In February of 2004 I stood across the street from 1421 Oneida and asked it what it wanted to be. I wanted it to be residential condominiums, but had my doubts. The building was a confused conglomeration of add-ons spanning three decades and four architectural styles. Later I discovered it was built on the site of the Montclair Town Hall, and had been a refrigerated warehouse, bakery, woodshop, storage facility, and Regional Headquarters for The Broker Restaurants. This building was like many Denver buildings: a lot of history, but uncertain of its identity and purpose.
So I asked and I waited and I walked around the block and down to the park. I saw children playing there, and a car pull up and a couple cross to the tennis court and begin smashing the ball back and forth at one another. They played badly, and that made me smile. I like seeing people who play tennis as badly as I do. I could maybe play them and win. I knew absolutely nothing about them, yet I felt a commonality with these, my potential neighbors.
Then I returned to the building and walked up to Colfax. Johnson and Wales University is just a couple of blocks North, with a growing student and faculty population. It is the old University of Denver Law and Colorado Women's College Campus, and is one of the most beautiful in the West. I enjoy living close to a University because it offers an intellectual and artistic community that I can dip into whenever a topic or show appears to catch my interest. I like the idea of walking down to the campus some summer evening to hear a visiting scholar lecture, or to view a student exhibit. Stapleton is a few blocks further, one of the largest infill redevelopments in recorded history. Lowry is just over my shoulder, a few blocks South and East. But what about "East Colfax"?
I walked a block West to the office of City Council Woman Marsha Johnson and introduced myself. We had spoken on the phone and she made time to ask about my plans and tell me about her district. Marsha is a servant, a neighbor, and a stateswoman. I met Madeline Albright last year and if you have the opportunity to speak with both in person you will feel the same fire when these women speak.
Marsha initiated our acquaintance with a call the week before. She said she heard I was looking seriously at buying the building at 1421 Oneida and wondered what I intended for it. I replied that I was thinking of either residential lofts or "Live Adult Entertainment" and asked what she would prefer. There was a long pause on her end, and then I laughed, then she laughed, and I said I was just joking and we had a great time talking about the neighborhood, her life here over the decades and gradual decision to step forward into public life.
When we met in person I asked about the reputation of Colfax as a "seedy" strip. She acknowledged that Colfax has had a negative reputation, and then started talking earnestly about the move to "Clean up Colfax". She described her ongoing dialogue with the Denver Police department, and the involvement of Denver City Government developers, merchants and neighbors to see and realize Colfax once again as "Denver's Main Street". She told me that Denver City Council was marking East Colfax for redevelopment like LoDo before Coors Field. That Denver City Planners designated Mayfair Town Center, a few blocks to the West, for redevelopment and zoning reassessment. And she said that Colfax Avenue was being designated an Enterprise Zone by the State of Colorado. She said that the pieces were coming together for improvements to East Colfax, and she welcomed the idea of residential lofts.
On my walk back to the building I looked up and down the street and saw the strip as it will become. The car lots replaced with multi-story shopping/office/residential centers. Express bus routes moving people from home and office to Lodo and Cherry Creek and out to DIA in minutes. Marsha's words echoed in my head, and her penetrating conviction warmed me. Whatever Colfax IS today is not as powerful as what it IS BECOMING.
So once again there I stood, across from this beautiful old building and asked it again: "What do you want to be?" "I can DO lofts, can you BE lofts?" I began to see the vision: I saw the parking lot to the South with garages, and the planked over windows above opened to the light with the walls below cut out to allow big glass windows. I saw a fence around the property creating a community within a community, and the loading docks and parking lot to the North converting to a lush private garden.
"I can be lofts" Oneida said quietly. I hesitated, uncertain of myself and of the answer. And then with a quiet and confident stillness, the building sharpened its answer: "I can be lofts, it is what I was becoming all along, I was just waiting for you to come and help."