Historian Phil Goodstein on knowing the past and shaping the present in Denver
From swanky neon signs to the obvious remnants of an old cow town -- including our awesome and never confusing two-grid street system -- Denver's past shows through her shiny exterior. But Denver is a city of transplants, and all too easily, much of that history gets lost.
Phil Goodstein, author of North Side Story: Denver's Most Intriguing Neighborhood, has been in the business of teaching Denverites their history for years, giving walking tours of the city's neighborhoods and filling residents in on all the "dirt" -- crimes, love stories and the interactions between ethnic groups within the city limits.
Westword?Would you define "North Denver"?
Phil Goodstein:It's the area from the Platt River and West Colfax to the city's northern and western boundaries. It was where Denver once went to plight, including at places like Lakeside, Elitch's and Sloan's Lake. A wide array of people settled in the area, often ethnic immigrants. It has been the home of the people of Ireland, Italy and Latin America -- Jews from Eastern Europe once dominated the West Colfax corridor. It has also been the site of bizarre crimes.
What do you mean by "bizarre crimes"?
There's two ways you can define the bizarre crimes. There was once a very active mafia in North Denver, so there was once a number of shootings and bombings -- fairly shady activity. It was also the site of Denver's Spider-Man.
Denver's Spider-Man was Theo Coneys, who holes up in the attic of a friend, descends from the attic at night and eats the food in the house before he murders the occupant of the house. He remains in hiding up in the attic for more than six months before the police figure out what's going on.
Why did you decide to write a book?
I've been giving walkng tours in North Denver since the 1980s, and I figured I was going to compile my tour notes. The area needed a new treatment and perspectve and I was looking at about 500 pages of tour notes.
Why did you start giving tours?
Total frustration with how bad the existing tours were. Lifeless, dull, ignorant tour guides. Basically the tours were an officious history. None of the scandal, none of the humanity of the people. Just something you would get from the public relations brochure, touted by the Chamber of Commerce.
Do you think a lot of people who live in Denver do not know the history of their neighborhoods?
They don't even come close to knowing the history. North Denver is where North Denver is, and copyeditors always want to call it "West Denver." One of the purposes of my wiritng is to share my knowledge, and to give a direction of the city's history and relevance as apposed to this instant redevelopment that is always going on.