Brae Subdivision in Denver. As this westerly route toward "pure air and an excellent view of the mountains" gained importance, businesses and streetcar subdivisions replaced large and small family farms. The history of the rail lines is a rich story in itself; however, the growing popularity of the automobile caused the demise of this noteworthy enterprise.
      Health institutions also played a significant role in the history of West Colfax. St. Anthony Hospital Central, starting as a dream of the Sisters of St. Francis, was dedicated on June 13, 1893, after the sisters overcame financial obstacles by visiting mining camps, barber shops, and saloons to raise funds for construction of the facility. Located at West 16th Avenue and Stuart Street St. Anthony Hospital Central has continued to grow and modernize in response to community needs. In 1972, St Anthony Flight For Life became the first airborne ambulance service in the nation. Further west from St. Anthony's in 1904, the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society (JCRS) opened a sanatorium, just north of Colfax between Pierce and Kendall Streets that treated tuberculosis patients. In 1954, this facility was renamed the American Medical Center (AMC) and became a major cancer research facility.

     
     The West Colfax neighborhood, bordered today by Federal and Sheridan boulevards, started as the town of Colfax in 1891 and was annexed to Denver in 1897. The area was sparsely populated with several mansions and scattered squatters’ shacks. During this time West Colfax was known as “No Man’s Land” and “Jim’s Town.”
     In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a large wave of Jewish Immigrants from Eastern Europe moved into the West Colfax area. These immigrants turned “No Man’s Land” into Denver’s version of a European neighborhood. West Colfax Avenue was lined with two-story brick commercial buildings, saloons, stores, a hotel, and a restaurant. West Colfax Avenue had a constant flow of hay wagons and peddlers that came from the agriculture communities of Golden and Morrison en route to Denver.
      In 1935 and 1936, West Colfax Avenue was widened to become a link in one of the fast transcontinental highways, U.S. Route 40. The roadway improvements were performed by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It was a program that offered employment during the Great Depression.  
      The designation as a major national route initiated "the golden years" for West Colfax as it became a tourist strip lined with motels, tourist camps, service stations and diners. Eventually, however, construction of Interstate Highway 70 to the north and the 6th Avenue freeway to the south, virtually eliminated Colfax Avenue as a significant route choice for vacationing and commuting travelers.
     A wave of Latinos immigrated to the neighborhood in the 1960s. Young Anglo families and Southeast Asians immigrated to the neighborhood in the 1970s. Today, West Colfax is a diverse neighborhood made up of Anglo, Jewish, African American, Latino, Native American, and Southeast Asian residents.
     The neighborhood’s legacy remains in buildings that reflect its past. Confluence Ministries at 14th and Quitman is housed in the former synagogue and Hebrew school, Yeshiva Kneseth. The Charles Dickinson Library at Colfax and Hooker, built in 1914, was the smallest of eight branch libraries in the city.  The BID’s DiscoverWestColfax.com website directs visitors to the neighborhood’s many historic sites as well as other attractions. Historic buildings are being repurposed, and the BID is actively restoring West Colfax’s unique neon signs, including the iconic Lake Steam Bath and Aristocrat Motor Hotel signs.

Photo by Juli Scalzi
Lake Steam Baths--Colfax & King
The Hyman family opened the Lake Steam Baths in 1927. Today, the Lake Steam Baths is the oldest business on West Colfax. People go there for massages and steam baths because of the health benefits. The baths were first used by people who had consumption, also known as tuberculosis. Old and young people still enjoy the steam baths today.

Colfax Elementary School--Colfax & Tennyson
The first Colfax Elementary was built in 1887 as a one-room brick building. During its first years, students came to the school from farms and homes on Stuart St. Since 1887, the school has served more than four generations of local families.

JCRS Sanitarium
The JCRS Sanitarium was established in the early 20th century in what is now Lakewood, a western suburb of Denver. JCRS, or the Jewish Consumptives' Relieft Society, was organized by a group of working men who were frustrated with the policies of the other tuberculosis sanitarium in Denver, National Jewish Hospital, which refused to serve kosher meals, discouraged the use of Yiddish, and for a time (because of the fear of being swamped by destitute patients) only accepted sufferers with incipient tuberculosis and those who could afford to support themselves once they left the hospital.

