North Denver and Me

— by Michael Thornton

North Denver was settled later than other parts of the city of Denver. A river called the Platte – or “flat” is what I knew the translation to be – divided most of the city, Denver proper and Auraria, and the town across the river where the poor people migrated. There wasn’t a bridge across the confluence creeks till late in the 1800s, and then the Irish, Italian, and Scottish made their homes there. The climb out of the riverbed was steep, so this land was less than desirable, at least for successful Denverites, who flocked to Curtis Park, Capitol Hill, and parts south and east. My mother and her three girls did not arrive until the late 1940s, when the neighborhoods on the north side had long established themselves as the enclaves of recent immigrants. There was Mount Carmel church, where the Italians worshipped; St. Patrick’s where the Irish attended services; and the streets around 32nd and Zuni – Argyle, Caithness, and Dunkeld Place – where the Scots lived. This was good ground, above the flood plain, where the immigrants of the late 19th century found a home.

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I grew up in North Denver. On a corner populated by the Pergolas, Pontarellis, and Zarlengos. We were at the edge of the new Italian population that was on its exodus, from the Lower Highlands immediately above the river to more suburban properties to the north and west. The Italians were moving to Harkness Heights and Berkeley Park, and further west to Lakewood. It was in the Lower Highlands that my mother found a house, an older house with a piece of land surrounding it. It was one of those original mansion properties that now developers glom on – a corner lot, a house built in 1886. She had three young daughters to take care of, no husband, but hopes for a decent life.

But I started this story thinking that I would talk about my youth in North Denver. It was grand, although not a Neal Cassady story of adventure. My mother came to Denver because her husband, an investigator in Chicago – who at one time was on the tail of Al Capone – had died on the Zephyr back to Chicago, after checking out Denver as a place of relief for his tubercular condition. She moved out to Denver anyway. Her aunt helped. They moved first to Las Vegas, New Mexico. Aunt Helen later traveled to Denver, to find a house for this mother who had lost a husband. When my great aunt identified Denver as a locale full of opportunity, my mother and her three daughters skipped on the lease in Las Vegas, fleeing in the middle of the night. Mom would eventually divide the big house on the corner to include an apartment upstairs to rent to returning soldiers from the war. She met my father, I was conceived, and he left in a hurry after realizing the difficult prospects of raising this family of girls and a new boy born.

So I grew up on the North Side, surrounded by Italians, and three older sisters who had been comfortable in the good life of Chicago Heights, now transplanted to a far western suburb – further than Aurora, Illinois, all the way to Denver – where they put on neighborhood shows of drama, the whole Garland and Rooney routine as kids, impressing the neighbors with their wherewithal. But I wanted this to be the story of my upbringing in North Denver. I sat on Santa’s lap at Gaetano’s, at the age of four, and who knows what Smaldone or surrogate was playing the part. We got pizza at the Subway Tavern, usually visiting the takeout window because the bar represented a cultural underground we didn’t know. It was the best thin-crust pizza that I ever ate. We grabbed sausage canolis from Carbones on Tejon – what a treat, homemade sausage wrapped in dough. When I told my wife about these, she said that was no canoli she ever knew, coming from Connecticut where canolis are dessert shells wrapped around sweet cream cheese or mascarpone. I felt like the provincial fool, but have always loved those sausage wraps, which my mother duplicated at home, since we couldn’t afford the pricey takeout. And then there was the bread – Carbones bread, an Italian loaf that you could buy at Safeway in those days. But to get a loaf of hot Italian bread, at the original bakery, was a treat. One time my mother sent my sister Norine with me tagging along to go buy two loaves at the bakery down at 33rd and Pecos. We were walking from 36th and Bryant, so it was a bit of a trek. The bread was warm from the oven, and we ate most of one loaf on the way home. It was heavenly, and we didn’t get in too much trouble.

Carbones the bread bakery opened a restaurant where Lechugas is now, which still features sausage canolis for takeout. Carbones deli on 38th Avenue, next to Chubbys, is owned by a different family, but it’s the best old-style Italian deli in Denver. The old Carbones bread factory is now a construction site, no doubt scheduled for condos, in the Lower Highlands where at one time the Italians, Irish, and Scots built their homes, where no one else wanted to venture, across that flat creek called the Platte, up the incline to higher ground.

B-50 notes: the original Subway is still at 38th and Lipan. Lechuga’s sells square pizza and sausage canoli’s at 36th and Tejon. Carbone’s Deli is at 1221 W 38th Ave, Denver, CO 80211.

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21 Responses to “North Denver and Me”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Now that’s the north Denver I know, not this gentrified yuppie playground of today.

  2. Schelgunov Says:

    From Portland, OR

    Lechuga’s will always hold a special place in my heart. Love your stories and I love this site

    Schelgunov

  3. Gary Says:

    Oh, man. Loved the Carbones cannoli. And at the time, they were the only pizza joint I knew about with rectangle pizzas.

  4. Cecelia Says:

    I like this.

