Trolley conductors once called out, “Five Points!” as they neared the confluence of Washington Street, 27th Street, 26th Avenue and Welton Street. The name stuck and became synonymous with jazz.
During the 1920s to 1940s, Five Points’ vibrant jazz scene earned it the sobriquet, “Harlem of the West.” Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington and many other major artists played the nightclubs and cabarets lining Welton Street.
While Five Points is known as a historically African American neighborhood, it was actually quite diverse. Many Japanese-and-Mexican Americans also called the neighborhood home.
Built in 2003, Five Points’ handsome Blair-Caldwell branch of the Denver Public Library is one of only four African American research libraries in the entire country. This little-known Denver landmark at 2401 Welton St. features distinctive bas reliefs on the exterior. Inside, murals and exhibits vividly depict Black history in Colorado.
Don’t call it RiNo! Longtime residents of Five Points take pride in the neighborhood’s rich history and do not want it subsumed by the neighboring River North art district.
In late June, the History Colorado museum opened a small but potent new show celebrating the Five Points neighborhood — Denver’s famous pre-war jazz mecca and center of Black middleclass life.
Titled “Five Points Plus: Neighborhood Memory Project,” the exhibit brings Black history alive with a mural by local artist Adri Norris, vintage photos, historic memorabilia and recordings of community storytellers.
As today’s explosive growth and rapid gentrification transform Denver, Five Points Plus reflects the museum’s effort to preserve and learn from the city’s past. The show is part of History Colorado’s “Building Denver,” an 18-month initiative that includes exhibits, walking tours and a podcast. A design retrospective asks the question: Is this the city we had in mind? “The Museum of Memory” collection is stocked with recordings of oral history from long-term Five Points residents along with many other Colorado communities. These recordings can be accessed at http://soundcloud.com/historycolorado. “Five Points Plus” was created with the help of Five Points community members, the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center and the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library.
“Five Points Plus” runs until Nov. 1 at the History Colorado Center, 1200 N. Broadway in Denver.
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