Pope visits Harkness Heights – enterprising locals see opportunity

—by Rich Moore

Left to right Stephanie Haver (42nd & Julian), Brigid & Lucy Moore (42nd & Irving).
Left to right Stephanie Haver (42nd & Julian), Brigid & Lucy Moore (42nd & Irving)

This photo was taken outside of the Mt. St. Vincent home at 41st & Lowell, on the day the Pope came to visit in August of ’93. The girls were selling Kool-Aid, and a Secret Service agent came by and bought some. She was obviously Secret Service; who else wears long pants and a dark blazer when it’s 90+ outside? She was real sweet to the girls. Other agents were on the rooftop of the home.

I’m guessing there were over 1000 people gathered. We were on Lowell at 42nd, others were on the street along 41st. At one point, all the crowd along Lowell roared with delight as a man in white came out through a side door. Turns out the guy was a kitchen worker emptying a trash bin. He was pleased with the warm reception and waved back.

The Pope did come out the door at some point along 41st, but we never saw him.

B50 Note: Mount St. Vincent’s Children’s Home (originally the Saint Vincent’s Orphan Asylum) was established by Bishop J.P. Machebeuf and the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth in 1882. Located at 4159 Lowell, it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1902. The historical photo was taken by L.C. McClure, circa 1905. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library Western History Collection, photoswest.org.

Harkness Heights O! My Harkness Heights

—by Mollie O’brien

I am a proud resident of the Harkness Heights neighborhood. The grandeur of its name belies its size. It’s a small neighborhood by Denver standards (its boundaries are 44th to 41st and Lowell to Federal) and lots of people make fun of its name and its allusions to greatness. But its a comfy area and we all pretty much know each other thanks to a really good neighborhood association which exists mostly to raise money for a big picnic each summer, luminarias on the winter solstice, and various Denver charities.

In the early 80s my future husband and I lived for 3 years in Wash Park in a falling down apartment across the street from the Candlelight Tavern. About the best thing about the place (other than the fact that every time a new leak turned up in the ceiling the landlords lowered the rent $25/month) was that the famous Benny cooked at the Candlelight. This was in his early culinary days and you could get a T-bone dinner complete with his incredible refritos, chilies, and tortillas for $5. When our apartment finally got to the point of being too dangerous to live in we realized it was time to move. Culture shock abounded when we realized there was no way we could afford to live in a normal building anywhere nearby so we started looking beyond the expensive yuppie boundaries that contained Wash Park.

One day we decided to drive past Federal on Speer just to see what was up there. Friends told us it was full of gangs and street crime but we went anyway and immediately found a wonderful 2 bedroom apartment with a great backyard and off street parking all for $375/month. It was $100 more a month than we’d been paying but just outside our front door was the looming sight of Mr. Twister and all that Elitch Gardens had to offer.

The girls growing up in harkness heights
The girls growing up in Harkness Heights
Our Wash Park friends while reluctant to see us they go encouraged us to visit them when we “were in town.” And so we were off to the wilds of Northwest Denver.

We moved the end of April to 35th and Utica and were soon delighted to find that we were invited to a “neighbor night” at Elitch’s of which we naturally took full advantage. (I’m sure that was a ploy of Elitch’s – the first night the park was open to the public the noise from the park didn’t die down until well after 1am.) That spring brought us knowledge of other North Denver earthly delights such as the vintage Dolly Madison shop at 38th and Tennyson with their waitresses right out of central casting, all the cool old taverns (the Music Bar, the old Billy’s Inn, Rosa Mia’s and Luigi’s on 35th), and the dear little parks like the one we called Wolfe Street Park because there never seemed to be any kind of sign identifying it otherwise.

In 1986 when we became parents for the first time we decided it was time to move to a house. Things were still relatively cheap up here but, we were musicians and not earning a whole hell of a lot annually and so we ended up buying a nice little place on “the other side of Federal” where we lived until another adorable little baby girl came along and we needed yet a bigger house. This time we moved into our current bungalow on Irving in Harkness Heights.

