We have featured a number of articles about historic Colfax Avenue, and its colorful characters, as part of our “local history” series. Our neighbor Harry Puncec adds to the picture with a paean to Broadway, the centerline of Denver and home to many warm memories of his youth.
My favorite intersection in Denver is Colfax and Broadway where the two historic streets meet marking the emotional center of the city and of Colorado itself. Looking east you have the State Capitol with its majestic golden dome looking down on the City and County Building across the way. Downtown was originally laid out parallel to Cherry Creek which must have caused grief for early surveyors. At the intersection of Colfax and Broadway you can see where the city converted to the far easier north-south orientation. Making it work are the two streets that spoke out in the basic directions of the compass.
The streets are vastly different with Colfax getting the nod in every category. Its length of about 22 miles from where it splits off from I-70 way to the east across town to where it loses its identity at the beginning of the foothills near Golden. That far exceeds the 15 miles of Broadway which begins at Brighton Boulevard in the north and ends as a twisted suburban arterial ending abruptly at Wildcat Reserve Parkway in Highlands Ranch. Colfax heads toward the mountains while Broadway avoids them. Vice, corruption, and used car lots seem at home along Colfax while Broadway quietly slips into seedy old age as it approaches downtown. Everyone talks of fixing Colfax but Broadway is permitted to wheeze and gasp in relative anonymity.
Yet Broadway holds a special place in my heart. It was my first home in Denver back in the autumn of 1941 when my parents rented a second story apartment just off 8th Avenue above a store that sold galvanized metal for sheds. My brothers and I were permitted to play in the back of the shop until the day my youngest brother swallowed a handful of rat poison and earned a rush trip to nearby Denver General Hospital. He survived but our freedom of movement didn’t.
Mom and Dad came to Denver in late 1940 so he could take a job with the Colorado Industries for the Blind in their shop at Speer Boulevard and Bannock. The mostly blind staff made brooms, mops, doormats, and other household items sold by blind vendors door to door across the area. Those were the war years and my dad’s shop had a War Department contract to make brooms for the military. The shop had this military contract, access to unlimited gas as a result, and a pickup truck to make deliveries. The problem was that the shop didn’t have a sighted driver and the only person who knew how to drive was my legally blind dad. At 4-years-old I was called into service and told to stand next to him during delivery trips down Broadway and to tell him if the light ahead was red or green. Broadway was a two-way street in those days and traffic, thanks to wartime gas rationing, was sparse which helped. On the other hand you had to duck the streetcars that clanked their way to and from downtown. Outside of the movie “Scent of a Woman” you don’t see that happening much anymore.
Broadway… its soul remains in the small shops and historical facades that line the route.
Broadway was also the scene of one of my early heartbreaks. From our house at 791 Sherman, which we moved into in 1944, I’d walk the two blocks to Broadway and catch the Number 3 streetcar south to Alameda, and hike to St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church for instructions for my first Holy Communion. It was 1947 and the carfare each way was 4¢. My mom would give me two nickels with the understanding that I could spend the change on candy. I loved the deal and was stunned one day when the conductor told me that inflation had forced the tramway company to increase the cost to, you guessed it, a nickel. I broke down and cried while the poor man frantically looked for a penny of his own to give me and shut off the waterworks.
Much has changed along Broadway and yet its soul remains in the small shops and historical facades that line the route. As long as memory permits it will be the street of my youth, with its dreams and heartache. Colfax is just that other street.
Harry Puncec is an original Southern Gables homeowner, having bought one of the Wood Brothers homes when the neighborhood was a noisy, dusty construction zone imposing itself on vacant land. From that beginning before the incorporation of Lakewood, forming lifelong friendships with neighbors along the way, he has been a leading contributor to the good of the community.