  5. Victoria Says:

    North Denver was working class. It was definitely not a hot, chichi neighborhood.

    A quote from a North Denverite, now sadly deceased, that always makes me laugh:

    “He wasn’t just drunk…he was North Denver drunk!” — James Gibbons

  6. Christina Carbone Says:

    The owner of the bakery was my grandpa, George Carbone. Man! I sure do miss his homemade bread, and his lasagna…to die for! It puts a smile on my face to read about how many people know of the “Carbone’s.” Hopefully my brother decides to open up another Carbone’s, I know he’s been thinking about it and if so, his cooking definitely takes you back to the way you remember. :]

    Christina Carbone

  7. Allen Says:

    North Denver Highlands area was home to me, my two brothers and many neighborhood friends during the 50′s and 60′s. As a matter of fact we moved into the same house my mom grew up in and lived there throughout my elementary through junior high school years. A wonderful neighborhood…you didn’t need to lock the doors back then…neighbors cared for eachother.
    I remember the roar of the midgets racing at Lakeside Speedway during the Summer nights and those exciting times when we could go to Elitch’s or Lakeside Amusement Park and every July 4th watch the fireworks over Lakeside from Berkeley Park.
    There were no video games or cellphones, but we had more fun everyday and were never bored.
    The Italian restaurants in the neighborhood had the best food…I loved Carl’s Sausage pizzas. I could go on and on…great memories.
    I’m glad to see the old neighborhood being restored after being rundown for so many years.

  8. Victor Gardino Says:

    There used to be a theatre on W.25th ave. just east of Federal Blvd. I almost have the name of it on the tip of my tounge but just can’t get there. Does anyone remember it’s name? thanks, Victor

  9. Trish Says:

    I remember Carbone’s bread, we would buy it from King Soopers when it was still at Lakeside, I was born and raised in North Denver two blocks away from where my mom and her seven siblings were raised on Wolff St. I used to love listening to the roller coaster at Elitchs, and the car races at Lakeside. Reading your column brought tears to my eyes, I miss the way it used to be so bad.

  10. Bob Garramone Says:

    Who can forget the Feast at Potenza Lodge every August. Like the Eveready Bunny, it’s still running.
    We lived close to Elitch’s and we all (three brothers) worked there in our teenage years, played Old Timers ball there and spent time at the Trocadero Ballroom at the Saturday Matinee dances to big band music.
    I believe the movie theater just east of Federal Blvd. on 25th was called the Granada.

    And who can forget the ice skating on Sloan’s and Rocky Mountain Lake, swimming in Berkley Lake. Then there was the pool at Lakeside which cost a whopping 35 cents to get in.

  11. Paul Wulff Says:

    The name of the theatre on W 25th was the Granada! I lived at 25th and Grove.

  12. Matt Kramer Says:

    GRANADA !!!!!!! Between Elliot and Federal on 25th Ave. I lived at 23rd. and Clay…
    Go Vikings…..North High

  13. R Varon Says:

    I can’t help but wonder how the Jews of Denver have been ignored. North Denver had a large Orthodox population that produce some influential Denverites. I see no mention in any of the articles that they existed, let alone contributed.

    Very disturbing.

  14. J Pavlakovich Says:

    I grew up on 48th and Vallejo street way back in the 50′s. Went to school at Mount carmel. Ate at Patsy’s Inn, Carbones and bought fresh Raviolies from somewhere on 38th street.Played little league ball at Horace Mann school.My Grandma lived at 39th Navajo across from Columbus Park. Rode our bikes to Rocky Mountain Park and spent summer evenning at Elitches. Loved it all.My dad would go in the back of Carbones bakery to pick up a big box of hot sweet rolls on Sunday after mass. Great place to grow up.

  15. Gerald J. Fresquez Says:

    Grew up in North Denver as well. I miss the old neighborhood. My next door lady Mrs. Spring and the rest of the neighbors were Italians. All of which moved out to the suburbs of Westminister, Arvada, Wheat Ridge, or Broomfield. I grew up near 38th and Zuni during the 80′s and 90′s. Went to school at St. Catherines was an altar boy there as well as Holy Family High School when it was at 43rd and Utica St. (For School masses at Holy Family) Lots of memories and like I mentioned I do miss the old neighborhood.