The first week we were in our house at least 3 neighbors came by with cookies and cakes, to say hello, to welcome us to the neighborhood and, I’m sure, to size us up. This latter bit can be attributed to the fact that one of the people who lived in the house before us was, shall we say, considered a bit of a neighborhood problem? Within a month’s time we had more babysitters available than we’d ever known across Federal and there were 2 babysitting coops to join. If we ever needed help moving a piano, fridge or sofa all we had to do was go down the alley a bit to see who was working outside that Saturday and we had a ready and smiling moving crew at our disposal. It was all pretty sweet.

Since then our neck of the woods has become trendy – maybe too trendy for some. We love, though, having a really good burger joint nearby (the reinvented Billy’s Inn), Sunflower Market, banks that know us, oldtimers who still bring muffins and treats to new neighbors, the tall kid on the bike with all the gizmos who curses loudly to himself as he rides by, the new stop sign (well, not that new really) at 41st and Irving, Taza De Cafe, all the people who are out and about on a warm weekend day, the blizzard potlucks and our impromptu year round traveling cocktail parties. We even notice some smiles on the faces of the Safeway checkers in their new digs and we begrudgingly acknowledge and have eventually accepted the huge new chateaus just north of our border.

Many years ago, before our kids were of school age, a friend of mine in the music business in Nashville told me that if I moved there I’d probably be really successful. I could do lots of session work, maybe even get discovered and become famous. There were many reasons why I chose not to do that and sometimes I wonder what would have become of me if I had packed the family up and moved there. As it was, I’ve been lucky enough to play all over the world and have done plenty of gigs that lots of people can only dream of. I’m always so happy to come back home to 42nd and Irving and I can’t imagine moving now.

After all, I get to play with my husband at our very own neighborhood festival, the wonderful Sunnyside Music Festival; there are people who come up to me in the grocery store and say hi because they know I’m a singer; the little kids in Harkness Heights know me because I’m the voice of the Stegosaurus in the kids’ TV show The Big Green Rabbit; and friends and neighbors ask me to sing for their parents’ memorials and, now, their kids weddings. I’m really famous, right here in Harkness Heights, and that’s all that matters to me.

B50 Note: Ruth Wiberg, in her book Rediscovering Northwest Denver (originally published in 1976 and available from Amazon), says that Harkness Heights “was probably named for Charles Harkness, an early owner, who is listed in the city directory of 1874 as a candle manufacturer.” The neighborhood is also the home of the Denver Victorian Playhouse, which was built in 1911 as the Bungalow Theater (with a 100 seat theater in the basement). As Ruth Wiberg notes, it “is one of the few theaters in the world to have presented everything Shakespeare wrote.” Mollie O’brien is a singer who has lived in Harkness Heights with her husband, Rich Moore, for over 20 years. More information on her music is available on her website, mollieobrien.com.

The Western Slavonic Lodge

— by Mary Lou Egan

For over a hundred years the corner at 45th and Washington Street in the Globeville neighborhood has been the place to inexpensive meal and visit with friends. Today the site is home to McDonalds restaurant; in 1908, it home to Western Slavonic Lodge.

Slavs began arriving in Globeville the 1880s seeking jobs in Grant and Globe Smelters. Work in smelters was hard and dangerous with men risking death or disability from extreme heat, toxic fumes and dust from heavy metals. To provide financial security for themselves and their families, the Slavs formed Zapadna Slovanska Zveza (Western Slavonic Association), an independent, fraternal society that offered sick and death benefits for its members.

The organization also help preserve to language, culture and heritage of mother country, Slovenia. Here, the newcomer felt comfortable and welcome, speaking his native language, enjoying familiar ethnic dishes and socializing with others for old country. Also information about jobs, places to stay and to meet other single people from home. Newcomers also introduced to American customs, music, dress and slang, and help it process of Americanization. It branches of organization communities of Slavs—Leadville, Salida, Canon City, Crested Butte, Aspen and Pueblo.

