This year, we’re celebrating a big birthday (we’re turning 50!). So we toured our campus and the surrounding area to help us connect with the past. And we found six places, in particular, that made us stop, reflect, and learn. Come on the journey with us.
In our modern city, it could be easy to overlook that water is one of the world’s most valuable resources. We turn on a faucet without hesitation, we marvel at rainstorms, and we enjoy our view of snow-capped mountains. But we also know how, in our semiarid climate, water’s role in sustaining life and community is undeniable. It is also historic.
For millennia, the confluence of two waterways—the South Platte River and Cherry Creek—has created a space for gathering, trading, and learning for the Indigenous nations whose ancestral homelands include this area and the state, including the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Ute nations. The creek that now flows through the CU Denver campus was a place for information sharing, community, and planning. Today, the banks of the Cherry Creek are surrounded by cement walls and roadways, but the importance of this waterway and the impact it has on the community remains.
Ninth Street (Between Curtis and Champa Streets)
In 1858, gold prospectors staked out a townsite next to the Cherry Creek and called it Auraria, after their hometown in Georgia. The area quickly became a fulcrum of activity in the growing metro (Denver subsumed the original townsite) and some of the city’s wealthiest citizens erected homes in Queen Anne, Italianate, and Second Empire styles. As Denver continued to expand, the area retained its residential character and became a very diverse neighborhood anchored by cultural landmarks like St. Catejan’s (see below).
In 1965, the South Platte River flooded several neighborhoods in the metro area and devastated Auraria. Soon after, conversations about developing the land into a higher education campus gained the support of Denver voters. In the coming years, more than 300 households were displaced as homes and businesses were demolished. Community members fought to save the neighborhood and with the help of Historic Denver, a three-acre piece of Ninth Street from Curtis to Champa streets was preserved. The roadway was covered in grass, buildings were converted into office space, and the area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Now, Ninth Street is being revitalized. CU Denver is leading the renovations of six properties on this historic street (work has already begun on the Centennial House at 1050 Ninth Street). The university’s efforts are guided by CU Regent, alum, and Chief of External Initiatives Nolbert Chavez, and have already included a special blessing and an expansion of the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship.
Emmanuel Gallery (1205 10th Street Plaza)
This charming building in the heart of campus is said to be Denver’s oldest standing religious structure. The site was first used for a non-denominational Sunday school built by Colorado entrepreneur and pioneer Colonel Lewis N. Tappan in 1859. In 1874, Bishop John F. Spaulding purchased the land and built an Episcopalian chapel.
The Auraria neighborhood continued to grow, and, in 1903, the Emmanuel Episcopal Chapel was purchased by the congregation of Shearith Israel and converted to a synagogue that would serve the Jewish community for more than half a century. When members of the congregation moved to other neighborhoods, the synagogue was sold to artist and photographer of the West, Wolfgang Pogzeba, who used the chapel as a studio.
Today, the structure’s Romanesque architecture, with stone exterior and pointed Gothic windows, has been preserved. And it houses the Emmanuel Art Gallery, a nonprofit art facility run by Director Jeff Lambson and supported by staff and College of Arts & Media students. Its walls and spaces feature bold and provocative artwork of internationally known artists and rising student creators.
St. Catejan’s Church (101 Lawrence Way)
As more Hispanics from southern Colorado and New Mexico settled in the Auraria neighborhood, they sought a new place of worship, writes the Denver Architecture Foundation. Their options were limited, so they began holding masses in the basement of St. Leo’s (a predominately Irish parish). The new congregation formed the St. Cajetan’s parish, named after the patron saint of jobseekers.
In 1923, congregation members and leaders of St. Leo’s Church approached John Kernan Mullen, a well-known businessman and philanthropist in the Denver area who helped build St. Leo’s. When Mullen left the neighborhood to build a Capitol Hill mansion, he donated his Ninth Street home to the Hispanic congregation to be used for mass services. In October 1924, the congregation broke ground on a new church, which remains a symbolic landmark on the Auraria campus.
The iconic pink church, which was completed in 1926, is located on the southwest side of campus and was the first Hispanic parish in Denver. The building boasts Spanish Colonial architecture features, including twin bell towers, parapets, stained glass windows, a clay tile roof, and stucco exterior. In 1970, St. Catejan’s was designated as a city landmark, which helped ensure its survival when construction of the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) began in 1973. Equipped with a concert hall and office space, the church is now used for a variety of events, including weddings, lectures, and community gatherings.
Tivoli Student Union (900 Auraria Parkway)
It is hard to say if German immigrant Moritz Sigi knew he was creating an iconic Denver landmark when he opened the Colorado Brewery on Tenth Street in the Auraria neighborhood in 1864—but that’s what happened. The structure was designed by architect Frederick C. Eberley in a Bavarian style with Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Rococo influences. The four-story, red brick High Victorian Italianate tower still claims a picturesque spot in Denver’s skyline.
Moritz Sigi died in a horse-drawn carriage crash in 1874, and Max Malsheimer took over and renamed the operation the Milwaukie Brewery in 1879. This was the first of many ownership changes for the building. Malsheimer defaulted on a business loan, so the brewery exchanged hands at the turn of the century. John Good took control, partnered with Union Brewery, and rebranded the company as Tivoli-Union Brewing Company after the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark.
When Prohibition began in Colorado in 1916—four years before the rest of the nation followed suit—many breweries closed, but Tivoli-Union persisted by brewing low-alcohol cereal beers. And it persisted until the 1965 South Platte River flood tainted the artesian well in the brewery and changed the flavor of the beer. People weren’t crazy about the new taste, stopped buying the beer, and the brewery shut down in 1969. The building would go through more ownership changes until 1991, when the students on the Auraria campus voted to use their fees to buy back the building and to convert it into their student union—a purpose it has served since 1994.
Tramway Building (1100 14th Street)
In 1911, at a time when streetcars rolled through Denver, the Denver Tramway Company established its headquarters at 1100 14th Street. Designed by Denver-based architects William E. Fisher and Arthur A. Fisher, the Tramway Building had two distinctive parts: an eight-story office tower and a two-story car barn.
But as cars became more popular, the company pivoted from streetcars to trolley coaches and diesel buses during WWII. Eventually, the Tramway Building was sold to the University of Colorado in 1956, and the building became the primary location for the University of Colorado Denver Extension. Rooms in the car barn were converted into classrooms, and tower offices were used by faculty and administration. Students and faculty used to be able to park inside the building, which was an incredible luxury, especially on the coldest and snowiest nights during that period.
When CU Denver became an independent branch in 1973, it began expanding and moved to the newly constructed Auraria Campus a few years later. The University of Colorado held onto the building for a while until the Denver Center for the Performing Arts purchased the car barn portion of the building in 1991 for additional office space, storage, and performance classes. The tower, which had been vacant, was sold and converted in 1999 into Hotel Teatro, a boutique hotel so named as a salute to the performing arts complex next door.
This article was written by the Editorial and Content Director Natasha Gardner, Internal Communications Manager Alex DeWind, and 50th Anniversary Campaign Specialist Jackson Reed.