A forerunner to what later would become Lakewood, the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society opened in 1904 on Colfax to serve tubercular patients from across the country. Though most of the Relief Society patients were Jewish, the organization served thousands of non-Jews, many of whom were treated free of charge. The society changed its mission to cancer research in the 1950s, also changing its name to the American Medical Center. The property with its original buildings now is the campus for the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. A tower with the American Medical Center's initials can be seen from Colfax between Kendall and Pierce streets.

Dr. Charles Spivak
The organization and success of JCRS was due in large part to the efforts of Dr. Charles Spivak, a local legend, and Yehoash (Solomon Bloomgarten), who came to Denver to "chase the cure" in 1899. Starting around 1906, Yehoash presided over the Yiddish section of the 'Sanitorium,' a JCRS publication, including his own poetry and that of "Lung-fellow" as well as using graphics designed by the Bezalel School in then-Palestine. (Spivak and Yehoash, lovers of Yiddish, are famous for their dictionary of Hebrew elements in Yiddish).

Visit the Golden Hill Cemetery, also in Lakewood, to find the graves of Dr. Spivak and David Edelstadt, another Yiddish poet and an anarchist, who died of t.b. around 1892. Edelstadt's grave (a monument) was inscribed with one of his poems and a photograph of the poet. Spivak's grave was adjacent; Spivak donated his skeleton to the Hebrew University. The upper part of the cemetery contained the graves of the patients who didn't beat the "white plague;" many, unfortunately, are marked only with small metal plaques, now unreadable.

Landmark eatery | A stop on many Colorado travelers' lists, Casa Bonita Mexican restaurant, 6715 W. Colfax Ave. in Lakewood, once was a field belonging to the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society. Property in front of the Relief Society was sold in the 1950s. Casa Bonita, famous for its cliff-diving acts, opened in 1974 in the JCRS Shopping Center. 

The Golden Hill Cemetery, one of the few sites along Colfax on the National Register of Historic Places, is the final home to more than 2,000 people who died of tuberculosis in the early 1900s. The Jewish cemetery, 12000 W. Colfax, has more than 8,000 gravestones.






 West Colfax Avenue Timeline 


Around 6000 BC.-1850s: Native Americans settled in the area currently known as West Colfax Avenue. The Ute Indians used the present-day West Colfax Ave as a trade route to access the commercial hub of Denver.
1860s: As part of the Gold Rush, miners used West Colfax to access precious stones and minerals in the Rocky Mountains.
1865 – Dr. Gerald Biliss, who lived at 1389 Stuart Street, was a Civil War veteran and a member of the honor guard over President Lincoln’s casket.
1874: Sloan’s Lake was connected to Cheltenham Heights by a canal.
1880s: West Colfax was still relatively undeveloped and residents in central Denver referred to as “No Man’s Land” or “Jim’s Town.”
1887: The original Colfax Elementary School opened at 1526 Tennyson Street.
1890s: The area was primarily occupied by factory workers and laborers who lived in modest houses.
1891: Mr. Voorhees platted the six-block West Colfax subdivision as part of his growing real estate and city improvement activities. This type of development was in line with the general real estate boom of the late 1880s.
1891: The Town of Colfax was established, distinct from Denver.
1892: The Town of Brooklyn was established.
1892: Streetcar lines were completed from Larimer to Sheridan, spurring the creation of new residential neighborhoods in West Denver and business development along West Colfax. 
1893: St. Anthony’s Hospital Central opened.
1896: The Golden Road was renamed Colfax after Schuyler Colfax. Mr. Colfax was a former newspaper editor and speaker of the U.S. House who eventually became vice president under Ulysses S. Grant. 
1897: Colfax and Brooklyn merged and became incorporated into the city of Denver as the “West Colfax Neighborhood”.
1900s: Immigrants from the eastern United States, as well as more recent arrivals from central and eastern Europe arrived in West Colfax and formed a predominantly Jewish community.
West Colfax served as the main connector between Denver and the agricultural communities of Morrison and Golden. As a result, West Colfax had a constant flow of hay wagons and peddlers. In addition, trolly lines and bike paths were laid out. 
Roady Kenehan lived on 13th and Stuart St. and served as Colorado State Auditor and Treasurer. Kenehan was of Irish descent and was active in labor politics. 
1910s: The Jewish community continued to grow, with kosher markets, dry good stores and pharmacies throughout the area. The immigrants on West Colfax were called “Ostrovers” (or “Ostys”) after their hometown of Ostrov, Poland. 
1910: Yeshivas Etz Chaim, a prominent Hebrew school, was established at 2852 W. 14th Ave.
1913: Golda Meir moved in with her older sister on 1606 Julian St. Their home was a hub for intellectual conversations. In her autobiography, Meir wrote: "To the extent that my own future convictions were shaped and given form [...] those talk-filled nights in Denver played a considerable role."
1917: The Colfax-Larimer viaduct was constructed and at the time, it was the longest concrete viaduct in the world. This viaduct helped connect West Colfax with downtown Denver.
1920s: Streetcar subdivisions began replacing farms throughout the West Colfax neighborhood.
1925: The most liberal zoning laws in Denver are put on Colfax Avenue, eventually paving the way for adult-oriented shops decades later.
1926: Lake Jr. High School opened.

