Letter from Neal Cassady to Justin Brierly, October 23, 1944

Letter from Neal Cassady to Justin Brierly, 1944

October 23, 1944
Colorado State Reformatory
Buena Vista, Colo.

Dear Justin;

At the corner of 15th & Platte streets there’s a cafe called Paul’s Place, where my brother Jack used to be bartender before he joined the army, because of this I frequented the place occasionally & consequently have a small bill run up, I believe I owe them about 3 or 4 dollars. If you happen to be in that vicinity please drop in & pay it, will you?
I see Phillip Wylie has written another book, “Night Unto Night” supposedly as good as “Generation of Vipers”. Peter Arno also has a new collection of cartoons out, “Man in a shower” its called.
They have the Harvard Classics up here, the five foot shelf of books, I’ve read about 2 feet of it, very nice, I especially enjoy Voltaire & Bacon (Francis).
The football season up here has been a flop. We started out with grand plans; the guards told us if we looked good enough we would go to Salida to play & perhaps one or two other games on the out, but no go. However, I understand the basketball team may get to play some local highschools.
Since the days are getting shorter, because of winter’s approach, we get up at 5 o’clock now, instead of 4 as we had been; banker’s hours, huh?
I’ve been here 2 months today (the 23rd), how time does fly.
Please excuse the penmanship, as I can only see out of one eye; this morning I took the cows out to pasture, but on the way they ran out of the road into the corn field. The jackass I was riding couldn’t run fast enough to head them, so I jumped off & started to tie him to a barbed wire fence so I could chase the cows on foot. Just as I had tied the reins to the wire he jerked so hard it pulled a staple out of the fence post and into my left eye. It gorged a chunk out of my eyeball, but luckily failed to hit the cornea. I may lost that eye.

Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac

B50 Note:
Allen Ginsburg wrote in his poem Howl of “N.C., secret hero of these poems”. The poem goes on to speak of those:

who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,

Neal Cassady’s earliest surviving letters were written to his benefactor, Justin Brierly, while Neal was incarcerated in the Colorado State Reformatory at the age of 18. In the letter of October 23, 1944 he speaks of “Paul’s Place” at the corner of 15th and Platte Streets in Denver. Paul’s Place is now “My Brother’s Bar”. Neal Cassady was the inspiration for the character of Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”. He went on to feature in the lives of Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, and Hunter S. Thompson.

A video of Neal Cassady’s Denver Years is now in production. Find out more on kickstarter.

The Pig N’ Whistle: Eddie Bohn’s Empire on West Colfax

— by Keith Chamberlain

A Brochure from Eddie Bohn's Pig N Whistle (courtesy of Kim Allen)
A Brochure from Eddie Bohn's Pig N Whistle (courtesy of Kim Allen)

When Colfax Avenue was “Colorado’s Main Street,” a miles-long constellation aglitter with motels, restaurants and gas stations, Eddie Bohn’s Pig ‘N Whistle was its brightest star. Bohn was dubbed the King of West Colfax, and from his throne at “The Pig,” as regulars affectionately knew his motel and restaurant, he presided over an empire the likes of which North Denver will never see again. Visitors included Jack Dempsey, Roy Rogers, Babe Zaharias, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey and Wally Schirra, to name but a few. For 65 years the Pig ‘N Whistle and its larger-than-life proprietor reigned on West Colfax, and North Denver basked in their reflected glory.

Earl W. “Eddie” Bohn, born in 1902, was the son of German immigrants who owned the J.J. Bohn Brush Company at Colfax and Wolff where they made corn husk brooms for industrial use. Eddie attended Sacred Heart School and early in life showed a head for business. As a youngster he launched the Rocky Mountain Skunk Company, with business cards promising, “There’s more profit in one skunk than there is in a dairy cow, with less work.” He persuaded his father to buy land at Colfax and Wolff. “I was 14 at the time and planning a boxing career and told him that when I got older, I’d buy back the land and build a car agency,” he told the Lakewood Sentinel in 1982.

