The residents of one of the oldest neighborhoods in Denver work to preserve the sometimes forgotten history.
Established in the 1880s, La Alma Lincoln Park is just blocks from the heart of the city. This predominantly Spanish neighborhood on the west side behind the Santa Fe Art District consists mainly of single-family homes, many of which date from around the turn of the century. What the two story brick Victorian Victorians and bungalows can only hint at is how much has happened there.
This neighborhood aims to become one of the first historic neighborhoods in the country to honor the Chicano movement.
“I hope all the people who live in these houses speak for themselves and are not outsiders,” said Virginia Castro, widow of Richard Castro, who led the movement in Denver.
The Denver Latino community has long struggled to keep the West Side as their own. The “whitewashing” of the city can be traced back from its history to the present. Most of the city’s historic neighborhoods and landmarks are tied to whites. The Castros were part of the West Side Collation, which aimed to build a group of people large enough to push the city into just politics for the neighborhood, Castro said.
La Alma Lincoln Park was at the center of these two efforts.
“The neighborhood was the heart of the Chicano movement and is an integral part of Denver’s Chicano / Latino history,” said the proposed historic cultural district for the city-states. “The neighborhood was originally started near the railroad and Burnham Yards as a working class immigrant community. The neighborhood’s architecture reflects the area’s early development and shows the changes over time as it became the center of the Denver Chicano movement. “
If passed, the proposal would require properties within the designated area to reflect the historic character of the neighborhood. Things like windows, facades and fences would be kept an eye on. The hope is that the look will stay the same and that the incisive redevelopment projects approaching the borough’s borders will stay outside.
“The desired effect of a historic neighborhood is that it architecturally retains some of the identity and feel of the homes there, and the style of the home built in La Alma Lincoln Park is from the early 1900s,” said Jamie Torres, the councilor for District 3 where the neighborhood is located. “It doesn’t make it impossible to upgrade, renovate, or add to. It just has to go through these design criteria. “
The application focuses on the city’s three culturally significant criteria, which were introduced in 2019. The only landmark set so far for these new metrics is Smith’s Chapel, which is associated with the Chicano movement and is in the neighborhood but outside the proposed historic district.
The only historic cultural district in Denver is Five Points. Five Points is more commercial than La Alma Lincoln Park, which is almost entirely residential.
Torres compares the importance of La Alma Lincoln Park to the Latino community with the importance of Five Points to the African American community in Denver.
The neighborhood and surrounding area were once the center of the Denver Chicano community. When the crews demolished the neighborhoods on the west side in 1976 to complete the Auraria campus, La Alma Lincoln Park grew. The 1960s and 1970s on the West Side were a microcosm of struggles for Chican and Mexican-American families across the country.
Bill Peters, Denver Post File
Young protesters, carrying signs and chanting, parade outside city and county buildings to mark the start of the local Hispanic Heritage Week celebrations on September 15, 1978. The parade started just after 10 a.m. on Friday. This group of flag throwers comes from Escuela Tlateloco. Groups from La Alma (Lincoln) Park, La Raza (Columbus) Park and Mestizo (Curtis) Park were later added. The parade ended with a rally on the west steps of the State Capitol.
“It’s definitely a nod and a tribute to all of the history that went with this neighborhood. It really helped create much of the impact you see today for the Latino community on cultural signs, murals and politics, ”said Torres. “There are roots right there in this neighborhood.”
In the post-war years, many Latino families from across the southwest moved to La Alma Lincoln Park, said Adrianna Abarca, founder and chairman of the Latino Cultural Arts Center in Denver and the Latino Community Foundation in Colorado. Abarca believes this designation would help pay tribute to some of the Chicano stories that she and her colleagues have been denied growing up.
“You have to give people a sense of place and belonging,” said Abarca. “Having a cultural connection with the community is essential to human wellbeing, but beyond culture are the physical buildings as well. What we are used to, what we know, people need familiarity, people need things that they can recognize and that they can call their own. “
Residents filed the application in March, but it’s been a work in partnership with historic Denver for five years. There will be a bilingual virtual meeting on Saturday at 11am where questions and concerns about the changes will be answered. If everything goes smoothly and the city council approves the motion, the district could be officially set up by late summer, joining the city’s 56 other historic districts.