Slavs gradually assimilated in American culture, moved up at economic ladder and away from Globeville neighborhood. Their Western Slavonic is Western Fraternal Life and still for annuities, insurance products, and fraternal activities to members at location that 11265 Decatur Street in Westminster. The lodge sold are land to McDonalds in 1988.

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Slovenian Societies in 1925 - photo courtesy of Joseph Sadar
Slovenian Societies in 1925 - photo courtesy of Joseph Sadar
Members of the Western Slavonic Association, 1925. Photo courtesy of Joseph Skrabec
Members of the Western Slavonic Association, 1925. Photo courtesy of Joseph Skrabec
Slovenian Home in 1953. Photo courtesy of Joseph Skrabec.
Slovenian Home in 1953. Photo courtesy of Joseph Skrabec.
45th and Washington today: McDonald\'s
45th and Washington today: McDonald's

Denver’s Great Telescopes (19th and 21st Century)

— by Robert Stencel

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Small telescopes have been part of Denver history since our origins. Witness the fine brass refractor on display in the parlor of the Byers-Evans house downtown. With the rejuvenation of the University of Denver in 1880, a smart young professor arrived in town that same year, beginning a sequence of events that would lead to a classic telescope in Observatory Park, and a futuristic one high atop Mount Evans – both associated with astronomy at the University of Denver.

In Observatory Park, at the heart of the University of Denver’s historic Chamberlin Observatory lies the telescope, a 20-inch aperture Clark-Saegmuller refractor. The telescope first saw light in July of 1894, and is still used by scientists, students and visitors today. It is the fifth largest of its kind in the United States. The observatory is named after its patron, Humphrey B. Chamberlin, who pledged $50,000 in 1888 to see it built and equipped. Professor Herbert A. Howe, the astronomer at the University of Denver since 1880, was responsible for overall design and instrument specification. Alvan Clark and Sons of Cambridge, Mass., the foremost opticians of the day, crafted the lenses for the telescope. When it was made, the primary lens was priced at $11,000. Today, it is considered priceless. The mechanical mounting for the telescope was built by George N. Saegmuller, who owned and operated Fauth and Company in Washington DC.

Humphrey Chamberlin was active in the Denver real estate business at the time, so Saegmuller and Clark both accepted land holdings as part of their payment. However, when the great Silver Panic of 1893 caused the bottom to drop out of the landowning business, Mr. Chamberlin went bankrupt and the properties offered to Saegmuller and Clark rapidly declined in value. Professor Howe paid Clark with his own cash and compensated Saegmuller by delaying delivery of his finished telescope for a time, personally assisting with its display at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. The telescope components and lenses were finally shipped to Denver by June 1894. Howe was concerned for the safety of the 150-pound lenses, so he personally transported it from Chicago to Denver in a private train car.

Howe performed final assembly of the telescope at Chamberlin Observatory, in addition to his duties as Dean and professor at DU. The University assisted as much as it could in paying Clark and Saegmuller, but Howe had to pay some of the fees out of his own pocket. Trial observations began in July of 1894, with “first light” on the 14th. This initial use of the telescope by Howe included observations of stars in the famed cluster M13 in Hercules and Earth’s moon. The first public use of the telescope occurred on August 1st of the same year, when Howe entertained the Swedish Methodist Christian Endeavor Society with a look at Saturn. The telescope began its professional use in late fall. Observations of Mercury’s passage across the face of the Sun (called a transit) were recorded on November 10th and 11th. These observations were the first published results from the Chamberlin Observatory, printed in the Astronomical Journal in the spring of 1895.

B50 Note: Dr. Robert Stencel is Professor of Astronomy at the University of Denver, where he splits his time between the Chamberlin Observatory in Denver and the Meyer-Womble Observatory, located atop 14,268 ft Mt. Evans. The university still offers astronomy classes and frequent public access. For information call the hotline at 303-871-5172 or visit Professor Stencel’s website. All photos are courtesy of the University of Denver Archives.