Photo courtesy Punch Bohn
1926: Boxer Eddie Bohn opened the Pig 'N Whistle restaurant in 1926. The restaurant became a major hub for athletes and rumor has it that notorious hothead and former New York Yankee Billy Martin got into a fight there. Bohn's son, Punch, closed the restaurant in 1991, and Eddie Bohn died the next year.
1927: Lake Steam Baths opens.
1930s: The Depression stunted most growth or development along West Colfax. However, Eddie Bohn’s Pig ‘N Whistle expanded into a motel during this era. The 1930s also marked a time when West Colfax starting becoming increasingly auto-focused.
1932: West Colfax Ave was paved.
1935: The Charles D. Spivak Educational Instutute opened its doors at 1453 Lowell Ave.
1935-6: The Civilian Conservation Core widened Colfax.
1937: The Guldman Community center opened at 1601 Irving Street to serve as a Jewish community center.
1938: US Highway 40 adopted Colfax Ave as part of its transcontinental route.
1940s: Travelers using West Colfax to access the mountains spurred a construction boom for motels, restaurants and hotels.
After WWII, tourist amenities popped up all along West Colfax.
1949: Colfax was widened again and underwent additional improvements.
By the end of the 1940s, most of Denver’s streetcars were eliminated and replaced by buses and cars. 
1950s: The 1950s marked the “Golden Age” of tourist-strip development along Colfax. During this time, the Jewish community began dispersing to other parts of Denver.
  During the 1950s, the first public housing was constructed in the neighborhood. 
1953: Ed Perlmutter was born to a West Colfax family and grew up to become a US Congressman for Colorado’s 7th Congressional District in 2007.
1958: US-6 bridge over Federal Blvd was constructed and diverted traffic away from West Colfax.
1956: Between 1956 and 1971, Denver Urban Renewal Authority planned and executed the construction of the Avondale center that included a shopping center, high rise multi-family apartments and townhomes. By-and-large, this project was a classic example of the failed policies of Urban Renewal. 
1958: Colfax reached its peak of tourist development with 43 motels on West Colfax.
1959: West Colfax resident Ruth Handler debuted a new plastic doll named “Barbie.”
1960s: The Denver Metropolitan region experienced tremendous growth, with the population doubling from 1960 to 1990. Much of this growth occurred in suburban areas, like Lakewood. No longer “No Man’s Land,” West Colfax was essentially part of Denver’s suburbs. As a result, West Colfax shifted from servicing tourists to servicing suburbanites. In particular, during the 1960s, Hispanic immigrants began moving into the West Colfax neighborhood.
1966: I-70 was completed and replaced US-40 (Colfax Ave) as the major East-West corridor.
1970: Downtown Denver cleanup efforts began and shifted prostitution and adult theaters to the urban periphery, including West Colfax.
1978: A revitalization effort began with a study of the street itself and means to create a more inviting environment.
1987: West Colfax on the Rise was developed as a plan for the neighborhood. The plan focused on development around major “nodes.”
1990s: By 1990, only 40% of the motels that existed during West Colfax’s heyday remained. The area became the focus of revitalization efforts, including Community Development Block Grants supported projects at the Girls Club and Cheltenham School in an effort to improve the neighborhood. In addition, Denver declared West Colfax as a Enterprise Zone District to provide state income tax benefits to businesses that move to the area. Latino immigrants became the primary immigrant group to settle in Denver.
1992: The City landscaped medians from Federal Blvd. to Knox Ct.
1993: The West Colfax Revitalization Plan was completed with an emphasis on improved businesses and neighborhoods.
1995: The Federal Boulevard Corridor Plan was completed with a focus on safety and enhanced image.   
2000s: By 2000, 73% of West Colfax’s residents were Latino. The new wave of immigrants from Central and South America redefined West Colfax as a primarily Latino community.
2002: The City of Denver’s Master Plan, Blueprint Denver, designated West Colfax as an “Area of Change”.
2006: The West Colfax Business Improvement District was founded.
2010: Eddie Bohn’s Pig n’ Whistle burns down.
2011: West Colfax Green Pilot: Streetscape, A major streetscape improvement program, begins. The project brings solar pedestrian lights, trees, and sustainable public art at the East and West gateways to the corridor.
2011: The Festival Plaza Shopping Center begins major improvements and investments, with the addition of Mi Pueblo Market and a mixed use affordable housing project.
2012: Joe Riche and Demiurge Design of Denver installed sustainable public art on the new West Colfax medians.
2012: The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless opens Renaissance West End Flats and West End Health Center to provide affordable housing and healthcare.
2013: West Rail Line opened with Knox and Perry Stations.