“I never went very far in school and I didn’t learn very much when I was there, but I sure learned a hell of a lot on the way there and back,” he once said of his early interest in boxing. When he was 18 the six-foot, four-inch Bohn headed to California on a motorcycle to seek his fortune. He soon took up boxing and fought 64 professional matches, winning all but two bouts, which he tied. He was crowned Rocky Mountain Heavyweight Champion in 1924. He hired on as Jack Dempsey’s sparring partner, earning $100 for each round with the Manassa Mauler. “Each round he would tell you that he was going to throw one good punch, but he never told you when it was coming,” Bohn recalled. He and Dempsey became lifelong friends. “He was a helluva guy,” said Bohn.

With sparring proceeds for a grubstake, Eddie bought the four lots on Colfax from his father and in 1924 opened a gas station and barbecue joint there. He’d been impressed by a chain of West Coast restaurants named the Pig ‘N Whistle and adopted the uncopyrighted name for his own business. His timing was perfect. The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 and the Federal Highway Act of 1921 called for creation of “an adequate and connected system of highways, interstate in character” and the nation embarked upon an era of highway construction. U.S. Highway 40, which transited Denver along Colfax and passed right by Bohn’s front door, was born of that legislation.

U.S. auto registrations tripled in 1920s as auto-oriented businesses blossomed. The Motel Inn, which opened in San Luis Obispo, California, in 1925, is generally considered the ancestor of today’s motels. Enterprises such as the Alamo Plaza Hotel Court chain in the South, began appearing in the 1930s. With money lent by his friend, U.S. District Attorney Tom Morrissey, Bohn built four motel units to make the Pig ‘N Whistle Denver’s second motel. The business drew nourishment from increasing traffic on Colfax and also attracted Denverites to its restaurant and bar.

Bohn loved people. “Eddie was one in a million,” chuckles Mike Scherer, longtime friend of the Bohn family. “He was a real character. A self made man. Just a people person.” Bob Slattery, another of Bohn’s lifelong friends, adds, “He knew everybody and everybody knew Eddie. He was very genial.” From his perch at the end of the counter, he greeted everyone who entered. “He’d come and join you and if you were settin’ there and had French fries, he’d probably eat half of ‘em. Then he’d order more for you,” laughs Slattery. “He was tougher than a three-dollar steak,” jokes Scherer. “Very outspoken. He had an opinion on everything. If you didn’t agree with it, he didn’t care. But he was very loyal to his friends.” Beneath that crusty veneer Bohn had a soft heart, says Slattery. “He was very charitable, and his wife was very charitable, too. He’d gripe about her giving food away to somebody but if she didn’t do it he would do it himself. They were wonderful people.” Eddie’s wife Janet, “was there full time right alongside my dad,” says their son Eddie “Punch” Bohn. “When you run a restaurant you have to do everything and she was the bookkeeper, bartender, cook and waitress.”

Bohn loved hunting and fishing and his favorite television show was “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” “If that was on, Bohn would turn the channel to ‘Wild Kingdom,’” recalls Scherer. “Everybody knew not to say anything. If the people at the bar wanted to watch something else, he’d tell ‘em to go to somebody else’s bar.” The atmosphere was another attraction. “He had a sports bar before anybody ever heard of one,” says Scherer. “The walls were covered with photographs of people that you’d recognize. A lot of boxers. Another thing that he was known for, he had one of the best barbecues in town. His ribs were the best.”

The Pig was a mecca for pugilists. “Anybody that was in the boxing business, when they’d come through Colorado they’d be there,” says Scherer. Bohn dubbed Room 39 the “Jack Dempsey Room” to honor his friend and frequent guest. Other famous boxers who stayed there were Max and Buddy Baer, Primo Carnera, Gene Fullmer, Carmen Basilio and Gene Tunney.

