Sunday, December 2, 2012

5280 Reasons To Love Denver

From 5280 Magazine's December 2012 article "Reasons To Love Denver":

#28 - Because we have the longest, grittiest, most interesting—and perpetually evolving—main street in the country.
     Since 1993, 57-year-old bus driver Hinton Roberson has taken his seat behind the wheel of an RTD bus; checked on the picture hanging from his lanyard of his wife, Carolyn, and their five kids; and piloted down Colfax Avenue. RTD Route 15—which runs along the majority of Colfax’s 26.5-mile length between the Heritage Square Music Hall in Golden and the town of Bennett on the Eastern Plains—is not popular among other drivers. But Roberson loves it. “It’s a route where you don’t relax,” he says. “The 15, man, it keeps you wide awake.”
     Roberson drives along a street that has ridden the booms and busts of Denver’s past. For the original elite of the city in the 19th century, Colfax was a passageway between the mansions on Capitol Hill and the brick buildings of downtown. Later, Eastern European Jews suffering from tuberculosis clustered around the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society on West Colfax. In the ’50s, Jack Kerouac romanticized the avenue’s drinking holes and jazz clubs. In the ’70s, Playboy denigrated Colfax, calling it the “longest, wickedest street in America” for its by-the-hour motels and all-too-available streetwalkers. In the ’80s, ’90s, and even now, Colfax has had a reputation for being the seedier side of the city—a highway of broken dreams, aglow in neon signs, that houses Denver’s disenfranchised.
     Roberson has only been around to witness the latest changes along this infamous stretch of pavement. Through the curved glass windshield of his bus, he has seen the area around the old Fitzsimons Army Hospital transform into one of the largest medical complexes in the world. He’s seen the Tattered Cover Book Store and the Denver Film Center take over the old Lowenstein Theater on East Colfax and watched as Mayor Michael Hancock broke ground on a new library along West Colfax. Those are the big, obvious changes. But Roberson also notices the little things that most of us don’t, like the new streetlights along East Colfax. Most of them are green, but between St. Paul and Clermont streets the lights have been painted blue, a visual hint at the Greek heritage of those particular blocks.
     Colfax, of course, will keep evolving. Heavy policing and new zoning laws, especially in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, have allowed chic cupcake shops, independent restaurants, and trendy bars to open along an expanse of avenue that not so long ago seemed too sketchy to invest in. Still, the street has retained its rough-and-tumble spirit and resisted complete sterilization à la New York City’s Times Square.
     And that’s fine with Roberson, who keeps driving for the people. “I’ve been on routes where generally people don’t speak to you,” he says. “On Colfax, at least they acknowledge you. It might be in a bad way, but they’ll acknowledge you.”

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