Thursday, October 18, 2018


--- A trip to Latin America ---

Oh, Mexico.
I never really been there so I don't really know

James Taylor

One thing that I enjoy about Denver is the great diversity of cultures here and, even better, those cultures are valued and conserved in ways that are accessible to outsiders like me.

Latin America is a diverse population of peoples in the Western Hemisphere who predominantly speak Romance languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, and French. As countries, most of South and Central America are included. The term "Hispanic" is somewhat narrower, emphasizing Spanish speaking peoples.

In Denver, there are large sections composed primarily of Hispanic residents, but those communities are also mixed and the blend usually forms unities that succeed as neighborhoods.

I've already reported on my visit to the Whittier neighborhood on a tour hosted by the Denver Public Library and lead by Chris Englert of Walk2Connect. On 9/15/18, I joined another Walk2Connect neighborhood tour of the Barnum neighborhood that began at the Ross-Barnum branch of the Denver Public Library.

The trip actually started as many of my trips begin, a hike down to University station, and then a train ride to Alameda Station, where I took a familiar bus route west on Alameda to Knox Court. On leaving the bus, I was greeted by two Denver signatures:


                                                                 [Denver skyline]

and a mural (of course).


                                                                [Barnum mural]

Not very Latin? Like I said, the neighborhoods in Denver mix to form distinctive, often surprising combinations. The neighborhood up Knox Court is very Latin. The flavor is vibrant. People are outside and the area is pleasantly noisy.

                                                                    [Knox Court]

It's different from what I became used to in the South. In Selma, the Hispanic population pretty much stayed to themselves. Not once in the 20 years that I practiced in the area did I have a client from the significant Hispanic community there. They took care of their own. And they were surprised when I greeted them in town - cultures didn't mix much. Except, maybe, in the excellent Mexican restaurant, El Rancheros, on Broad Street.

Here, people are friendly and typically don't resent intrusion into their communities.

Here, there are many vegetable gardens in yards, lot of flowers, and the little row houses have brightly colored facades. The walk to the library is about three-quarters of a kilometer. On the way, I spot a small corner park (Cedar Park) that sports and elephant (again, the circus theme.) I get the idea that there's more to "Barnum" than just a name.) This little park was created by a local resident, April Crumley, and was recognized as a city park by the Denver city government on May 13, 1995.

                                                                     [Cedar Park]

The Ross-Barnum Library is just a little off Knox Court on 1st Avenue.

                                                            [Ross-Barnum Library]

I have seen many community gardens in my wanderings around Denver.  The city encourages them. There are more than 170 DUG (Denver Urban Gardens) plots in Denver and a website to get you in on the action (https://dug.org). The one in the Barnum neighborhood isn't the largest I've seen (I think that goes to the one in Rosedale) but it's pretty big. Aspiring gardeners could do much worse than to visit these plots for inspiration and learning.

                                                               [Barnum Urban Garden]

We walked north to Barnum park, which has one of those gulches that aren't gulches that I've talked about and one of the best views of the Denver skyline.

                                                                      [Weir Gulch]

We met this denizen of the area along Weir Gulch

                                                    [Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron]

Again, the circus theme in the park playground...


                                                              [Gorilla and lion]

                                                                  [Denver skyline]

Back in 1978, P.T. Barnum bought some land in this area and made some noise about making it the winter home for his circus. He made exactly four documented trips to West Denver and never wintered his animals anywhere but Connecticut and Florida (I can't see intentionally wintering anything in Connecticut or Colorado - skiing, yes, African animals....?)

Anyway, Helen Barnum, P.T.s daughter did move to the area that would become the Barnum neighborhood with her second husband, financier William Buchtel, who moved to Colorado to treat his tuberculosis. P.T. Barnum ended up selling some of his Colorado land to his daughter for a dollar.

                                                                   [Barnum house]

The Savio House, now a landmark, was established as an orphanage for wayward boys in the 1950s.

                                                                      [Savio House]

You can learn a lot more about the Barnum Neighborhood from this website by the Denver Public Library.

https://history.denverlibrary.org/barnum-neighborhood-history

The Denver Public Library and it's branches are vital as historical archives for the Denver neighborhoods.

My tour over, I walked back to the bus stop on Alameda, returned to Alameda Station, and took the light rail back to University Station and home.

On my latest station-to-station hike,10/12/18, I had planned to stop at the Museo de las Americas in the Art District and revisit a Mexican market in the Barnum neighborhood.

The Museo de las Americas presents exhibitions by local Hispanic artists. On the day of my visit, they were showing El Infinito, pictures of the cosmos through ancient Aztec and modern eyes. Contributors included NASA, Logkheed Martin Space System Company, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and Miguel Angel Sanchez Moreiro, who presented reproductions of the Codex Borgia. I learned why I could not find an English translation of the Codex Borgia. It's owned by the Vatican. (sigh).