The Pig attracted other big names. Before becoming manager of the New York Yankees, Billy Martin managed the Denver Bears and lived at the Pig ‘N Whistle during baseball season. After joining the big leagues, he often returned at season’s end to wind down for a week. Scherer, to whom Bohn introduced Dempsey and Basilio, also met Martin there. “When one of my kids was about 10 years old we went over there on a Saturday morning to get some breakfast and Eddie said, ‘Come on back and sit down. Billy’s here.’ It was Billy Martin. You could go in there and see somebody like a very prominent state judge or a politician. A couple of booths away would be a bunch of baseball players. Next to them might be a bunch of ranchers. That’s what made the place so interesting, people came from so many different walks of life. You never knew who you were gonna’ see.”

While in town to play at Elitch’s Trocadero or Lakeside’s El Patio ballrooms, big bands like the Vic Jurgens and Eddie Howard groups stayed at the motel. Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey once honored its owner with “Eddie Bohn Night” at the Trocadero.

The restaurant was also a favorite haunt of area notables. Governors “Big Ed” Johnson, Steve McNichols and his mayoral brother Bill were familiar faces at the Pig. Fred Dickerson, Tom Morrissey, Tony Zarlengo and Mike Pomponio, heavyweight North Denver Democrats, were regulars. Chet Nelson, sports editor of the Rocky Mountain News, and his wife Sammy were close friends of the Bohns and could often be found at the restaurant. Bob Palmer, long time news anchor at Channel 7, ate there frequently.

Although many guests belonged in Who’s Who, Bohn welcomed everyone on equal footing. “It didn’t make any difference whether a guy was the governor or a plumber. Everybody was the same to him when he came through that door,” says Scherer. His handshake was memorable. “He had such enormous hands he would just engulf your hand inside his. It felt like you had a bear wrapped around you.”

Bohn was active in many professional groups promoting travel-related business and Northsiders elected him to the state legislature in the late 1930s. It was his tenure on the Colorado Athletic Commission, however, that was his most famous public service. Appointed and reappointed by 15 Democratic and Republican governors, he served from 1934 until 1977 and was chairman for two decades of the body that regulated Colorado boxing and wrestling. “Being an ex-boxer, he watched out for the boxers,” recalls Slattery. “He wanted to be sure that everything was on the up-and-up. He wouldn’t allow things like they did in Las Vegas.”

Highway changes in the 1950s and ‘60s sent West Colfax into decline. The aging Colfax Viaduct was closed, severing the artery that delivered downtown diners and cross-town travelers. Colfax businessmen lost a battle with the Colorado Department of Transportation over what Punch Bohn calls “confusion junction,” the intersection that bends Colfax-bound traffic onto 6th Avenue Freeway. Interstates -25 and -70 were built without exits for West Colfax, choking traffic flow even further. A colorful chapter in North Denver history ended when the Pig ‘N Whistle closed in 1991, the year after The King of West Colfax passed away.

Article reprinted with permission of the North Denver Tribune.

remembering city spirit, part 2

—by Mona Lucero

every summer, city spirit would host fashion shows from the years 1994 to 1996 (not sure what years they were exactly). denver fashion designers always looked forward to showing their designs. there were as an amazing variety of fashion being shown. the designers themselves and the models came from many different points of view and walks of life.

in one show, you might see uzi designs (they sold their designs and other fetish-wear on colfax and pennsylvania, garden girl dresses (a retro-look if memory serves me right), ladybug clothing (fashion-forward), nur jewelry (the models would wear african-inspired headwraps), sugar twist kids (club kids who made everything they were wearing including their very high platform shoes which made them tower above everyone else in the show) and my own designs. at the time, i used the fashion shows to force me to come out with new lines on a regular basis as i was beginning my wholesale business. my big designs back then were candy-colored fake fur jackets, hats & bags and mini a-line skirts (some things never change!) and little mini-dresses with contrast vinyl banding at the empire waist.

