By Rebecca A. Hunt
Jefferson Park is not only one of our oldest North Denver neighborhoods, but one that has been subject to frequent reinvention.
Originating in the 1870s, it included parts of old Denver, Highland’s River Front, Taylors’ Subdivision along with Hager’s, Crane’s and Tynon’s Additions.
It had a robust business district, a broad range of housing, good access to transit and was even home to a circus. Some of its residents were notorious, some were visionary and some were just average men, women and children, living out their lives.
Its residents came from all over the world with heavy concentrations of Germans, Swedes, English and Irish. Residents were working class, middle class and upper class. Its boundaries included Speer Boulevard on the North, West Twentieth Avenue on the South, Boulevard (Federal) on the West and the Platte River on the East.
Because of its location, nestled up to the river, it also had its share of industry. It was eventually divided by construction of the Valley Highway, otherwise known as Interstate 25. When Denver was young, one of the first bridges that allowed hopeful miners to get ready access to the mountains crossed where West 25th Avenue now runs.
Because John Good built a brewery in 1859 on the east bank of the river near the bridge, many of the neighborhood’s residents were southern Germans who were hired because of their experience with making the golden elixir. Good sold out to Philip Zang and it became Zang’s Brewery.
Zang later also became a partner in Lakeside Amusement Park at West 46th Avenue and Sheridan Street. The large Victorian house on the east side of I-25 near the Aquarium was home to Zang’s brewmaster. In the period between the founding of Denver as part of Arapahoe County and 1902, when Denver split off to become the city and county of Denver, the streets had names like Ruby, Emerald and Diamond.
In 1902 all city street names were standardized to match their counterparts on the east side of the Platte. Now, the old names only exist in development names like the Diamond Hill complex at West 26th Avenue and Zuni Street.
Emerald Street became West 25th Avenue. Among the many businesses in Jefferson Park was a bit of an oddity. The Sells-Floto Circus, owned by The Denver Post owners Frederick Bonfils and Harry Tammen, kept its equipment and animals in winter quarters in its log buildings at Decatur Street and West 27th Avenue.
That site is now a high-rise called Decatur Point Apartments. Imagine elephants, tigers and camels marching around where the Career Education Center Early College now stands. Stay tuned in the future for more on this circus.
The Anderson House was home to William W. Anderson and stood at 2329 Eliot St. Anderson was an attorney who once defended Alferd Packer, the notorious cannibal of the Colorado mountains. Anderson got into an extended argument with Tammen and Bonfils and tried to kill them. He shot Tammen three times and Bonfils twice but both men survived.
Anderson was acquitted after three trials. The Adams Mystery Playhouse was first the home of construction magnate William Simpson. Then it was a funeral home, then the playhouse which was the brainchild of Walter Keller, who restored the Lumber Baron house on 37th Avenue and Bryant Street in Highland.
As the new century dawned there was much change near Jefferson Park. Elitch’s Amusement Park moved down into the river bottom. The sports venue the Pepsi Center opened along Speer Boulevard. And the new Mile High Stadium south of Jefferson Park quickly consumed a section of the southern neighborhood to accommodate peoples’ parking needs.
That led to pressure to provide more close-in housing to sports fans. The first major neighborhood plan that set goals for the future was developed in 1976. Between then and the second plan in 2005, the city developed Blueprint Denver in 2002. Density became the watchword of that plan with single-family lots slated to become multi-family housing ranging from slot homes to three-to five-story apartment buildings.
The 2005 neighborhood plan laid out ways to mediate change. In 2021, Denver initiated consultation with the four neighborhoods of the near Northwest side to plan for improved quality of life through 2040. Members from Jefferson Park, Highland, Sunnyside and Chaffee Park have been meeting to develop the plan.
Dr. Rebecca A. Hunt has been a Denver resident since 1985. She worked in museums and then taught Colorado, Denver and immigration history at the University of Colorado Denver until she retired in 2020.