Colfax Avenue in Pop Culture
Colfax and Broadway Trolley by Joe Priselac
     "I walked away to the dumb downtown streets of Denver, for the trolley at Colfax and Broadway, where the big Capitol building is, with its lit-up dome and swarded lawns. I walked the pitch-black roads and came to the house I’d spent my $1000 on for nothing, where my sister and brother-in-law were sitting worrying about money and work and insurance and security and all that, in the white-tiled kitchen." - Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation novel "On the Road" contains several references to Colfax. The protagonist, Sal Paradise, at one point keeps an apartment there and drinks in its bars. When the characters Dean, Marylou and Ed Dunkel leave Denver, Kerouac writes that they "roared east along Colfax and out to the Kansas plains" — this was before the construction of Interstate 70. 

Vanishing Point is a 1971 road movie starring Barry Newman as "Kowalski", Cleavon Little as "Supersoul", and Dean Jagger. The film is notable for its scenery from locations across the American Southwest and its social commentary on the post-Woodstock mood in the United States. It was one of the earliest films (following on the example of Easy Rider), to feature a rock music soundtrack.

The film is beloved by Mopar enthusiasts because it is one of the most significant movies ever to feature a classic Dodge muscle car. The film continues to be popular to this day and is considered a cult film. The start of the movie showed Kowalski cruising down Colfax Avenue to score speed at a biker bar. They even had Bob Palmer from Channel 4 news doing the interviews on television.





For The Glenn Miller Story (1953), the first feature-length movie ever shot in Denver, Lowry Air Force Base was turned into the site of a World War II USO show, and the corner of West Colfax Avenue and Fourteenth Street became a 1926 gas station. 



In the "Erection Day" episode of South Park, Jimmy tries to buy a hooker at Colfax Point, a reference to sections of the avenue noted for prostitution.

Another episode of South Park features a visit to Casa Bonita, a Mexican-themed restaurant and entertainment complex located on West Colfax in the city of Lakewood.



Denver area bands The Colfax Stranglers, Steele & Colfax, Colfax Slim, Colfax Speed Queen, all take their names from the street.

Five Iron Frenzy, a ska-punk band consisting of Denver natives, has a song called "Where 0 Meets 15". The title refers to two bus routes that cross at this intersection. In the song, the narrator is waiting at a bus stop. The songs lyrics describe how an experience at Colfax & Broadway made the singer feel as though he would be unsuccessful in his continuing attempts to save the world. The song was included on the ColfaxAvenue.com Compilation CD Vol. I.

In the movie About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson's character drives his RV along a stretch of East Colfax near Ogden Street. The viewer can clearly see the Royal Host Motel and the Ogden Theater in the shot.

In the movie Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, Jimmy 'The Saint' Tosnia picks up a prostitute along East Colfax, in front of the Bluebird Theater.

In 1984, a sensational murder took the life of outspoken radio talk show host Alan Berg as he arrived home on the 1400 block of Adams Street, near East Colfax Avenue across from the Bluebird Theater (before it was a concert and fine film venue). Berg, who was Jewish, was gunned down in his driveway while exiting his Volkswagen, by white supremacists who had baited him in hostile calls on the air before the killing. The execution received national publicity. His killers went on the commit a major armored car robbery in another state. They were later caught and convicted of both crimes. The wife of Alan Berg wrote a book about the tragedy.


