40 West Arts is capturing West Colfax's history through commercial architecture
If you take a closer look, underneath layers of paint and decades of additions, there are gorgeous mid-century modern commercial structures along Colfax Avenue that have a story to tell. A sordid past is part of what makes the country's longest main street fascinating to some, but for Bill Marino and the non-profit 40 West Arts whose board he chairs, there's a desire to let onlookers know there is more to the avenue's colorful life than seediness.
Courtesy of 40 West Arts. 8000 West Colfax, formerly the home of the Lakewood Theater, was built in 1950.
Through a $50,000 state historical grant secured by 40 West Arts and the Lakewood-West Colfax Business Improvement District, Marino and his crew of volunteers are hard at work on a historic resources survey. Cataloging more than 500 structures along West Colfax from Sheridan Boulevard to Simms Street, the organization's building a complete picture by taking a photographic inventory as well as speaking with people who live and work in the Lakewood corridor. Marino talked with Westword about what information is being collected with the grant and how he hopes the public will soon be able to enjoy the once-buried history of this section of the fabled Colfax Avenue.
Westword: What is 40 West Arts, exactly?
Bill Marino: We are located along a historic section of West Colfax -- 40 West Arts is an arts district that was designated by the state in 2012 as an emerging creative district. We were part of the original fourteen districts designated back in 2012. It was a big deal for us because we are very grassroots and very connected to our community and our artists. Part of 40 West Arts mission is not only to create community art spaces and community art events but also to celebrate the character and history of our area.
Can you explain the grant 40 West Arts and the Lakewood-West Colfax Business Improvement District recently secured through the state?
We put together this grant application to the State Historical Fund, knowing that with light rail opening in the corridor, a lot could change over the next ten years about the character of the area. There are so many buildings in the area that either haven't been catalogued or there isn't a whole lot of information available.
Along with (our own matching funds) we were awarded a $50,000 grant for us to inventory all the buildings in the West Colfax corridor that are more than fifty years old. That sounds kind of boring at first, but what it does is allow us to tell the history of the corridor through architecture and land use.
What part of West Colfax will this survey entail?
It is super-cool for a culture geek like me because what we didn't realize was that while we were preparing for the historic resource survey, we did a preliminary scan of the corridor from Sheridan to Simms -- the Lakewood section of West Colfax. You might think there are fifty or sixty buildings that would qualify for this survey; there were more than 500 buildings. Some of them are more than a hundred years old.
These are all commercial buildings -- though if there is something unique like the Loveland House, which was built in 1885 by William Loveland, it will get to be part of it, even though originally it was a residence. But it is 99 percent commercial buildings.
What sorts of things are you planning on doing with the information gathered through the Historic Resource Survey of West Colfax?
Well, we'll be able to fill holes in the history and culture of the corridor through architecture and land use. We're already gathering this kind of information, as we have volunteers on the street, knocking on doors, taking pictures and doing interviews. We also have another group of volunteers at the county archive pulling information. Our goal is to be able to catalog this information for posterity so others can access it, but also to create interpretive signage to be able to tell the story of West Colfax to residents and visitors and commuters.
We already have some interpretive signs planned for the Wadsworth Station as we work with RTD and the city of Lakewood to put up a series of signs there. Whether it is fun facts or remarkable stories or information on influential people, we're going to be able to identify more interpretive signage to put up at locations around the corridor. Our ultimate goal in addition to cataloguing for posterity and doing the interpretive signage, is that we also believe that there is educational material that can be created and shared with local school districts. We're also working with the Rocky Mountain Guide Association to create a regularly occurring tour of the corridor based on the information that we've learned.
Keep reading for more on West Colfax's history.