                                                           [Museo de las Americas]

You can find out more about the Museo here:

http://museo.org

After completing my station-to-station hike, I took a bus back to Knox Court and 1st Avenue in the Barnum neighborhood to visit the small Mi Pueblo Market - small but packed with interesting ethnic groceries, and there's a cafeteria style restaurant there which was also packed (obviously popular). I bought some candy and spices I had not seen in my local grocery stores.

                                                                   [Mi Pueblo Market]

They also have a website.

https://www.mipueblomarketco.com




Is your local library a repository of facts about your community?

What ethnic groups are represented in your community? Are they accessible to visitors? Do the ethnic groups in your community mix amicably while conserving their distinct characters?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


--- Osage to Alameda ---

Thank goodness the weather is shifting. I am quite worn out with the brutality of summer. (I don't begrudge the summer people out there but I'm ready for something I can hike in.)

After some route changes by the Regional Transportation District in Denver, my home station has shifted to University station, which is about two and a half kilometers from home. I have the option of taking the bus from across the street or walking. My preference is the bus since I enjoy connecting with my neighbors, but this time I decide to walk because I am getting far too close to 200 pounds, the point that I start really feeling overweight.

Most of the trains that run through University Station also stop at Osage Station - my starting point. Here is a shot of the station.

                                                                   [Osage Station]

I have been following the Platte River since Mineral Station, but the river and the light rail (and Santa Fe Drive) diverge around Alameda Station, and I decided to follow Santa Fe from Osage to Alameda. This stretch of street is called the "Arts District", a name that promised some interesting variation from my usual urban walk.

Facing the station is the oldest restaurant in Denver, which displays the first liquor license awarded in Denver. It has been in operation since 1893 and is a National Landmark. A combination of restaurant and western museum, this is one of those pricey places that is worth the cost. At the beginning of the hike, I did not want a heavy meal, so I opted for a seafood soup and a slice of Cheesecake (for the carbohydrates, y'know). The massive collection of taxidermied animal heads and photographed celebrities (Does anyone know who Fess Parker is anymore - don't tell me? Your answer might hurt.) watched me eat. There was a two headed goat directly over me.

The history of the place is quite interesting and you can read about it here:

http://www.buckhorn.com/history.php

                                                               [Buckhorn Exchange]

And, of course (this is Denver) there is a mural on the wall.

                                                                  [Buckhorn mural]

The surrounding neighborhood is contrasting modernity to the antique interiors.





               

                                                    [Neighborhood and Buckhorn]

Santa Fe in this area looks like a typical city street, but many of the store fronts are actually art museums and galleries. I'm not focusing on art now and it would take a while to stop into every one of them, so I just visited the Museo de las Americas, a museum of Latin American art 8th and 9th Avenues. You can read more about my visit in "A trip to Latin America".



                                                                [The Arts District]

I also checked out the Denver Arts Society, a gallery, museum, and advocate for local, contemporary, Denver artists. I learned that many artists are moving out of the district due to high rental prices. It turns out that "property value" is not only inimical to human life, it's rather antithetical to culture, also.

I also learned that the time to visit the Art District is the first Friday of each month, the day they "pull out all the stops." You can keep track of the events here:

https://www.denver.org/things-to-do/denver-arts-culture/denver-art-districts

The southern end of the hike carried me through a short industrial area back to the familiar Alameda Station. A brief bus ride to Knox Court completed my "trip to Latin America," a market that I spotted on my earlier tour of the Barnum neighborhood. I was not disappointed by the ethnic products and cafeteria style restaurant.

Returning to Alameda Station, I took some photos of a sculpture group that I had missed earlier.




                                                                            [Hand Up]

This odd Aztec-ish looking ensemble tweaked my curiosity. Scott Donahue, the creator, said that the sculpture was about "history and multi-cultural issues". There is some information on this grouping here:

https://www.westword.com/arts/rtd-art-scott-donahue-at-the-alameda-station-5794172

A few final shots of the Rockies from Alameda Station (I never tire of the view), and back home I go.




                                                                  [The Rockies]

Where does art fit into your neighborhood? How did it get there (were there public works programs that funded them?) How do people in your area respond to them?

Restaurants and other businesses in your community have their own histories, often very interesting. Don't dismiss them as mundane and ignorable.



Thursday, October 4, 2018


--- Walking and art to connect ---

I remember "separate but equal".

The problem, of course, was that there was nothing "equal" about it and the scars still exist. Frankly, I'm partial to separate but mixed.

I've talked about diversity in past blogs. It's necessary for a healthy community, but diffusion is a thing, too. If you add milk to water carefully without mixing them, the two will just mix themselves without any help from outside. Cultures tend to do that over time also when they mix.

There has traditionally, in the United States, been a trend toward homogenization. The typical solution for the Black/Asian/Latin/Indian Problem has been acculturation - in other words, turn them into us. The idea is that the European culture is superior to all the others, so just make sure that only the European culture remains. Very Darwinian - the fittest survives.

