Coming Full Circle: Eugene Lucero Inducted Into Chicano Music Hall of Fame

“How’re you doin’?” Eugene Lucero says, nodding toward the postal carrier who’s breezing through the food hall at Plaza38. Lucero sits, relaxed in his flat cap, overlooking the bar—his bar—on a quiet afternoon. Beyond the beer tap handles is a view of West 38th Avenue, a street Lucero has seen from many angles during his time in North Denver.

A row of stunning black and white photographs sits high above Lucero on the wall over his right shoulder. Ten images, curated by local artist Jeremy Silas Ulibarri, known as “Jolt,” tell a Northside story: a close-up of sonrisa cookies at Panadería Rosales, a nighttime shot of the neon Tilt-a-Whirl sign at Lakeside, a group of children eyeing a piñata. Above the photos, a mural by the internationally acclaimed Emanuel Martínez.

But it’s another wall, deeper into the place, that helps explain why Lucero is Su Teatro’s most recent inductee into its Chicano Music Hall of Fame. To Lucero’s brother Ervin, “The wall represents a historical musical archive of how a courageous Chicano promoter dared to introduce and promote jazz, Latin jazz, and salsa in a market that had never witnessed such artistry live. The endeavor represented an unprecedented new stop between the west and east coasts for notable artists like Tito Puente; Bob James; Ray Baretto featuring flautist Dave Valentin; Cal Tjader featuring renowned conguero Pancho Sanchez; Gato Barbieri, Flora Purim and Airto; Ronnie Laws; Tierra; and international star Jose Jose. Just as relevant was the exposure for local groups to open for these major national and international acts in venues they could only dream about.”

Su Teatro launched its Chicano Music Hall of Fame in 2002, though Lucero’s impact on the local music scene began well before that. He started putting events together in high school. And then, from 1980-1985, he produced high-profile concerts through EL Pro Premieres, a business venture that started as a project for a college marketing class. Lucero’s cousin Karen Gonzales remembers making the drives from North Denver to Boulder to enjoy his productions at CU Boulder with her friends.

Before Boulder, though, it was North Denver from the beginning. Lucero’s childhood was spent alongside brother Ervin and sister Elisa at the Lucero family home near 47th and Tejon. His dad Raymond Lucero convened family picnics in the summertime at Rocky Mountain Lake Park and Berkeley Lake Park, with the uncles joining cousins for games of volleyball and horseshoes.

Gene Lucero (then). Photos courtesy of Gene Lucero

By the time Lucero graduated from college in 1978 he had also already taken on his first bookkeeping clients. His studies in business and accounting took him into tax preparation and bookkeeping, then into real estate. Always self-employed, he undertook these businesses with a keen understanding of his clients’ needs and circumstances. At each step, his business was informed by what he saw his clients and his community experiencing. When predatory lending practices targeted Spanish-speaking home buyers, he stepped in with a mortgage lending business and fought for fair business practices within the real estate industry. “Fair housing concerns are up again,” he points out.

Decades later, he still works personally with some of his original bookkeeping clients; and he recently helped close a sale for a longtime client that sets them up for a comfortable retirement.

When asked about being inducted into the Chicano Music Hall of Fame, Lucero scans the room and thinks for a minute, “It’s a full circle kind of thing, I’d say. Like the bar.”

Live music is back at the center of Lucero’s life in this latest endeavor, The Bar at Plaza38. His former building at West 38th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard has given way to a 30,000 square foot retail center topped by 322 apartments. The food hall and bar share an open-format space along 38th where you can find Milky Way Ice Cream (and coffee), Taco Connection, and Aladdin Mediterranean Grill. In a few months they’ll be joined by Adrian Grace’s What’s Happening Cafe (now a popular food truck).

Gene Lucero (now) Photo by Creative Touch Photography

Holding down the northeast corner of the room he’s sitting in is the stage where the full circle Lucero referred to comes alive. He hosts live music most nights, with bands like Melodius Thunk, Jakarta, Latin Sol, and Ritmo Jazz on the schedule for August. The monthly line-up blends newer acts with others you might’ve come across “back in the day” at places like Ziggies.

Lucero points to the Bar at Plaza38 logo. “What does this look like to you?” he asks with a smile as he traces the irregularly shaped white outline on a black background. It’s not quite a square, with its extra little piece jutting out in the top left corner, and its right hand border sloping leftward toward a straight horizontal bottom. There’s a gold star roughly in the middle.

If you’ve lived in North Denver a while—or run in political circles—you’ll recognize it right away. It’s Denver’s City Council District One. And the Northside.

Like bold lines on a map, focusing our attention on the place within, Lucero’s work over the decades—and in this latest chapter—makes visible the artists and entrepreneurs, communities, families, and businesses that have made this place.


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