Walking through Denver’s First Jewish Community and Remembering Its Chicano History
People often overlook the west side of Denver on their way to the front range. But you shouldn’t. It’s an area full of interesting history and famous landmarks. If you’d like to go for a fun and interesting walk on the west side, combine the neighborhoods of West Colfax and Villa Park.
West Colfax and Villa Park neighborhoods share the east/west boundaries of Sheridan and Federal. West Colfax goes north to 17th, Villa Park goes south to 6th, and the Lakewood/Dry Gulch splits the neighborhoods into two. You’ll amble through Denver’s first Jewish community and meander through parks and libraries dedicated to Denver’s Chicano and Hispanic leaders.
A Train Runs through It
One of the main outdoor features of the neighborhoods is the Lakewood/Dry Gulch. This concrete path certainly adds a spectacular punch to the two neighborhoods. This gulch that drains both neighborhoods to the Platte, also has a wonderful trail that goes west along Dry Gulch to Sheridan, or southwesterly along Lakewood Gulch to Green Mountain Park.
The Lakewood/Dry Gulch also houses the light rail to downtown. Thus, if you live in either neighborhood, you can ride, walk, or transit downtown with ease. Crawfish sing and Great Blue Heron fish along its banks; it’s best to enjoy the trail in the early morning before the commuters make their way downtown or to transit.
Wicked, Yet Full of Dreams
West Colfax, the neighborhood, once had two parts. One side was named Brooklyn. They eventually annexed to Denver. Both, though were traversed by Golden Road: the street that took travelers from Denver to Golden. In 1896, Golden Road became Colfax, renamed for Schuyler Colfax, vice-president to President Ulysses S. Grant. Although some neighbors love that Playboy Magazine once called Colfax the longest, wicked, street in the US, others hope the nickname will quickly fade away.
Villa Park, on the other hand, had grand plans to be a 1000 acre resort with lakes and features. But these dreams suffered too, and eventually the land sold to PT Barnum. The neighborhood split in two, with Villa Park to the north and Barnum to the south. Be sure to read about the fun and crazy Barnum and its history here.
Se Habla Español?
Both neighborhoods are rich in parks, one of the most relevant being the Paco Sanchez Park. Paco made his mark in Denver by starting the first Spanish-speaking radio station and becoming an activist for the Hispanic community. His park sits on the hill overlooking the gulch and downtown and is just south of Corky Gonzalez Library.
By the way, the City of Denver received input from the community and updated the park with a fun new microphone. Inside the sculpture, you can climb and scramble up and down ladders and chutes. Designed for both adult and kids alike, y’all can play together at the same time in the same place.
And an Historic District!
The West Colfax homes have history. Lang, who designed over 600 homes in Denver, took on the fanciful homes along Stuart, and he even influenced the more subdivision-style homes throughout the neighborhood. Many of the homes were built in the late 1800s, and you can find them in the Stuart Historic District.
A little surprise pops up in Villa Park, an unnamed park! With a wonderful little playground, an Aztec cat play piece and an Aztec calendar, it’s nice to see the park hearken to the ancestral land of Aztlán, which is referenced in Corky Gonzalez’ poem, Yo soy Joaquín. This famous poem, say some, marks the beginning of the Chicano movement and its identity. You can find the poem and a video montage of Gonzalez’ impact on Denver. It’s worth the extra steps up to the library, just north of Paco Park. Check it out when you return to your start point.
Enjoy this wonderful 3.3-mile walk through lots of fun discoveries in both West Colfax and Villa Park.
Start at 1498 Irving St and park at the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Library. Walk west on Colfax, turning right on Lowell Blvd. Walk up to Lake International School, which was the first and most ornate Junior High School for the kids around Sloan Lake.
Go west on W 18th Ave, take a left on Meade St, take a right on 17th, then a left on Colfax. Cross Colfax, continuing west.
Take a left on Perry St. Take a right on W 14th St. At the corner of Stuart 14th, enjoy the two homes built by Lang. The one on the SW corner is the Bliss House, which was built for Dr. and Mrs. Jerry and Lillian Bliss. Dr. Bliss, a Civil War veteran, lived here until his death in 1945, at the age of 99, the south’s last Civil War veteran.
At Tennyson St, take a left and cross the Lakewood/Dry Gulch into Villa Park. Exit the Gulch onto Stuart St, walking through the neighborhood. You’ll reach Martinez Park. Walk through the park and pick up the Lakewood Gulch trail, walking northeasterly.
You’ll pass the Aztec-influenced park, continuing to walk northeasterly, catching up with the Dry Gulch trail. Continue along the trail to Knox Court.
Exit the trail, going north on Knox Court, crossing the train tracks and entering Paco Sanchez Park. Enjoy the Paco sign.
Continue northeasterly through the park to W Avondale Drive. Walk north and Avondale turns into Irving. Continue north until you return back to the library where you started.
An Historic Urban Hike in Denver 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