BY VANESSA MARTIN
PHOTOS BY JEFF HERSCH
It may be hard to believe, but Curtis Park... the area bordered by Lawrence and Welton, Downing and Park Ave.... was Denver’s first suburb. It is also the city’s oldest surviving residential neighborhood.
Samuel S. Curtis developed the area in the 1860s and donated the land for Denver’s first public park, now called Mestizo-Curtis Park, at 31st and Curtis. The neighborhood became connected to downtown Denver by streetcar in 1871 and grew quickly, as did Denver, which by 1890 was the third largest city in the western US.
THE CURTIS PARK NEIGHBORHOOD is home to this beautiful Queen Anne style residence at 2343 Stout. It’s one of 13 abodes (in Victorian, Vernacular & Italianate styles, among others) that will be featured as part of Historic Denver, Inc.’s 34th annual Home Tour, Sept. 8 & 9.
The neighborhood attracted the wealthy, social and civic-minded, such as Mayor Wolfe Londoner and department store owner John Jay Joslin, who lived alongside middle class teachers, bankers, clerks and blacksmiths, which resulted in a mix of mansions next to smaller, one-story homes and duplexes in a range of architectural styles: Victorian, Queen Anne, Italianate, and Denver Square, among others.
After the silver crash of 1893, Denver’s growth temporarily stopped. By the time it recovered, the still wealthy had found Capitol Hill and Country Club more appealing than Curtis Park. By the early 20th Century, Curtis Park was a working class neighborhood for Germans, blacks, Hispanics and Japanese. Many homes were converted to rentals or boarding houses.
With the passing of the years the neighborhood became one of the city’s poorest, and many of its architectural gems were neglected and boarded up. But the structures remained intact and the area was rediscovered in the 1970s.
Since then, homes have been restored, and now the neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a Denver Landmark district.
This year, 13 of Curtis Park’s historic jewels will be showcased during Historic Denver Inc.’s 34th annual House Tour on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 8 & 9, 10 am-4 pm and noon-4 pm, respectively.
The tour will begin at 2816 Curtis, a Vernacular Cottage (a style that exemplifies the commonest techniques, decorative features, and materials of an era) where tickets will be sold and local artist Barbara Froula... who created the poster for this year’s tour... will sign copies of the print 10 am-noon Sept. 8.
Another home on the tour, 2655 Stout, is also built in the Vernacular style. Erected in 1882 to be the temporary headquarters for Calvary Baptist Church, the building has since been restored and enlarged. The church sanctuary was located where the living room and dining room are today.
Four homes will highlight the Italianate style, which was very popular in Curtis Park.
THIS RESIDENCE AT 2418 CHAMPA, built in 1881, is one of the other Queen Anne style homes on the 2007 tour. Its classic details include an asymmetrical floor plan, an ornate front porch, and a steeply gabled roof.
Most Italianate homes in the neighborhood were built between 1880-1890, and often have an asymmetrical emphasis and rich ornamentation, such as lace-like brackets, widely overhanging eaves, bracketed cornices and decorative friezes.
Many Curtis Park homes were originally ornamented with iron cresting on the roof lines. The Italianate home at 2826 Curtis still has the original iron cresting along its front bay as well, along with many other features from when it was built in 1883.
The current owners of 2903 Champa restored the 1880 structure, which had been turned into seven living units, back into its original floor plan, including a rebuilt third story that had been demolished in 1920 because in that era the owners believed it was a fire hazard.
Similar to the previous house, 2751 Champa had been divided into many separate units (five), but had suffered a fire that made it uninhabitable. Renovation began in 2001 and the home was completely gutted.
As much of the original woodwork and hardware as possible was salvaged, including the original dining room pocket doors, which were refinished and are now mounted in an upstairs bedroom as a headboard.
A rarity anywhere, most of the original interior decor of 2343 Stout remains intact. The original cherry pocket doors had to be recreated, but the downstairs cherry molding is original, as is the dining room mantel with hand-painted tiles.
Four other gems feature Queen Anne architectural characteristics.
Built in 1881, 2418 Champa is a classic Queen Anne with an asymmetrical floor plan, ornate front porch, steeply gabled roof and ornate barge board.
While the home at 2519 California is a twin to its next-door neighbor, 2523 California, it has its own distinctive features. It was restored after a major fire in the 1990s.
Just down the street, 2663 Champa was gutted in 1978 but the woodwork, parlor fireplace, ceiling medallions, stair rail, pocket doors, and anaglyptic (low relief) wall-covering along the stairs were saved.
Featuring a mix of Italianate and Queen Anne, among other styles, 2653 Stout has massive exterior stonework above the windows that run across the facade. The front porch has been recreated and it leads guests into the middle of the first floor, rather than to the front of the floor.
The Agape Church, 2501 California, was built in a simple neo-Gothic style in 1887 for German Methodists. From 1935 to 1963 it served as the Japanese Methodist Church and the minister of the congregation is said to have been instrumental in persuading Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr to welcome Japanese Americans to Colorado during World War II when they were being confined to detention centers across the country. As a result, many Japanese Americans came to Denver and lived in the Curtis Park area.
The Second Empire style home of Walter Kramer, vice president and manager of the Rio Grande Western Railroad, at 2445 California will also be showcased during the two-day event. The original one-story home has been carefully restored and enlarged and now features a distinctive Mansard roof.
John J. Huddart was one of Denver’s early architects of note, and the Eclectic home he built at 2726 Stout exemplifies his use of diverse window sizes and styles. The second floor is currently being renovated, but the first floor looks much like it did when the owners purchased it late last year.
Every neighborhood changes with the times, and two contemporary houses are part of this year’s tour as well: an infill, multi-storied property that forms a U at 919 E. 27th, and 2431 Stout, which incorporates many of the elements found in historic Curtis Park homes, such as vertically-oriented windows and doors, and historic details such as pocket doors, antique windows and elaborate ironwork.
Tickets for Historic Denver Inc.’s House Tour can be purchased in advance for $12 ($10 for Historic Denver members), or $15 on the day of the tour, at King Soopers, by calling 303-534-5288, or online at historicdenver.org.