Madame CJ Walker Takes the Stage on this Urban Hike through Whittier and Skyland
Tucked just east of Five Points is a pair of neighborhoods people often overlook while cruising Martin Luther King Blvd. But that’s a shame; Whittier and Skyland have something to say in which all Denverites should listen. Walking these two neighborhoods together is imperative; their history is intertwined in a story of integration. Race Street, particularly, runs through the middle of these two neighborhoods and historically marked Denver’s color barrier. Together, these neighborhoods tell the story of remembering. Let’s start the story with Whittier.
Where Is Whittier?
Whittier sits with 23rd Avenue to the south, Martin Luther King Boulevard (32nd) to the north, Downing St. to the west and York St. to the east. Named after John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), an abolitionist poet and a founding member of the American Republican political party, the neighborhood lives and breathes history that melts over from Five Points, jazz music, and Denver’s integration story.
The Color Line
While walking the neighborhood, you’ll learn many things, including these four interesting treasures. Race St was the historical color line of Denver. In order to recall the history, you can find scant traces of an art project called the Whittier Alley Loop project. from 2015. This project told the story of integration and race through murals, artwork, and stories painted into the street. Although almost completely gone, the Whittier Alley Loop project can still be seen with careful eyes and keen sight.
The First Female Millionaire and Her Hair, Madame CJ Walker
Along the short loop, you’ll learn about treasure number two. Whittier was home to Madam CJ Walker’s African-American hair care business. She became the first self-made, female, African-American millionaire, influencing beauty all over the US, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Knocking door to door, she schlepped hair tonic and solutions to an audience who loved her. Although her business didn’t stay in Denver, her impact did. Watch the Netflix series about her, Self-Made, and read this article in Westword about her as well.
Buffalo Bill’s Final Wish
You may know that Buffalo Bill’s final wish was to be buried on Lookout Mountain. But did you know he made that wish from right here in Whittier? Treasure number three is an interesting piece of local history as well–the home where Buffalo Bill Cody died! Pony Express rider, war veteran, bison killer and sideshow salesman, the place where he died still remains. Look for his sister’s home in the 2900 block of Lafayette. The metal bison in the yard gives him away.
The Local Music Teacher and Political Guru
Morrison Park, named after George C Morrison who is known as the godfather of jazz, centers Whittier as a fourth treasure. Make sure to read the lovely signage and memorial to him, which links him to the historic Five Points jazz scene. He also held political court of many influencers who knew the importance of stopping in to see a community leader.
Jumping to the Skyland
Skyland, more commonly known as North City Park Neighborhood, is bordered by Martin Luther King Boulevard to the north, East 23rd Avenue to the south, Colorado Boulevard to the east and York Street to the west, sitting just east of Whittier and includes the City Park golf course (which currently is closed and is future is uncertain.)
Skyland’s neighborhood association, North City Park Civic Association, has been around almost 40 years, and they’ve posted signs at the neighborhood’s entries. Although Skyland doesn’t have the more exciting history that Whittier has, it, too has contributed to the area’s wax and wane with Five Points and Whittier. While walking in Skyland,, you’ll find the typical mix of older homes and 1940s homes, but the 1940s dominate the area. It also includes the historically denoted home of Denver’s first black architect (who was blind in one eye!) at 2600 Milwaukee St.
Walking the two neighborhoods together will help you see how the “color line” affected both areas. You’ll also see the mix of history, the development of some beautiful pocket parks, and an attempt to keep history alive. This 3.3-mile walk keep you talking about both neighborhoods even after you finish.
The Route (click for interactive map):
Start at 3019 N Lafayette St. Walk south past the community garden and through the park. Look for the house on the east side of the street that has a buffalo in its yard. That’s the death place of Buffalo Bill.
Take a left on E 30th Ave, right on Franklin, then a left on E 29th Ave. Walk south and diagonally through Denver’s second oldest park, Fuller Park. Say hello to the dogs in the dog park and pass along Manuel High School. Continue to the east along E 28th Ave.
At the corner of High St and 28th, enjoy the mural on the library. Then, walk up the alley to the west of High Street, seeing the remnants of the Whittler Alley Loop project. Continue up the alley to E 30th.
Take a right and enjoy the history of Madame CJ. Continue to the east, crossing High and then heading south in the alley behind High St. Take a left on E 28th Ave.
Take a right on Race St, then a left on 26th Ave. Cross York into Skyland. Take a left on Josephine St.
Take a right on E 27t Ave and a left on Elizabeth, a right on E 28th Ave, then a left on Clayton, making your way through Skyland. Notice the variation in homes with the block from turn of the century to modern.
Pass the local schools, then continue to take a right on E 30th Ave, then a left on Fillmore St. Take a left on E 31st Ave, continuing your amble in Skyland.
Cross York again, then at High, take a right. At MLK, take a left, walking through Morrison park and stopping to read its history. At Lafayette, take a left, returning back to your start.
Walking Whittier and Skyland 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.