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i’m sure all the participating designers were working really hard beforehand and when everyone arrived and dressed in the basement of city spirit, there was a lot of excitement in the air. each “posse” would check out what everyone else was wearing. you could always count on uzi to make a big scene even before the show. they would undress without modesty and make a lot of noise doing it. my models were pretty girly so they would scurry to dress behind the portable doctor’s screens that we used as dressing rooms.

someone from the restaurant would come down, i think i remember the owner, susan wick coming down once, and try to get everyone’s attention and finally announce that the show was about to begin. before you knew it, the room had emptied and the show was on. while waiting to go on, the groups of fashion models would wait behind the restaurant.

once my models told me they were ready to get into a scrap with the sugar twist kids in the alley because they were dissing my fake fur clothes. it was definitely a competitive atmosphere at times but i think everyone enjoyed the competition and vying for the audience’s attention.

once you got through the restaurant, there was a runway on the sidewalk where people were sitting in chairs. a lot were fans of the designers, but there were a lot people walking through on their way to the bars in lodo and they were in a for a big surprise but they seemed to love it. there was a lot of hooting and hollering.

in the second year, the show had gotten so much word of mouth, that it was necessary to open another space next to the restaurant. the music was eclectic and you never knew what was going to play next. most of the modeling was more like dancing. occasionally, a person from the audience would get up and groove on the runway. the craziest moments were always provided by uzi. they would feature models in diapers or with whips and i remember hearing from a few shocked but amused audience members that the uzi people were whipping onlookers.

i learned a lot from doing those shows. i’ll never forget clio ortiz’s work. it was my second fashion show ever and she had about a dozen gorgeous black models, all in “body-conscious” red dresses with black hats. it was a lesson in branding for me and i knew i had a lot to learn and i did! thanks, city spirit, tracy weil and especially susan wick for so generously hosting such fun fashion extravaganzas!

B50 note: Mona Lucero is a fashion designer and proprietor of Mona Lucero Design, located at 2544 15th St, Denver, CO 80211. For more on City Spirit, read part 1 of the story…

Walabi’s 1982

—by Donna Stephenson

In 1982, I was a bar fly. Six days a week, my friend Janice and I went to Walabi’s at 22 broadway. We’d meet around 9 pm after our jobs; Janice was a tele-marketer or somesuch and I worked days at my parents hardware store. We’d dance for hours, stopping to only to smoke, pee or to take a quick hit from a warm beer. Occasionally we’d ask guys to dance. But Janice was my main partner, we’d rigorously hop up and down for hours to music that sounded so good and so original and was wholly homegrown.

We were accepted as regulars pretty quickly, by the bands and friends-of-bands, and most importantly by the bouncer and doorman, Jim Scott. I was just 21 and pretty naive about things. Jim, a black guy at well over 6 feet tall and older than us, kept an eye out and became a friend. He ministered good advice — “Donna, don’t drink your beer with a straw” — and tips on who was good to hang out with and who was not so great. And he’d see us safely to our cars.

Most of the music was new wave with some rock-a-billy and punk. We’d wear un-breathable plastic pants in black or red with anything tight on top. We’d park on Broadway, lock the car and walk as fast as we could to the safety of the club. We’d pogo all night in short heeled ankle boots and leave at closing to go have a 3 am breakfast at Reed’s on 8th and Speer. Whether Reed’s was a gay and drag place all the time or just late night I don’t know, but Janice was hopelessly in love with one of the regulars so we’d go and eat eggs and drink coffee before going home to start all over again the next day.

I left for art school late in 1982, leaving the town and all the music I loved. I plastered my Kansas City dorm room with flyers from my time at Denver clubs, memories from nights at Walabi’s, Straight Johnson’s and the Mercury.

My favorite bands were The Pink, The Aviators, and The Rock Advocates. Great nights were also spent with the Astrobeats, Crank Call Love Affair and the Rotisseries — I don’t remember seeing anything I couldn’t dance to.

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B50 Note: Walabi’s closed its doors in 1985. Show flyers are courtesy of Trash Is Truth, where you will find images of hundreds of flyers from concerts in denver between 1977 and 1986. Donna Stephenson (formerly van horn) is an artist who lives in Denver. Her most recent exhibit was at Ironton Studios; her work can be seen on her website, donnastephenson.com.