The University of Colorado Denver plans to renovate the six century-old houses the school occupies in the Auraria Campus’s Ninth Street Historic District and find new uses for them that better honor what Regent Nolbert Chavez calls the “sacred” nature of the buildings.
The planned renovations, announced Thursday, come amid the 50th anniversary of the destruction of Denver’s oldest neighborhood to make way for the three-institution Auraria higher education campus.
The Ninth Street Historic District, a block on the Auraria Campus featuring some of the neighborhood’s original homes, is all that remains of the working class, Latino neighborhood whose residents were displaced in the 1970s.
“This is probably the most meaningful work I’ll do in my career,” Chavez said, becoming emotional. The regent is also CU Denver’s chief of external initiatives and is helping facilitate the work.
About a dozen of the original homes that were saved from demolition with the help of Historic Denver in the 1970s are still standing, and CU Denver offices occupy six of them.
Chavez wants to update the homes in a historically-accurate way with input from the descendants of the families who lived there. The university plans to engage the community to put the homes to a more intentional use — perhaps as an office for Latino services or to house the recently-expanded scholarship program that provides free tuition to the displaced Aurarians and their descendants, Chavez said.
The renovations will start with 1050 Ninth St., Chavez said. Rita Gomez and her family lived in the home before being forced to move, and Chavez plans to work with Gomez in the restoration.
“As long as they’re moving forward with it, as long as it’s going to benefit the community, I’m for it,” said Gomez, who visits the Auraria campus a few times a year to visit her childhood home.
The building is currently occupied by CU Denver’s English Department, but Chavez said those employees will be moved out and a more fitting occupant will take their place after community discussion.
“It’s just the beginning of a healing process for the community because what is obvious is there is still so much hurt and pain associated with it,” Chavez said. “I would love to be able to help usher in a turning of the corner to the recognition that the future is about education. We’re expanding the scholarship and it’s going to be about connecting in a way that’s not been viable before.”
Chavez said after that the first house is renovated, the university will raise money to restore as many of the six that it occupies as it can afford. The houses were constructed between 1872 and 1906.
The CU system is supporting the work, although Chavez said officials don’t know how much things will end up costing at this point.
“We have something here that still represents the history of Denver and the town of Auraria and the history of a Latino community, and we should recognize that for the significance that it represents,” Chavez said. “We have something special in Ninth Street Historic Park.”
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