Phil Goodstein on Five Points, real estate and the future of Denver
As Denver's crankiest historian, Phil Goodstein takes his audience on a journey into civic corruption, greed and corporate maleficence. He sniffs out stories of scandal and blasts ruling elites for degrading the potential of the Queen City of the Plains. Since the 1980s, Goodstein has walked and biked around Denver neighborhoods, escorting gaggles of curious history buffs through the city's sordid tales and political conflict. Untarnished by corporate dollars and independent of academic institutions, Goodstein is a fulltime writer and historian who supports his research with the proceeds from his books and tours -- including a bicycle tour through Five Points this weekend. In advance of that event, Westword spoke with Goodstein about the history of the neighborhood and his style of research.
Courtey of Phil Goodstein Phil Goodstein's newest book looks at Five Points, Curtis Park and the evolution of East Denver.
See also: Jane Wells on Native Silence, sex trafficking and human-rights documentary filmmaking
Westword: Talk about what the bike tour through Five Points is going to look like.
Phil Goodstein: Basically, Five Points is all sorts of things. It's a figment of the imagination. It's the area right along the Welton Street Corridor, where the Five Points intersection is properly. It is historical houses. It is churches, institutions, whatever.
In the course of a two-hour bike ride, we simply explore a sampling of the area. Probably, we won't be going any farther to the north than California Street. We'll make it all the way down to 20th Avenue near Glenarm, up then perhaps all the way to 28th and Downing. We never really know exactly where the tour is going until the tour starts because there are timing considerations and traffic obstructions. The idea is to give people a basic introduction to the what, where and why Five Points is about.
How long have you been doing these tours, and what got you started?
Actually, I've been giving different varieties of tours since 1986. The overwhelming majority of them are walking tours. Part of the reason I got into the tour business was an extreme dissatisfaction with the existing tours, how they would be anemic, whitewash everything, not get into the color, the detail, the politics, the scandals of areas around town.
This particular tour, I'm actually partly doing it for myself. The book I'm working on right now is called Curtis Park, Five Points and Beyond: Exploring Historic East Denver. The book, I hope to have out by September. This helps me confirm my research, get the photos, see who is interested in this back and forth with that. I usually learn from my own tours. I try to tell stories. I learn what I know, what I don't know, sometimes see things and encounter people who help educate me better about the area.
How much of that occurs from the participation of the other people coming along on the tour?
It depends on the people. Sometimes they ask good questions. The interaction and their responses help on that. Sometimes I think I tell something and when I see the blank faces, I know I'm not telling the story properly, and it needs to be modified. That's one of the key things that any teacher, any speaker realizes: You have to relate to your audience and speak to them at exactly the level they want.
Where do you see Five Points within Denver as an evolving city?
Basically, right now, it's something of an extreme transition zone. It starts out as an elite white suburb. By the early twentieth century, it starts becoming a fashionable black area. It's soon the heart of black Denver. By the end of World War II, many blacks are dismissing it as a slum.
A keynote of Five Points, for many years, was black flight. In the same way the whites were fleeing the city to get away from the blacks, a lot of blacks were fleeing Five Points claiming they were getting away from other blacks. Right now, it's a relatively depressed area, if you see the large number of vacancies, particularly along Welton Street.
A lot of the black community is very unhappy with what's going on down there in terms of their fears that there's this big white conspiracy to drive all the blacks out of Five Points and transform it into another yuppie neighborhood. Amidst all of this, there is a lot of construction going on down there of extremely modern houses.
Actually, the mayor and the city councilmen have both boasted about how much whiter the area is becoming, even as they're trying to tout it as the Harlem of the West.
Read on for more from Phil Goodstein.