Of course, all that from Europeans.

I'm not saying anything new. We all know about it.

But diversity. I enjoy the color, the foods, the music of language that isn't my own, folk wisdom, stories. I would feel bereft if we were a homogeneous culture. I like to "go to" others. To experience life through their eyes and mind.

The only way to do that is to conserve cultures, to, with clear intention, say, this is valuable and it will persevere.

I've talked about appreciation as an approach to life. We usually only hear about "art appreciation" but lifelong learning demands "life appreciation".

Understanding a culture - it's folkways and history - requires a conscious and prepared approach. Entering a culture as an outsider learner requires respect and an open mind.

"Get to know me. You might like me," the old PSA said and I find that to be true, whether it's a neighbor, another culture, or "raw nature".

"Walk2Connect is an innovative worker-owned cooperative working to create whole-health walking programs focused on connection to others, to the places we live, and to ourselves." (Walk2Connect website http://www.walk2connect.com/about accessed 10/2/18) This organization sponsors walking tours to support connection between communities.

I see pedestrianism as a tool for learning, Walk2Connect sees pedestrianism as a means to build healthy community.

I lived in a mixed community where I was a member of the minority for 20 years and I mixed with impunity. I got along well with the other people in my community, I think, because I didn't  try to "blend in" and I appreciated the differences. I obviously enjoyed being around people that were different from me.

The Whittier neighborhood, named after the abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier, according to the 2000 census was composed of 27% Hispanic whites, 26% Blacks, and 43% Latinos. Walking the streets now, I see a lot of Black and Hispanic families, but I also see a lot of White families from obvious European extraction and I see a few Asian. The Five Points district is nearby. Once called "The Harlem of the West", it looks like a cultural center and go-to for jazz and Southern and Caribbean food.

There have been several attempts to isolate this community. I first noticed the signs when I took the light rail to Downing Street Station in the Whittier neighborhood on a walking trip to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I noticed that many intersections in the area were broken with strip parks. For instance, traveling south on High Street from East 31st Avenue, the street takes an abrupt 90 degree turn to the west onto East 30th Avenue. Traveling on High Street north from 29th Avenue, the street takes an abrupt turn to the east onto East 30th Avenue. Between is the Madame C. J. Walker Park, which commemorates a  successful African American entrepreneur, the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire (1867-1919), a civil rights activist, and philanthropist.

I found the street design rather strange. It effectively cut traffic from east to west. And that was exactly what it was intended to do. Streets were cut to quell gang violence in this area of Denver. Of course, the measure was ineffective and simply served to further isolate this community.

In 1914, racist letters began circulating in the Whittier neighborhood telling African-American and Jewish residence that there was no room for them there. The neighborhood, all the neighborhood, all the races in the neighborhood, felt their last straw and responded in a response of solidarity by creating a half-mile loop across four alleys that presented a gallery of murals. Now, most of the murals are gone. Two remain at the Ford-Warren library, who hosted the Walk2Connect tour of the Whittier Neighborhood. Here they are:



                               [murals at the Ford-Warren branch of the Denver Public Library]

The walk focused on the parks of the Whittier neighborhood, most of which commemorate famous African-American people.

I took the light rail into Denver and, on the way, captured the Big Blue Bear which gazes perpetually into the Colorado Convention Center. his large bruin was created by Lawrence Argent, a teacher at the University of Denver School of Art and Art History in 1993, It was originally supposed to be "Denver colored" (I think I've called attention to the brown tones around town), but an accident in copying the plans for the work created a blue finished product. The actual name for the piece is "I See What You Mean."



                                                                   [Big Blue Bear]

The train in downtown Denver seems quaint, like the older trolley cars of other cities.


                                              [Light rail on California and Stout Streets]

The hexagonal Bee-Bridge mural pattern at Madame C. J. Walker Park is the work of artist Feile Case.

                                                                          [Bee-Bridge]

George Morrison was a famous jazz and classical violinist who lived for a time in the Denver area. He used his fame to help many black musicians get their start. George Morrison Sr. Park commemorates him.

                                                   [Statue at George Morrison Sr. Park]

Cole Middle School presents a monumental and strikingly beautiful piece of architecture in the Whittier Community.

                                                              [Cole Middle School]

On my trip back, I saw another stately piece of architecture, the Byron White United States Courthouse on Stout Street. It was a nice place to switch train lines.

                                                             [Byron White Courthouse]

Your community has a history and that history is preserved in local monuments, parks, and architecture. Look around and see what has happened in your town and how it has influenced the rest of the world.

A good article on the history of Five Points and the Whittier neighborhoods is here, provided by the Denver Public Library (https://history.denverlibrary.org/five-points-whittier-neighborhood-history accessed 10/2/18).