The revitalization of the Five Points historic district is now a priority for Denver's Office of Economic Development, the African-American community and business and proprerty owners in the area.
Last year the Welton Street Corrider (between 20th and 30th Streets) was selected by the City of Denver's Office of Economic Development (OED) to be a pilot district to Denver' Neighborhood Marketplace Initiative (DNMI). This is a new program designed to strengthen business districts and their surrounding neighborhoods citywide. Through a series of meetings, OED has begun to present the DNMI to business and property owners and residents in the Five Points area.
The OED's development plan describes the area as follows:
"Welton Street is a multi-entertainment district, rooted in African-American history and seen as a destination for arts, culture and entertainment."
For most of the 20th century the Five Points area was primarily an African-American community. Many basic services were available and some were provided by African-American-owned businesses. There were barber and beauty shops, grocery stores, a meat market, drug stores, several real estate agencies, a hardware store, a flower shop, a Savings and Loans Bank, plumbing and electrical companies, a sporting-goods store, a record shop, and a liquor store.
Most African-American doctors, dentists and lawyers had their offices in the area. The American Woodmen, one of the few Black-owned insurance companies in the nation during the period of segregation, had its headquarters on Downing St. The building still stands and is utilized. Most Black churches were located in the area.
There were private clubs and organizational offices, such as that of the Black Pullman Porters Association, as well as masonic lodges including The Elks. Five Points was known for nocturnal entertainment, most notably The Rossonian Hotel and Night Club where most of the giants of jazz, among them Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis, performed.
Relaxation of Denver's de facto segregated housing patterns corresponded with the Civil Rights Movement that began in the South in the late 1950s and swept the nation. African-Americans began moving east, across York and Colorado Boulevard, and later into other areas of the city. The Five Points area lost some of its vibrancy as many residents left causing some businesses to close.
Alternative Education in Five Points
While the DNMI's focus is upon retail business, commercial spaces, and cultural and entertainment events, there is an institution that has been present in Five Points for almost 15 years and recently relocated to the Welton Corridor. The Tubman-Hilliard Global Academy is at once an educational institution and a business. Formerly known as the Institute of Global Scholarship (IGS) and located on the corner of 25th and Washington St., the school is private and adds a distinctive character to the Corridor.
"The Tubman-Hilliard Global Academy is a learning center that reaches out to the community," said Tunda Asega, the school's director. "Community involvement is an integral part of what we do," he continued. In December the school hosted the annual Ujamaa holiday marketplace, and the students presented a holiday program at the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library, located a few blocks away.
"School is the second most important institution in the Black community, the spiritual institions or the church being the first," said Asega One year ago Constance Johnson Muhammed, the founding director, announced her retirement. Asega, an IGS math teacher, acceptd the challenge to continue the school's commitment to alternative education and its global focus.
"We had to find a new space, but were determined to remain in the Five Points area," he said. the school is now located in a two-story building at 2741 Welton St. "We also decided to change the name of the school," he continued. "We selected the names of two heroes in Black history: Harriet Tubman because of her love of freedom and Asa Hilliard III, who was raised and educated in Denver and was a Pan-Africanist, specializing in ancient African history." Hilliard, who passed away last year, taught in both the California and George university systems.
Asega is proud of the way parents and others in the community helped get the Welton street building ready for the opening of the Fall semester. "One of the fathers, who happens to be an artist, singlehandedly painted the entire school," he said. The color scheme of pale yellow walls and ceilings, with doors and borders in green, black and red, results in a visually attractive interior of a century-old building.
The Tubman Hilliard Global Academy has small classes from kindergarten to seventh grade. There are Before and After School programs. All teacher are licensed, and the curriculum incorporates that of the Denver Public Schools, Hope Online and special features developed by IGS and Tubman-Hilliard Academies.
"We are working on funding for a summer program, science fair and Elders program," said Asega. He also stated that the school is negotiating to construct a playground behind the building.
New Retail Businesses, Activities and Ownership
There are many unique features in the contemporary Five Points area. There is the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library, the Historical Markers posted along Welton street, the Stiles African-American Heritage Center, Brother Jeff's Cultural Center, the Akente Express shop, the Black America West Museum, the Five Points Media Center (which houses KUVO-FM jazz radio station and KBDI-Channel 12 TV station) and the offices of the Urban Spectrum and Denver Weekly News. Cafe Nuba continues its entertainment events in the old Roxy theater which is now called 'Pure'. There is also Civil Technologies model development block between 25th and 26th and Washington St.
There have been some retail losses such as KDKO radio station, the Hue-Man Experience book store, the Gift shop in the Five Points Plaza, and Minerva's Hat Palace. Among recent retail outlets is Blackberries Coffee and Ice Cream Lounge, located on 26th and Welton, across from the Rossonian building. Blackberries has become the scene of much social networking as well as a vendor of specialty ice cream flavors, soups and breakfast burritos.
Next door the Crossroads Theater, which describes itself as "a convergence of culture and art forms in the heart of Denver," hosts a variety of dramatic and spoken word events as well as film screenings. Crossroads also has space for visual art exhibits and an ongoing project producing "people's stories."
Both Blackberries and Crossroads are on the ground level of The Point condominium development.
Crossroads is in collaboration with the Arcos Azules Art Gallery, located on 27th and Welton St. The gallery is dedicated to connnecting local and national, new and established artists working in all media with the Five Points community.
Sudan Muhammad, owner of Blackberries, has opened a new place--Blackberries Bar and Grill, located up the street at 31st & Downing street in the old Kiva/Tosh's Hacienda building. The Bar and Grill features a Friday Happy Hour from 4 to 7 p.m. as well as entertainment and special events.
Around the corner from the Bar and Grill is the Matthews Center for Excellence. MCE encompasses an events center, office space and a small business support center. Both MCE and Blackberries have undergone a facelift and the exteriors have been painted in earthy red tones.
Returning to 27th & Welton, St., Judge Claudia Jordan is one of the new co-owners of the Five Points Plaza complex. Jordan's interest in ownership goes beyond profitmaking. "I grew up in a generation in which many Black people owned businesses," she told the Urban Spectrum. "They were role models for younger people. The Black community has lost much business ownership. I want to help return that tradition of ownership to the community so that role model is present for younger generations."
One of the new businesses in the Plaza is Mocha Motive, which features espresso coffee, other beverages, pastries and sanwiches. The interior is decorated with artwork by African-Americans.
The Welton Street Cafe is alive and well in the Plaza and is now open on Sundays.
The Denver Office of Economic Develoment and the Neighborhood Marketplace Initiative plan to convene regular meetings with business and property owners and residents in early 2009 so that development plans proceed in a timely manner.