By Shawn Chitnis
DENVER (CBS4) – A group of investors, including Chauncy Billups, are planning to revive a popular jazz club in Five Points that was an important slice of black at a time when town was separated and legendary musicians had nowhere else to stay but in town Story was Rossonian Hotel.
CONNECTED: Elijah McClain Photo Scandal: Aurora Commission Supports Layoffs of Aurora Police Officers
“The Rossonian was the hub of energy, it was definitely the home of African Americans and entertainment,” said Paul Brooks, president of Palisade Partners. “They would stop in Saint Louis, Kansas City, and they would stop in what they would call Harlem of the West.”
Founded in 1912 as The Baxter Hotel, the hotel became a Rossonian about a decade later in honor of one of its employees. The building is still on 26th Ave. and Welton Street, but has been closed for decades.
“Ross became a manager in 1929 and made it into his 40s and maybe the 50s,” said Brooks.
Palisade Partners is the developer working with Billups to bring back the historic hotel and the neighborhood hangout. The company began reviewing the project in 2013 and bought the property in August 2017. Brooks said the hotel welcomed all of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington.
TOGETHER 4 COLORADO: Latest stories | Watch ‘With Karen Leigh’ | Share a common 4 Colorado story idea with CBS4
“Personally, I’m a huge fan of jazz,” said Pauline Herrera Serianni, executive director of the Denver Architecture Foundation. “Some of the greatest jazz musicians in our nation have played here, and you can be incredibly proud of that.”
The foundation sheds light on the history of the Rossonian and the project to bring him back to the community at his annual Doors Open Denver event. Some of the weekend parties are held at the Rossonian.
“I think given its history and this neighborhood, there is just great interest in this building,” she said. “I’m very excited to highlight the contributions from the Denver African American community. I think they are often overlooked.”
Musicians of the early 20th century performed in Denver, but could not stay in hotels in the same part of town where they were booked for a show.
“They often did a second show at the Rossonian and then stayed at the Rossonian,” explained Brooks.
The hotel’s role persisted into the 1950s, but as more people moved to the suburbs in the 1970s and 1980s, the hotel lost its appeal. The important role it played for the African American community was diminished before it was finally closed.
CONNECTED: Colorado writer Adrian Miller serves the tradition of soul food in American cuisine
“The vision for the Rossonian is that it will become the living room for the neighborhood,” he said. “The goal is for it to have an African-American core, that it bring back the energy that was here in the 40s.”
The addition of Billups as an investor helps add authenticity to the project. According to Brooks, he urged speaking to neighborhood groups from the start, long before they bought the property.
“Someone who grew up here is a hometown hero,” Brooks said of Billups. “Someone who cares deeply about this community and really cares about completing all of these goals and this mission and bringing that vibe back.”
According to Brooks, the success of the project will depend on their ability to strike a balance in reviving the music and atmosphere that made the Rossonian an anchor in the community, but also maintaining the level of inclusiveness that Five Points share with people differently Background has always offered. While black musicians were only welcome in this neighborhood hotel, the Rossonian and Five Points always welcomed people of all ethnic and racial origins.
“Five Points is an incredibly resilient community,” she said. “It’s always been a very inclusive community. I think that’s reflected in the architecture and in the company.”
The project plans include a jazz club in the basement, a restaurant and bar on the first floor, and three levels of hotel rooms between the second and fourth floors. The interior needs a complete renovation and is bare at the moment. However, the exterior of the building retains a historical architectural style that is rarely found in most parts of the city. Brooks and his team plan to restore the Beaux Arts facade that has been preserved to this day.
“We just saw an incredible opportunity to highlight this incredibly culturally rich, historically rich neighborhood and building,” said Herrera Serianni. “I think it’s always important to consider history and origins as it always has an impact on what happens in the future.”
Brooks hopes to lay the foundation in spring 2019 and complete the project by summer 2020. The neighbors have already told him what to expect before he even starts this work.
“‘You have to bring the jazz back,’ and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
The Rossonian will host several events during Doors Open Denver, including jazz and dance performances and a historical reenactment by the Black Actors Guild. Doors Open Denver is a celebration of the city’s architecture. There will be six free arts and culture activities and dozen of ways to see interesting buildings in Denver during September 22nd and 23rd. Doors Open Denver is presented by the Denver Architecture Foundation.
LINK: Doors open Denver
MORE: The Denver High School student gives feminine hygiene products to homeless women
Shawn Chitnis reports on weekdays for CBS4 News at 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Email him story ideas at [email protected] and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.