By Eric Heinz
A fixture of North Denver, La Raza Park is now the city’s third historic cultural district. The City Council recently voted unanimously (11-0) to approve the designation as it has significant historic and cultural value to the area.
Councilwoman Amanda P. Sandoval, who represents the district where the park is located, headed the effort along with city staff and community members.
“I am proud to have worked on the application with the community,” Sandoval said. “It wasn’t long ago that Denver had segregation, blatant racism. When I was growing up, our father would share stories of him having to use colored-only water fountains, having to go through the back door of businesses to sell newspapers in the east side, being hit with a ruler at school because he was speaking Spanish.”
The city has hundreds of historic landmark designations along with several dozen historic districts, but there are only two other historic cultural districts, one in Five Points and another in La Alma-Lincoln Park. Historic cultural districts are intended to preserve areas of historically marginalized communities, and this is only the third such district in the city.
Sandoval said there is much work to be done with other BIPOC communities to ensure preservation. La Raza Park embodies that disparity in the landmark process.
“When we take a close look at our (historic) designations and the history that was represented in our local landmarks, we realized that our existing local landmarks tell a very narrow history of Denver, one which over-represents upper-class White males,” said Becca Dierschow, a senior planner with the city of Denver, during a City Council presentation. “As you can see from this chart of all the history, only 13% of the designation applications represent historically excluded communities.”
The La Raza Park district is restricted to just the 2.2-acre park, located at 1501 W. 38th Ave. La Raza Park has served as a focal point for the North Denver community, even as the demographics of the surrounding area changed.
The Latino population steadily grew in the neighborhoods near the park between 1945 and the 1990s. The area was home to pivotal moments within the Chicano Movement of the 1970s and ’80s.
Several incidents, according to the city, which included police confrontations with the Latino community, forced a swimming pool that was once operational in the park to close in 1984.
La Raza Park was renamed in 2020 after the city scrapped the name Columbus Park, which it had been named since the 1930s.
In 2022, Denver Landmark Preservation published a historic context study of Denver’s Latino, Chicano and Mexican-American communities titled “Nuestras Historias,” which compiled several sites within communities as being historically and culturally significant, and which included La Raza Park.