Five Points is an emerging multi-cultural entertainment and business district rooted in African-American history and looking to become a destination for arts, culture and entertainment. (Click on center image above to enlarge photos and read descriptions)
THE HISTORY OF FIVE POINTS
Denver’s African American Community has a proud history (article by Linda Dowlen) dating back to pioneer miners, cowboys and railroaders. African Americans have been blessed with talented leaders, ranging from Barney Ford in the pioneer era to Wellington Webb, who became Denver’s first African American mayor in 1992. African Americans have remained a small minority, comprising about five percent of the 1990 metro population. But since the turn of the century, the African American community has centered on Five Points.
“Five Points” was the name given to the neighborhoods surrounding the intersection of Washington Street, 27th Street, 26th Avenue and Welton Street, located northeast of downtown Denver. The coming together of the downtown diagonal grid and the rectangular grid of the East Denver neighborhoods causes this intersection to be five-way, hence the name. As one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Five Points came to prominence in the 1860s. Some of Denver’s oldest and most established other neighborhoods are situated within the larger Five Points neighborhood, including: Curtis Park, Whittier, Cole, Clayton San Rafael, and Ballpark neighborhoods.
Justina Laurena Ford (Jan. 22, 1871 – Oct. 14, 1952) was the first licensed African American female doctor in Denver, CO.
THE “HARLEM OF THE WEST”
Five Points, for some, is considered the “Harlem of the West” due to its long jazz history. It was the first predominantly African American neighborhood in Denver, and in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, was home to over fifty bars and clubs, where some of the greatest jazz musicians performed, such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and many others. Two prominent places served as the hub. The Rossonian Hotel, constructed in 1912 as the Baxter Hotel, sat at the heart of Denver’s Five Points community. With a name change in 1929 and the establishment of the Rossonian Lounge, the hotel became one of the most important jazz clubs between St. Louis and Los Angeles. Jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, George Shearing, and Dinah Washington stayed at the hotel and entertained in the Rossonian Lounge between their major Denver engagements. These shows were often staged after the musicians finished their scheduled performances at the same Denver hotels that refused them lodging due to the racial segregation existing at the time. In addition, in the 1930’s, Benny Hooper opened the Casino Dance Hall (now the Casino Cabaret) next door to the Ex-serviceman’s Club. The Casino evolved into a two-story hall with balcony seating for 1,000, a 40-foot-long bar, and a huge hardwood dance floor. At the time, it was the largest and most luxurious of all the Five Points jazz clubs. During the good years, the Casino swung to the music of Brook Benton, James Brown, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, George Morrison, Muddy Waters, and other musical legends.
A CULTURAL DESTINATION
Today, Five Points is an emerging multi-cultural entertainment and business district rooted in African-American history and looking to become a destination for arts, culture and entertainment. Located along a light rail corridor on the northeast edge of downtown Denver, the district offers quick access to downtown and adjoining neighborhoods. Numerous planning, transportation and streetscape projects have been completed over the past 10 years to help realize this culturally vibrant vision. The supporting neighborhoods are growing at a rapid rate, with a 49 percent increase in households between 2000 and 2006. Five Points is the focal point and central gathering place for the surrounding neighborhoods of San Rafael, Curtis Park, Cole, Whittier and the broader Five Points community.
Five Points’ African-American heritage is celebrated by the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center, the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, as well as the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. A number of African-American churches and businesses are still landmarks in the community. And Denver’s Juneteenth and Five Points Jazz Festival draws over 50,000 people every year.
While the area’s demographics are changing, the metro area’s African-American community still considers Five Points to be its historic center and symbol. Despite this fact, Five Points statistically is no longer a predominantly African-American community, though it is often thought to be by residents of the metro area.
THE BUILDING OF A NEIGHBORHOOD
The construction of light rail into the neighborhood by Denver’s Regional Transportation District, and the area’s proximity to downtown has led to rapid growth of its neighborhoods. This has led many to lament the disappearance of Five Points’ unique culture and contribution to the city. Many of the long-term residents of the neighborhood have left and are re-settling in suburban areas like Green Valley Ranch and Aurora.
As of 2009, the racial makeup of the neighborhood is 8.08% white, 33.12% African American, .6% Asian, 1.32% Native American. Hispanic or Latino of any race is 56.84% of the population.
With the recent opening of the Five Points Business District Office, there is renewed interest in the area along with renewed hope. The Five Points Business District Office is responsible for the growth and development of the Welton Street Corridor and the promotion and empowerment of the broader Five Points community.
Funded by Denver’s Office of Economic Development, the office is part of the city’s new Neighborhood Marketplace Initiative. In May 2008, the Five Points Business District was selected by the City of Denver’s Office of Economic Development (OED) to be a pilot district for a program designed to strengthen business districts and their surrounding neighborhoods citywide.
The goals of the Five Points Plan are to strengthen the Welton Corridor through
Creating a more accessible and relevant business district for nearby residents through attracting and supporting the right services, amenities and retail to the corridor;
Responding to the development, land use and small business challenges currently facing the corridor;
Developing strong relationships between corridor business and property owners, residents and community leaders to strengthen and improve the Welton Corridor;
Attracting new development and investment to the corridor;
Branding and promoting the corridor as a tourist destination;
Empowering and unifying the broader Five Points community.
Excerpted and edited from Thomas J. Noel’s “Mile High City” History;
Wikapedia’s “Five Points Denver”;
BlackPast.org’s “Five Points Denver”; Moya Hansen, “Pebbles on the Shore: Economic Opportunity in Five Points, 1920–1950.” Colorado History, Summer 2001; Rebels Remembered, Video production by Alweis Film and Video, Denver, Colorado