A Bohemian Meander through a Buttoned-Up Neighborhood
Capitol Hill and its northern neighbor, North Capitol Hill, make two contrasting neighbors with a common history. Part all-business, part Bohemian, this area just east of Colorado’s Capitol, which it includes, has a double-sided, buttoned-up, Bohemian personality. It’s also home to some of funkiest places to eat, including City O’ City, a totally vegan experience.
The biggest landmark in the neighborhood is the Capitol. Back in 1867 when Denver beat out Golden to be the location for the state capitol, Governor Alexander Hunt appealed to land donors for space to put the new statuesque building. Despite lobbying by John Evans to get his property (now known as the Golden Triangle) adopted, Henry Brown won. Known as Brown’s Bluff and ridiculed for being so far from the center of town (think Larimer Square!), the Capitol’s construction started in 1886.
From Grandiose to Paved Parking Lots
Capitol Hill, bounded by Broadway, Downing Street, Colfax Avenue, and 7th Avenue, sits just south of North Capitol Hill, which extends the boundary up to 20th and diagonal along Park Ave. Sitting proudly on the western boundary is Colorado Capitol. At one time, mansions of the rich and powerful surrounded the Capitol. You can still find several of these mansions, although parking lots of blacktop now replace many of them.
The neighborhood grew on speculation around the Capitol. At the time, the wealthy lived on 14th St. But they started to feel encroached upon, and knowing the Capitol would be a prestigious place to live high above the city, the rich moved from 14th to the streets around the Capitol. Their gamble paid off, ultimately created Denver’s second Millionaire’s Row.
Both neighborhoods have gone through similar changes. First came the historic silver bust, then came the Depression, and then came the white flight of the 60s. All three of these boom/bust elements combined to take their tolls on the once grand Denver mansions. Some survived by becoming apartments and condos. A few thrived, never getting compartmentalized, or they became commercialized. But many met bulldozers or fire. Like many other American cities, downtown Denver and its grand show places either adapted or died with urban flight or urban renewal.
On this walk you’ll pass the Molly Brown House. Brown, married to a gold striker, separated from him but never divorced. They moved in Denver’s society’s circles, but she was always shunned by its most elite. Despite her ostracizing, she co-founded the Denver Women’s Club and Denver Women’s Press Club. Yet Brown, not related to the Brown Palace Brown’s, is most famous for surviving the sinking of the Titanic. She also saved and restored the Eugene Field House (see Wash Park.)
Art and Sculpture, Too
Although the great mansions might grab your attention, don’t let them distract you from historic sculptures and recent art pieces. From pillow cairns made of marble and art fashioned from giant tree roots to historic Native American sculptures, every corner seems to show up a surprise.
Be sure to walk around the east edge of the Capitol. Did you know the sculpture behind the Capitol, “The Closing Era,” has a face that was originally supposed to be that of Native American Chief Ouray? Or that the pillow cairns along Pennsylvania were made by the same artist as the Blue Bear (“I See What You Mean”) by Lawrence Argent?
If you have time, venture into the Capitol and take a free tour. Learn about the cache of rose quartz, the amazing portraits, the gold dome, and a bit of Colorado history.
Oh, Yeah, the Buildings!
Not to be outdone by the art and mansions, architects in Cap Hill created some of Denver’s iconic skyscrapers, too, including the “Cash Register Building.”
Scrunched along the western boundary of the two neighborhoods, you’ll find some of Denver’s best buildings. Be it the Capitol, original churches, or the Wells Fargo complex, you’ll find as many types of architectural flair as you’ll find Bohemian styles within the ‘hoods. Be sure to also grab a bite at many of the hippy (City O’ City) or buttoned up (Charlie Brown) places. You’ll be sure to find something good.
Start at the Crawford Hill Mansion at 150 E 10th Ave, Denver, CO 80203. Once the home of Denver’s “snootiest hostess,” or so said Molly Brown, Mrs Hill maintained Denver’s social registry. Head north up Sherman Street past Poet’s Row. These apartment buildings named after the architect’s favorite literary characters continue to keep their charm. But don’t get their names wrong–none of the authors, including Jack Kerouac, ever lived in these buildings.
Continue north toward the Capitol. If you have time, be sure to catch the free capitol tour, which is excellent. Rather than walk to the west of the Capitol, walk on its east side. Stop at the statue of the Native American and the bison called, “The Closing Era.” The face of the Native American was originally petitioned to be Chief Ouray, but the sculptor settled for just a “generic” face.
Continue north along Grant St past the Wells Fargo center, the public map art of the US, and even past the Warwick Hotel which used to be the Denver Playboy. Enjoy the various architectural styles along the way.
At E 20th Ave, take a right. Benedict Fountain Park will be on your left, and across from there is the Five Points Neighborhood. Be sure to go to the fountain and read about it and its creator. Once you’ve enjoyed the fountain, head south on Pennsylvania Street.
Along the way, you’ll pass Steuben’s Diner on your left, a great all-American Diner, you’ll see the pillow cairns sculpture on your right, and further down, you’ll pass Molly Brown’s house on your left. Many of these homes are on the Historic Register, so be sure to read plaques and signs.
At E 10th Ave, take a right, returning back to the Crawford Mansion, completing your 2.5 mile urban hike through Capitol Hill and North Capitol Hill.
A Bohemian Urban Hike through Capitol Hill and Supporting Denver By Foot
If you’ve enjoyed this walk, maybe you’ll enjoy some other walks curated by Denver By Foot. Get the 52 Hikes 52 Weeks Denver Calendar, which recommends a hike a week, subscribe to the YouTube Channel to hear about weekly hiking suggestions in Denver, and buy access to the Denver By Foot Challenge. The Challenge is 30 activities in Denver to do by foot where you’ll uncover treasures throughout Denver. It’s a great thing to do with friends and family.
Finally, please support Denver By Foot by purchasing Chris Englert’s books, The Best Urban Hikes: Denver and Discovering Denver Parks. Thank you so much!
Wasn’t this a fun walk?
See you on the trail