Auraria, Rhythm of the Neighborhood

This is Carlos Fresquez’ digital story titled “Rhythm of the Neighborhood” from the Colorado History Museum’s Imagine a Great City: Denver at 150 exhibit. This story was made in a workshop facilitated by The Center for Digital Storytelling’s Denver office. Posted in conjunction with Mile High Stories.

Carlos is now Assistant Professor of Art at Metropolitan State College of Denver, where he works in the same Auraria neighborhood he visited as a child. You can find out more about Carlos from this article from the Metro newspaper.

Chuck’s Do-Nuts: Two Perspectives

Cliff Whitehouse:

Sometimes, you want the glass window painted “Chuck’s Donuts,” the spring-slammed screen door, the poorly-drawn dinosaur on the smoke-yellowed walls, the curled Polaroids, the cathedral-high ceiling and time-tortured floor, veterans astride rusty barstools, the unseen Chinese baker and his unseen recipe… the psychic struggles of AA contestants bleeding through from the meeting next door, the throwback-bad coffee from the never-washed pot, the carcasses of printed news strewn across the burned and scarred linoleum tables, dads and daughters staring into the display, pointing their choices, the gregarious Downs man (always glazed raised) and his mom (always jelly-filled), the high-octane circus-barker owner, the wall-eyed cashier who lived in a haunted house… the percussion of the cash register, the small talk and mumblings about politics, injustice, weasels in Washington, the senseless violence of the front page… the friend with a cicada practical joke, the plastic letters on the plastic board—sign and prices unchanged in forty years… the membership of stepping into the kitchen, past the WWII-vintage dough machine with the arm-ripping kneaders, navigating the stacks of trays, the sacks of flour, the cool grease to access the primitive toilet… trading low cholesterol to be part of the family…

Sometimes, you just want a donut.

Chuck’s, requiescat in pace.

Daniel Weinshenker:

Everybody has a thing.
For some people it’s a bar.
For others it’s church.
Me and Cliffy, we had Chuck’s.
We’d go on stray mornings over the past five years or so – ever since I moved into the neighborhood. No reason why. Just to do it, I guess. I’d show up, sit on a stool, fiddle with the newspaper and point to an applesauce special. Chuck, who the place was not named after, would set it on the counter on a piece of tissue paper. Cliff would show up and start eating mine, which was ok…because I’d like to think I’m ok with sharing.
Besides, I don’t even like donuts. They’re disgusting, really.

I’ll get fat on ‘em, but Cliff hasn’t been able to put on a pound since he got a nasty case of amoebic dysentery at Hooters. But I’d show up anyway, and Cliff would bring his own coffee in because the coffee there was awful, and we’d sit and talk…to each other, to the guy with down syndrome and his grandmother, sometimes to Chuck behind the counter. We were frequents, and we had a card to prove it – though we never redeemed it.

We went through apple fritters and Cliffy starting his woodshop, raised glazed and me quitting my dumb job, old fashioneds and the intricacies of how to catch woodpeckers.

And now we don’t.

Chuck’s closed a couple years back – a casualty of the war on I-25, though some have flung around rumors of krispy kreme world domination, health code violations and back taxes. Can’t say we were surprised.

I thought I wouldn’t miss it, but I do of course. Not the donuts, but the thing.

So, if you see two guys wandering the streets with a chewed up Frisbee, nice-fitting pants and a sense of longing…don’t be afraid…it’s just me and Cliffy looking for a place to be, a new thing, a place to redeem our card. Anywhere will do.

Chuck\'s Do-Nuts was located at 614 E. Kentucky in West Washington Park from 1948 to 2003.
Chuck's Do-Nuts was located at 614 E. Kentucky in Washington Park from 1948 to 2003.

The Henry Roth Houses on Fox Street

by Michael Thornton

This is a statement submitted in an application for a house in the Baker neighborhood to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. As a result of this successful application a new term for the architecture was coined: “Hobo Craftsman”.

Narrative Statement of Significance

Three houses on South Fox Street at Ellsworth Avenue, in the Baker neighborhood, were hand-built by Henry Roth in the Bungalow or Craftsman style of architecture. He made ingenious use of cobblestones from the South Platte River, metal barrel-lids from canisters of railroad spikes, and other found and recycled materials. He built the houses from 1927 to 1941, during the time of the Great Depression with its transient populace. Located only a few blocks from the railroad line, many people looking for work wandered the neighborhood. Mrs. Roth handed out sandwiches at her back door. This was also the time when tourist camps and motor courts spread throughout America. These cobblestone houses not only reflect the Craftsman style of building, but their orientation in conjunction with the sheds on the property represent the typical grouping of cabins in a motor court. Henry Roth’s occupation as a cooper aided him in making use of salvaged metal barrel-lids to construct the sheds, which served as sleeping quarters during the 1930s. The landscaping is reminiscent of tourist camps located near rivers, where fast growing trees like elms and honey locusts are prevalent. Common lilacs provided a sense of hospitality. The buildings and grounds have been preserved, and represent a historical period in America when people were struggling to make ends meet. Henry Roth built the houses for his family, and built the sheds for income. He used materials that other people overlooked or dumped. These houses stand in marked contrast to the neighboring Baker Historic District in Denver, where Victorian houses built at the turn of the twentieth century are the norm.

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The Last Great Coffeehouse?

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The Muddy’s idea began in 1975 as the brainchild of Joe DeRose. It started as a debating club for a few graduate students from Colorado University. They found a place in an old downtown hotel that was on the lower end of its declining years. It was a marriage of convenience—cheap rates, poor students. Too soon, urban renewal broke up this union, forcing the students to scurry about fifteen blocks up into north Denver, where they reopened.

The place quickly morphed into a bookstore that couldn’t support itself. In desperation they added coffee, then pastries and sandwiches and finally an old manual lever espresso machine. Although the birth canal had been strange, what emerged was a full-fledged Coffeehouse, “Muddy Waters of the Platte Inc.” It spent the next ten years surviving on a month-to-month lease, under the mainstream radar and against all odds.

It became a wildly successful “Bistro of the night,” open from seven in the evening until four in the morning, seven days a week. Along with the bookstore-coffeehouse, it added The Slightly off Center Theater, all in the same building. Now there was a place for Music, Plays, life-drawing classes and the piece de resistance, Muddy’s “Summers of Jazz Concerts.”

Muddy’s hosted all of the governors of Colorado and all of the Mayors of Denver from when it opened until it closed its doors in 1997. However, that was only a small part of Muddy’s patina, because it also caught the tail end of the “Beat” generation. Pontifical greats like Ken Kesey and Alan Ginsburg railed against man and machine in our confines.

Jack Micheline headed a list of great poets who spoke their lyrical prose on Muddy’s stage. Both the known and the unknown poet mixed pentameter and hexameter for all who would listen and then strode out the doors leaving their ambience behind.

What made Muddy’s worth writing about was not only who came and went, but also what happened to people while in its ethereal grasp. The real importance lay in its ability to expose people to each other by gently mixing together the grist of their characters, laying bare what was and wasn’t known about each other. It forced us to look at ourselves through the eyes of our contemporaries, some of whom had dared to live outside that damned mainstream box; showing us that social oxygen exists everywhere.

-excerpted from “Muddy’s Chronicles” by Bill Stevens

Author Bill Stevens will be signing copies of his new book, “Muddy’s Chronicles: Secrets of the last Great Coffeehouse” on Sunday, Dec 21 at 2 p.m at the Mercury Café. Admission is Free.

Mercury Café
2199 California Street, Denver