Twirl among Carousels on this West Highland Urban Hike

The story of West Highland neighborhood is very similar to that of Highland neighborhood (notice no “s”, according to the official list of Denver neighborhoods.) Like its eastern neighbor, West Highland formed out of the desire for folks to get out of the smokey bottom lands of Denver and to find cleaner air. So it’s no wonder the neighborhood is filled with turn-of-the century Victorians, a few TB sanitariums, and smaller homes that filled in where the larger homes gave way.

The boundaries of the West Highland neighborhood are W 38th Ave to W 29th Ave, Sheridan Blvd to Federal Blvd. West Highland’s most famous landmark is the original location of Elitch Gardens.

The First Female Zookeeper

Also “out in West Highland” where the apple orchards grew, rose the famous Elitch’s Zoological Gardens built in 1890. Run by Mary Elitch, the first female zookeeper, botanic gardener, and theatre owner in the US, Elitch was once a booming entertainment complex with live shows, amusements, carousels, and concerts.They built many buildings to house all of the entertainment.

Now, only a theatre and famous labyrinth remain. The theatre was restored in 2014 and now hosts a steady stream of performers. The labyrinth’s floor is inside where carousel PTC No 6 once twirled. The carousel moved to the Kit Carson Fairgrounds in Burlington where it was restored; you can now ride and enjoy it during season for $.25. It was replaced here in the Pavillon by PTC No 51, which was moved to its current location on the new Elitch Garden’s grounds on the South Platte downtown. If the Pavilion is open, you are welcome to walk the labyrinth.

Sadly the gardens are gone. The Elitch Gardens Theatre Foundation now owns and runs the current venue.

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Elitch remains, still, if only for a short time. The amusements and rides are now in downtown Denver off the Platte River, also known as LoDo. The famous Elitch roller coasters relocated along the Platte; their future is uncertain. The City recently announced that they will build hundreds of residential units on the Elitch property. It’s not clear where Elitch Gardens will be moved.

Tony Lived Here!

While walking the neighborhood, be sure to pass through what the locals hope is the future Packard Historic District between Lowell and the alley between Perry and Osceola, 32nd and 35th. This area is where many famous women used to live, including Antoinette Perry, namesake of the “Tony Awards.” In 2004,  the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame inducted Mary Antoinette Perry-Frueauffe. Tony successfully broke down barriers to get women into the world of directing. Encouraging young talent, she was in charge of 7,000 auditions for young people. To boost morale during WWII, she did her best to help with the cause by presenting and acting around the world (including in Elitch’s Theatre!) Now, the Tony Awards are televised annually in her honor to acknowledge merit on the Broadway stage.

Other role models from this neighborhood included:

  • Minnie Ethel Luke Keplinger, an artist active in the movement to establish Denver’s first art museum
  • Spring Byington, an acclaimed actress of stage and screen
  • Dr. Mary E. Ford who provided more than a half-century of medical service to Denver
  • Eva Bird Bosworth who worked as a writer and reporter for several Denver newspapers, and was active in women’s rights and temperance groups (from the Packard’s Hill website)

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The Alleys Are Fun, Too, and Don’t Forget to Shop!

You’ll find some treats along this walk, including a bedpost art display, hanging tapestries, and fanciful painted homes. You’ll also want to enjoy some of the cute shops along Tennyson, especially the tasting The Inventing Room, which is open in the summer. If you head north on Tennyson, you’ll leave the West Highland neighborhood, and enter Berkeley, which is a jaunt for another day!

The Route (click for interactive map):

Start at 3271 Wolff St. Walk north to W 36th Ave, take a right. At Vrain St, take a left and walk up through the playground. Pass by the old lady in a shoe piece on the playground, making your way to the Sprouts parking lot.

At the parking lot, turn right and see the large green building on your right. This is the old Elitch Theatre. Continue walking to the west and see the old pavilion where the carousel once was. If it’s empty, go in and walk the labyrinth while also reading the instructions for enjoying it written on the wall. Exit onto W 37 Ave.

Walk easterly to Quitman St, take a right. Take a left on W 35th Ave. At the alley between Perry and Osceola, turn right. Enjoy the historic and restored garages in the alley. At W 33rd Ave, turn left. Cross Irving St and walk southeasterly along W Fair View Place to Highland Park.

Walk a few steps along Grove St at the park then take a right on Green Court. Cross Speer on to W 32nd.

Enjoy the shops on W 32nd, keeping your eye out for the Ford House, which is west of Lowell Boulevard, between Osceloa and Newton streets. It is the home of the famous female physician, Mary Ford and her partner, Helene Byington — whose daughter, Spring Byington, was a Hollywood actress from 1930 to 1960.

Take a right on Perry St and then a left on W 33rd. At Wolff St, take a left, returning you back to the start.

Twirling through West Highland 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!

~See you on the trail