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
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.