Every Which Way But Loose (1978), Clint Eastwood's classic about a drifter and his pet orangutan, featured Eddie Bohn's Pig-N-Whistle on West Colfax, a fist-fight scene at the Zanza Bar, a country-Western joint on East Colfax, and Sid King's Crazy Horse strip lounge on East Colfax. In another scene Clint stays at the Royal Host Motel, 930 East Colfax Avenue, and rides the glass elevator to the curb, then walks east toward the Seven Eleven right across the street. You can also see them passing Jerry's Record Exchange on Capitol Hill.






Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini



In the early part of the century the great magician Harry Houdini and legendary writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came together at the Ogden Theater at 935 East Colfax for the purpose of engaging in a debate over the reality or myth of Spiritualism.




     One day back in the sixties some relatively unknown scrawny kid living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood wandered over to Satire Lounge at 1920 East Colfax Avenue to play some Woodie Guthrie music. The story is that he got "hissed" right out of there. That kid was none other than Robert Zimmerman who had renamed himself Bob Dylan after poet Dylan Thomas. Bobbie later became the idolized troubadour of an entire generation with lightning quick twisting lyrical metaphors of great complexity and social importance. Dylan lived for a brief time at 1736 East 17th Avenue in a tiny wood house near Williams Street.

The Satire Lounge was also the beginning of two very famous comedy careers, those of Tommy and Dick Smothers, better known as The Smothers Brothers who hit their peak in the late 60s. The Smothers Brothers were spotted clowning around somewhat hilariously in the bar and around the billiards table when a talent manager suggested they make it a career. Equally significant, the brothers lived in the only apartment above the Satire, which is now occupied by Joe who has been a Satire employee for some twenty years. One source indicates the brothers went on to San Francisco to do their first show.

Famed folk singer Judy Collins also did some of her earliest performances at the Satire. She was a student at East High School just a few blocks away.

More recently and for decades the Satire has been owned by popular patron of Denver's Greek community, Pete Contos. Pete's father in law is Ari Zavaras, former Denver police chief, director of Colorado Dept. of Corrections and more recently Colorado's top cop, aka the Manager of Public Safety. Contos has been prominent in the colorful annual Greek Festival at Assumption Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Pete told this editor he came to the USA from Greece in 1956.  

Sue Lyon might have been best-known for her role in the 1962 movie "Lolita," but it was only a few years later that she was living at the Bugs Bunny Motel. During an argument inside the motel, at 6218 W. Colfax Ave., it is said that the mercurial actress threatened to throw herself out of a window. Not much of a threat, given that it is a one-story building. Due to copyright issues, The Bugs Bunny was changed to the Big Bunny Motel in the 1990s. 




 
In the 1960s, Sid King's Crazy Horse Bar featured some of the most scantily clad women in the city. And soon, female employees weren't wearing a thing. King, a promoter who saw his financial future in the burlesque scene, introduced a striptease school, called the "Navel Academy," and he may have been the first adult-club owner to introduce silicone breast implants among exotic dancers. King's club inside the New Orleans-style building at 1211 E. Colfax Ave. lost its lease in 1983 and now is home to a restaurant and small businesses. 


 
Boxer Eddie Bohn opened the Pig 'N Whistle restaurant in 1926 on the birthday of his friend and former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, and it quickly became the hangout for athletes. (Rumor has it that notorious hothead and former New York Yankee Billy Martin got into a fight there.) The restaurant, at 4801 W. Colfax Ave., expanded to a hotel in the 1930s. Bohn's son, Punch, closed the restaurant in 1991, and Eddie Bohn died the next year.


 
Long before it became a venerable institution for live music, The Fillmore Auditorium at the corner of East Colfax and Clarkson Street was once home to the Fritchle Automobile & Battery Co. From 1910 to 1917, electric-powered Fritchle cars were built and charged at the site. Roughly 500 Fritchle vehicles were produced - Molly Brown had one - each able to run 100 miles between charges.


Local band Rainville - "the longest street in america" album cover
"Just let Colfax be Colfax." - Phil Goodstein

We'd like to thank Phil Goodstein for making available his resources and vast knowledge of historical Denver to ColfaxAvenue.com. If you are interested in learning more about Colfax Avenue, we recommend one of Phil's many walking tours.

To get upcoming tour schedules, reserve a spot on a tour, or get more information, call Phil at (303) 333-1095.
James Dean Mural on the old Video One Building (Photo by Anistacia Barber)

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