Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Early Denver Homes: 2222 Champa

One of my hobbies is collecting early Denver related ephemera such as post cards and pictorial tour booklets. A few years back, I purchased a circa 1890 booklet entitled "Souvenir Album of Denver, Colorado". In it are drawings of numerous buildings around town, including the houses of the prominent citizens of Denver. Most of these houses were in downtown proper or close by. Doing the research on even one house takes a while but here's what I found out about 2222 Champa, the home shown above.

This lovely Second Empire house was the residence of Wolfe Londoner, Mayor of Denver. He was elected in 1889. His detractors immediately accused him of ballot stuffing and corruption. The Rocky Mountain News stated the election to be "the most disgraceful in the history of Denver politics, corrupt as they have been before." This seems to imply that although previous elections were corrupt, this one took the cake. Saloon owners and other unsavory proprietors such as Ed Chase, Soapy Smith and Bat Masterson were said to have perpetuated and encouraged this corrupt behavior. Subsequent investigations led to Mr. Londoner's removal from office in 1891 just before he was to finish his term as mayor. He has been the only mayor to be removed from office.

Wolfe Londoner

One can imagine the mayor riding his carriage over to City Hall at 14th and Larimer. Or perhaps he took the Curtis or Stout streetcar into downtown. His home at 2222 Champa was among many nice homes in the southern reaches of what we now call the "greater" Curtis Park neighborhood. At the turn of the last century, the thought of this area succumbing to the ravages of growing urbanism would have been unthinkable.

But the march of the 20th century radically changed this part of downtown. Today, the lots where the house once stood sit within the city of Denver's planning area known as Arapahoe Square. The area has among the highest concentrations of parking lots in the city. The homes that once stood here were demolished for business uses or parking lots. Only a few original houses remain in this Arapahoe Square area, mostly along adjacent Stout Street...and they are in very sorry shape. For the mayor's lot, Nate's Import Service and the adjacent parking lot now occupy the space, with an address of 2218 Champa. Investigation of the Sanborn Insurance Maps of 1890 indicate that Mayor Londoner had a double lot with the house sitting mostly upon today's parking lot with Nate's Import Service now occupying what was once part of the yard.

Mayor Londoner's home was demolished in 1940. Records and newspaper evidence indicate the home was constructed in 1878. The area near the home had begun a long decline after the Broadway road extension was put through in 1909. This endeavor sliced through the whole neighborhood and resulted in numerous demolitions. Even prior to that, the area's residential character was called into question as the house on the corner was replaced in 1904 by the Moratto Block (a building which remains).

The Londoner Home May 1, 1909
From the Denver Republican p. 12. The article talked about the declining property values caused by the extension of Broadway through the neighborhood, less than a block from Londoner's home.

These two clips come from the Denver Post, April 2, 1940

Pictures from the modern era in the 2200 block of Champa follow below:

The Moratto Block is the building that sits on the corner. For many years during the middle 20th century to circa 2000, various bohemian coffee shops occupied its walls, including Muddy's Java Cafe. Nate's Import Service is the building north of the Moratto Block.

This parking lot and Nate's Import Service, 2218 Champa, sit on the site of the former Londoner Mansion and yard. In the rear of the photo, you can view the back of one of the few remnant homes on this area south of Park Avenue. That home faces Stout Street.

Nate's was built in 1935 as an auto service garage. Its footprint encroached well into the yard of the former Londoner Mansion, leading to the home's demolition in 1940 as the residential character of this portion of Denver began to change more dramatically.

A front view of Nate's, 2218 Champa.

A close-up of Nate's with the Moratto Block in the rear.

Seeing this type of urban change over time is but one example of the amazing diversity and plethora of housing that once existed all the way from 1st Street up to 44th Street in what we now call downtown Denver. All of the housing in the current Central Business District is long gone except for the Curry-Chucovich-Gerash House at 1439 Court Place. Between 20th and 23rd Streets (Park Ave), very little housing remains. This is what makes all of the homes that make up the Curtis Park Historic District so miraculous. These old homes survived to the present day. Places like the Londoner home though are not among the survivors. Many other amazing architectural wonders were also lost. This bit of research on one such home offers a window into this lost past.

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