Denver officials and historians understand that the vast majority of the city’s designated historic districts and landmarks represent a whitewashed version of its history but they’re working to rectify that lack of diversity.
In the past five decades, the Denver City Council has designated 56 historic districts and 352 individual landmarks, covering a total of about 7,000 properties but only 2% to 3% are non-white landmarks.
Existing landmarks disproportionately highlight not just white history but also white male history, to the exclusion of almost all else, critics told The Denver Post last year. As that diverse history is erased, so too is the sense of belonging and place for people belonging to the wide swathe of cultures and communities that call Denver home.
Recognizing that homogeneity for a city of 700,000 in which 29% of the population identifies as Hispanic, city officials launched a study last year to identify a more diverse range of places, buildings and districts that have contributed to Denver’s history and culture.
The study, titled “Nuestras Historias: Mexican American/Chicano/Latino Histories in Denver,” identifies more than 100 undesignated sites and districts bearing historical and cultural significance. Those sites include places of religious, commercial, educational and political importance all across the city.
“All of this resulted from simply asking people: ‘What places in Denver matter to you, and why?’” the report says.
Through those interviews, public meetings, online surveys and archival research, city officials built the list of potential historic and cultural sites. The report notes that the list isn’t comprehensive. And the list doesn’t designate each of the sites. Rather, members of the community, property owners and city officials must nominate them for that process.
“It is the start of a process for Denver citizens to understand, celebrate, and preserve the unique and vibrant Latino and Chicano history of the city, and begin to identify sites and districts that could be landmarked for their contribution to Denver’s history,” the report says.
This study is the first of several that city officials have said they hope to conduct, but they need money to fund the work. Next, they want to catalog Black history and culture in Denver. Then they want to study Native American, Asian American and other cultures.
The first study can be found in English and Spanish at denvergov.org. Here is a map of the sites identified in the study:
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