A Heart Found Its Way Home Again

November 1, 2022

On October 27, 2022, the late afternoon sun broke through the clouds to bathe the Centennial House at 1050 Ninth Street in brilliant sunshine. It shone on a crowd of people who’d gathered for a public blessing of the old home—one of the houses that line Historic Ninth Street Park, a one-block street that preserves a part of the Auraria neighborhood. CU Denver is restoring the house and, on this day, University of Colorado Regent and CU Denver’s Chief of External Initiatives Nolbert Chavez asked people to place their hands on the brick façade to bless the ongoing work. Here is an excerpt from his remarks:  

“Now, it’s been said, that home is where the heart is. We’ve all heard those words. It’s an idiomatic phrase. A way of saying that home is not necessarily where you have a roof over your head, or all the comforts of life. It can be where you feel the most affection from, and for, the people you love.  

Perhaps it’s where you feel safest. Or most welcome. Or the place where you feel the most accepted and supported. Home is where the heart is. A special place. It can be a neighborhood or even a house.”

“Behind me stands a house. That’s obvious. The bricks and wood and plaster and glass were formed into a house in 1876. It’s called the Centennial House for that reason. And it is believed to be the oldest brick house in Denver. This house, became a home when families began living their lives here. Our special guest Rita Gomez and her brother Terry grew up in this very house.” 

“She told me stories of what it was like to grow up here. Like when she heard her dad drive home and park in the back, she would climb out the front window so she could keep on playing. It’s the home where she remembers being told by her parents that their bedroom was off limits, and a big heavy door was always closed. It’s where she walked to school at St. Cajetan’s with her cousins and friends, and where memories were created that she would carry her entire life.”

“Then, exactly 100 years after this HOME was built, it became just a HOUSE again. Just a house. A shell. That’s when the City sent out letters saying, ‘You gotta move.’ They labelled this neighborhood ‘blighted,’ used the powers of eminent domain, and bulldozed it. Thank God for Historic Denver for saving this block, otherwise there would be nothing left. And in 1976, 100 years after this house was built, they turned the keys over to AHEC.  

But let’s be honest. The heart of this home, and the 13 others on this block was gone. I remember Rita telling me that on the day they had to leave, they couldn’t find anyone to help them move because everybody was moving. The 900 people that were forced to leave their homes would spend the next 50 years saying, “I live in North Denver (or West Denver or East Denver), but my heart is in Auraria.”  

I have a friend named Carlos Fresquez. He is a very well-known local artist who also teaches at MSU and grew up just south of Colfax in the Westside. He told me a story the other day that perfectly captures this sentiment. In 1993, he painted an iconic painting of St. Cajetans church with a low rider parked in front and a bride and groom walking out of the church. It’s entitled ‘A Westside Wedding.’ It’s beautiful. But what I didn’t know until just the other day, was the reason he painted it in the first place. He did so because he and his wife had always wanted to get married at St. Cajetans but couldn’t because their church had been taken away. So, in celebration of his wedding anniversary, he painted, what it would have been like for he and his wife to get married there.” 

“Which brings us to why we are here. CU Denver is about to begin a renovation and restoration of this house, 1050 Ninth Street. Our intention is for the community to feel welcome with meeting space dedicated to honoring the entire displaced Aurarian community. Earlier, you heard me refer to a memory Rita shared about her parents’ room being off limits. Their door always being closed to the kids. So, I removed that door, and took the hinges off, and I cleaned them—and I had them framed for you, so that you know that no door will ever be closed to you here, you are always welcome.”

Earlier this summer we held a private blessing for Rita and her family. It was very special. But today, we’ve invited you all here to participate in a community blessing. Christina Sigala is going to lead us in that blessing. She is a displaced Aurarian herself, and doctoral candidate in CU Denver’s School of Education. Christina, please come up and take over for me.”

“While you make your way up, allow me set this up. I’m going to ask everyone who is comfortable, to participate in this blessing. I want you to surround this house and lay your hands on the brick and bless it in your own way. Let your hands feel the rough exterior of this house that has stood for 150 years. Don’t rush. Take all the time you need. Hear Christina’s words. Give this house a piece of your heart, and your love. Bless our intention, bless the many hands that will work on it, and bless the use of it when we’re done. Let it be a welcoming place. Full of new memories of laughter and joy, and peace and love. And let us all remember today as the day, a heart found its way—home again.” 

—Nolbert Chavez, University of Colorado Regent and CU Denver’s Chief of External Initiatives

Click here to read about CU Denver’s commitment to honor Auraria’s past and future. 

Photos by Paul Wedlake, photographer and video support professional