  16. D. Trujillo Says:

    Grew up in North Denver too, I remember the Carbone’s Bakery and when Carbone’s opened on Tejon. They would bring the bizmarks & long johns along with the rest of the donuts to sell with their bread & pizza. They had many different kinds of bread & I loved the twist. We to would go to get bread for the family dinner and eat it on the way home and we only lived a block away. I remember Lechuga’s being built and when the mini hots used to be called the little devil conoli’s. I went to Bryant Webster, Mount Carmel, St. Patricks, Horace Mann and then North. La Raza park in the 70′s, wow, mameories. Subway and Grandma’s Pizza on 32nd Federal after going to the library. Chubby’s when it had pineapple shakes and we would sit across the street on the duplex lawn to eat. When Mr. Dardano had the car lot on the corner and the Dardano’s band would practice in the garage. Yes, Lakeside, their pool, the fun house and the car races plus fireworks on the 4th. Gaetanos and so many other bars around there, Alpine, Pic’s Corner and The Keg. Ah yeah, La Poblano’s on 41st & Tejon. The first restaurant in that building. Remember the Ole’ Mexican Cafe next to Mancinelli’s on 33rd & Osage. Across from Horace Mann they had the home of the first Tijuana Tostada which now is called taco salad. Loved them but can’t remember the name of the restaurant right now, it will come to me later. That was when it was called Junior high and we had competition sports with other junior highs. i’m sure many will remember Mr. Van Epps and the Horace Mann Choir, we were famous back then. Rocky Built on Fed & Speer and Cinnamon cokes at The Scotchman around 50th Federal, I think that is where Kmart was built. If you grew up here, you remember Shutto’s (sp?) on 46th and Tejon, not very many big stores back then however we did have Safeway’s. We used to go to Polidori’s on 34th & Shoshone. Have ice cream or shakes at the Creamry on 32nd & Tejon or go to the drug store on 33rd & Tejon. There was a little store called Eddie’s off of Boulder street & Umatilla, the owner Eddie had one leg shorter than the other and had a really thick shoe, he had so much penny candy and that was when a penny could buy several pieces of candy that you now get for a quarter. This was by Olingers and the ball park. My sisters and cousins would ride our bikes for hours all over the place, and we never worried about the crazy people that are out there now. We had KIMN and KDKO, Dr. Daddy-o! Yes, it was mostly Italian when I lived there, this was the time of intergration in school and my last year in jr high, girls were finally allowed to wear pants to school, no jeans, only pant suits. Leggs came out and girls used to drive the little mail truck looking trucks to deliver the Eggs Panty hose to the stores. Finally by high school we could wear jeans. The times when you went to Catholic Church you wore a ‘mantia’ on your head if you were female and if you didn’t have one, your mom bobby pinned a tissue. The Federal, Oriental and slips my mind again, but the theater on 32nd & Clay. We would ride the bus downtown to go to the movies or shop at Woolworths or Lerner’s. See the windows at May D&F for christmas or skate in the ice rink. Christmas was majical back then, the shops of Denver Dry, Joslins, the Stage, Fashion Bar and Neustetters. Not like we always shopped there but when I started working, we did. Oh yeah, reminds me of the Sunshine Creamry too over by Horace Mann. Remember Yellow Front, yeah, we shopped there. The old gas stations all over where they would come out and pump your gas, check your oil or wash your windows. They were there if you had car trouble too. The old pop machines where pop was a nickle or dime and you could get the flavors of Duffy’s. How do you feel, I feel like a Duffy’s. Well, so many more memories, and time to end this. The Northside has changed just like all the other areas of town, its sad that the old neighboods were not saved and kept up and it would be nice to see it back to what it was, nice good old neighborhood.

  17. Regina Lopez Carrington Says:

    R Varon–I was wondering the same thing, I grew up closer to Sloan’s Lake. We’d see the Jewish men walking around the lake every Saturday. The Jewish community added greatly to the mix of our beautiful north Denver. I also had many Japanese neighbors, and they too brought a different and appreciated spectrum of beauty.

  18. Greg Yost Says:

    When I was kid we used to love to eat at the Marigold Café on Tejon. I loved those sausage sandwiches and I liked the spaghetti and meatballs too. On the way out I would stick a penny in the weight machine to make sure things were still ok in that department.

    My uncle worked at Gaetano’s for the Smalldone’s and my cousin was married at Mount Carmel. I am not even Italian.

  19. Mike A Says:

    The theater on 32nd and Clay was originally the Egyptian, then the Holiday. I grew up in North Denver 50s-60s, almost nothing but wonderful memories from Bryant-Webster, Horace-Mann and North High. Carbone’s bakery was originally in an alley off 34rd and Quivas. I used to ride my bike there on Saturday morning for two loaves of twist bread and sugar donuts. Mancinelli’s just down the street on 32nd, Nick’s Grocery (‘Nigro Bros’) on 32nd and Tejon, Mack’s Five-and-Ten on 33rd and of course Tejon Drug ‘Gerald’s’ run by the wonderful Gerald Natale on 33rd & Tejon.

  20. Chuck Davis (80) Says:

    I went to Regis High (Class of 1952) in a class of about 85 boys–girls came many years later. Probably about 15-20 of those boys were Italian. We all got along.

    I lived at 38th and Pierce in Wheatridge, which was hick country at that time. An Elitch Gardens, Lakeside Fan, and discovered girls and beer during those years. A buddy and I were big on Swing Music and dancing in those years just before Rock and Roll.

    Attended Regis College until the family moved do Spokane, WA in 1954.

    More later,
    Chuck Davis

  21. Donna Says:

    Neal Cassidy? Did you mean to say “Jack Kerouac” type story??

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