Ninth Street Historic Park is the heart of the Auraria neighborhood, Denver’s oldest, founded in October 1858, a month before Denver City. In the late 1960s, the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) planned to clear 169 acres of old Auraria bordering Cherry Creek to build the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC). Preservationists, led by Historic Denver, Inc., fought to save one relatively intact residential face block of Ninth Street between Curtis and Champa Streets to be restored for educational use. As a preservation project, Ninth Street is notable for its wide variety of architectural styles as well as for saving a middle-class immigrant neighborhood of Germans, Irish, Jews, and Hispanos.
Auraria got its start when William Green Russell and his party of prospectors found gold there near the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River. That discovery ignited the Colorado Gold Rush and led the Russell party to found Auraria City, named for the gold-mining community of Auraria, Georgia, from which they came. Auraria was subsequently annexed by Denver City on the other side of Cherry Creek. As Auraria industrialized, wealthier folks moved to Denver’s many new, more fashionable neighborhoods. Auraria became increasingly Latinx and at the northwest end of Ninth Street was anchored by St. Cajetan’s, Denver’s first Catholic church for Spanish speakers, along with its school, health clinic, and credit union. Many Aurarians worked in nearby industries such as the Tivoli Brewery, the Hungarian Flour Mills, and the Burnham Shops of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.
Preserving Ninth Street
The oldest intact block in Denver, Ninth Street homes date from 1872 to 1906, with modest vernacular versions of Italianate, Queen Anne, classic cottage, and mansard houses as well as one of Denver’s best examples of the Second Empire style. All seemed doomed in 1969, when Denver voters approved plans to condemn and clear the land for AHEC, which would include three degree-granting institutions—Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State College, and the University of Colorado–Denver.
Led by Don D. and Carolyn Etter and Barbara Sudler, Historic Denver, Inc., persuaded authorities to give it a chance to restore the block and return it to AHEC for educational use. Beginning in 1972, Historic Denver spent nearly $1 million to restore the block and celebrated its completion on Colorado Day, August 1, 1976. By grassing over the street and intensely landscaping the entire three-acre site, the block earned its park name as well as designation as a Denver and national historic district. More open space came with the demolition of two houses that could not be saved. All thirteen of the surviving, restored residences are noteworthy, as is the corner grocery store, an anchor of nineteenth-century neighborhoods. Six of the houses are among the city’s oldest, built before Colorado became a state in 1876.
Knight House (1015 Ninth Street) was built in 1885 by Charles and Betsey Davis of 1068 Ninth Street as a wedding present for their daughter Kate and her husband, Steve Knight, a bookkeeper in Davis’s West Side Flour Mill. Don Etter, who helped document and restore Ninth Street, has called this unique mansard-style house “perhaps the most beautifully proportioned and tastefully embellished Victorian house in Denver.”
Smedley House/Casa Mayan (1020 Ninth Street) was built around 1872 by William Smedley, a Quaker dentist and teacher whose descendants became prominent dentists and state legislators. In 1933 Trinidad and Belen Gonzales bought the building and made it their family home. In 1947 the family turned the first floor into Casa Mayan, one of Denver’s first Mexican restaurants to welcome non-Mexicans. The family not only fed but entertained with Mexican music and dance, making Casa Mayan popular and doing much to bridge the gap between Spanish and English speakers. After restoration it became a museum of Auraria and Latinx culture.
Ropp House (1024 Ninth Street) was built in 1875 in the Italianate style for Cordelia Ropp and her husband, Oscar, a saloon owner and livestock dealer.
Nevin House (1027 Ninth Street) may have been built by Jeremiah Gardener in 1882 for his son-in-law William C. Nevin. A mansard second story and dominant mansard tower distinguish one of Ninth Street’s more fashionable houses.
Gardner House (1033 Ninth Street) was built in 1873 by Jeremiah and Mary Gardner as a frame house with a third-story shingled tower and much ornate wooden trim and metal rooftop cresting.
Wheeler-Griebling House (1041 Ninth Street) was built around 1880 with a prominent two-story front bay. Frank Wheeler worked for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad for thirty-five years and also served as a Denver city councilman and as director of Denver’s Auraria School District. Later owner John Griebling was a cabinetmaker with the Denver Furniture and Carpet Company.
Schulz-Madden Duplex (1045/47 Ninth Street) was designed by J. J. Backus and built in 1890 for $3,700, complete with identical twin front porches. William Schulz, a bookkeeper for the Milwaukee (later Tivoli) Brewery, shared the duplex with Eugene Madden, who ran a saloon called Madden’s Wet Goods at 1140 Larimer Street and also served nine terms as Auraria’s city councilman.
Cole-Wilson House (1050 Ninth Street) was built around 1875 by Henry Cole. From 1880 to 1927, this picturesque one-story cottage housed Frank Wilson, an engineer with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, and his family.
Young House (1051 Ninth Street) is a classic cottage bungalow built in 1903 by Thomas Young, a blacksmith whose daughter was a piano teacher. Typical of classic cottages, it had neoclassical porch posts, a hipped roof, and a central dormer atop a small one-story house.
Dolan House (1056 Ninth Street) was built in 1901 by Maurice Dolan, treasurer and later a manager for the Hungarian Flour Mills. William Crowe designed this typical classic cottage bungalow similar to the Young House across the street. Thousands of similar modest houses were built throughout the city in middle- and lower-class neighborhoods after the Panic of 1893 lowered housing expectations and budgets.
Rundles House (1059 Ninth Street) was built in 1880 by William B. Rundle, manager of the Colorado Electric Company. The second mansard story added later was designed by Colorado’s most distinguished architectural firm, Frank E. Edbrooke and Company.
Davis House (1068 Ninth Street) was built around 1872 by Charles R. Davis, a miller who became the successful owner of the West Denver Flour Mill. The full front porch has elaborate Carpenter Gothic trim and supports a second-story balcony.
The Groussman Store (906 Curtis Street, at Ninth) was built in 1906 by Albert B. Groussman and his wife, Belle. Their family lived upstairs and operated the grocery on the ground floor. This red-brick commercial building designed by architect Frederick Carl Eberley has been repurposed as a Mexican restaurant crowned by distinctive cannonball finials.
As of 2021, the fourteen historic structures served primarily as offices for campus groups, including AHEC campus and facilities planning, the University of Colorado–Denver English department, the University of Colorado–Denver honors and leadership program, the Metropolitan State University honors program, and the Auraria Faculty and Staff Club. For these groups, as well as everyone else at AHEC, Ninth Street provides a serene, park-like heart for a scattered campus.