But The Sign Says Open House

I remember when, at the age of six, my parents decided it was time to spread our wings and move out of the two-story row house around the corner from the high school my mom taught English in. My great grandparents owned the property, along with multiple others across the city of Denver, Colorado. So up until then, my world was the Five Points community, where the history of blacks in Colorado flourished.

My great grandfather invested in property there, beginning with his first house in 1909. He bought land, buildings, apartments and homes in neighborhoods no one wanted to invest in; like Five Points, Curtis Park, and what was once skid row but is now a thriving retail center called Larimer Square.

I was too young to understand the redlining that was a prevalent practice in my city at the time.  I knew nothing of the neighborhood segregation that began with government support during Roosevelt’s administration. I was raised to believe that as a black person I could come and go where and when I pleased. Until that fateful day when my parents and I looked at a house on Monaco Parkway, in Parkhill. A white middle and upper middle class neighborhood at the time.

I remember being excited about this house because it was larger and better maintained than any of the others we had viewed prior to it. When my dad rang the doorbell, we were greeted by a well-dressed white realtor who politely asked if he could help us. My dad told him we were interested in looking at the house. The realtor’s response was, “I’m sorry, but we’re not showing the house to coloreds.” 

When out of the mouth of babes, I responded with “What do you mean? But the sign says Open House right there!” I wish I could relive that moment now. The realtor looked at my father expecting him to correct me and tell me I needed to learn some respect, but he didn’t. My dad looked off to the side with a smirk on his face and my mom tried to hold back from doing the same. After all, I said what they could not say.

We did find a house, two blocks down the street. One that is still family-owned. And as I grew up, I watched the neighborhood change. There were more For Sale signs up after we moved in. And I remember my parents saying it was because more blacks were moving into the neighborhood, and any time that happens, property values decline. 

The neighborhood is changing, once again, because of gentrification. My daughter owns the family home now, so that is to her benefit. But, she recently shared an NPR article that reminded me of the changes I have witnessed since my childhood over the past 50 years. And the changes in socio-economic and racial representation have been the determining factor as to whether those with wealth wanted to move to Parkhill.

In the end, my daughter will prosper from gentrification. However, other communities might suffer. Five Points was once a vibrant attraction for jazz lovers. My great grandfather took pictures with some of the icons. Like Count Basie, Sara Vaughn, and Duke Ellington. My cousin owns much of the property now. And she, with the help of other black business owners, would like to revive the Five Points community.

But that is where gentrification might come with a cost. Because there are rumors that the city wants to revitalize Five Points’ image. Gone is the mural of my father on a storefront portraying his gold medal long jump in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. More investors are pressuring my cousin to sell what is left of the family empire in “The Points”. Instead, rumor has it that the city wants to build a sprawling Jewish Community Center. And as my Jewish friend once told me, “Get used to it.” But that’s hard to do, because our history as a family will be erased from a neighborhood I cherish to this day.

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