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Capitol Hill

8th Avenue to Colfax, Sherman to Corona

History

The history of the Capitol Hill neighborhood is as colorful and interesting as its current personality and feel. An area of much diversity, both in its residents and also in its development, Capitol Hill began as a claim by Henry Brown in 1864 called “Brown’s Bluff.” Brown thought the hill was an ideal place for the location of our state capitol and donated the area between Grant and Lincoln, 14th to Colfax for that purpose. After the state did not use the land for over ten years, he decided to take it back! Court battles ensued for years with the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upholding the state’s ownership of the parcel. The first legislature met there in 1895 but construction was not completed until 1908 when the dome was coated with gold.

J.W. Smith’s “Smith’s Ditch” brought water to the area which spurred building in Capitol Hill. The wealthy headed to Grant Street on “Quality Hill” and constructed elaborate mansions. Taking advantage of both the mountain views and the proximity to downtown, “Millionaire’s Row” and Capitol Hill in general thrived. The area east of Brown’s Bluff was still primarily farmland as late as the 1870’s. Here more ornate construction was created with residents modifying architectural plans and adding turrets, towers, etc. in order to make their properties stand out. Alongside these masterpieces, housing was necessary for the cooks, maids, day laborers, etc. who were essential to maintain these households. Carriage houses as well as modest apartment buildings were built for this purpose. In some areas barns were used as housing for farm helpers and grooms.

The Silver Crash of 1893 solidified Capitol Hill’s destiny as a neighborhood of diversity with an increased demand for and production of middle class apartment housing. During the Depression, many grand homes were either demolished to make way for apartment buildings or divided into multi-unit housing. Mansions along Colfax Avenue gave way to commercial development.

Planners of the 1950’s and 1960’s believed that the best vision of Denver as a cutting-edge city would be attained with the construction of high-rises. By this time many of the old mansions had become run down from years of neglect and were seen as eyesores. Zoning in Capitol Hill was changed to welcome large-scale apartment buildings: Many more historic buildings were demolished to make way for “progress.” Little thought was given to landscaping or parking, which led to even more demolition.

Fortunately, the true heart of Capitol Hill became apparent in the 1970’s. The demolition of the Moffett Mansion at 8th and Grant began the preservation movement. Many vintage homes were repaired and some were designated as landmarks. Efforts to preserve the remaining mountain views were successful. CHUN (Capitol Hill United Neighbors) was created with a focus on promoting the neighborhood and all of its amenities.

Containing many of Denver’s most elaborate churches and many landmarks including the Molly Brown House at 13th and Pennsylvania, East High School (the oldest public high school in Colorado), and the Bluebird Theatre, Capitol Hill remains one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the city.

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