Denver, CO

La Alma Lincoln Park could be Denver's next historic cultural district

Margaret Jackson

A proposal to designate La Alma Lincoln Park as a historic cultural district will gain momentum in the coming months as neighborhood residents provide feedback on the plan and the application makes its way through the Landmark Commission and Denver City Council.

It’s a project that’s been four years in the making, said Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver. The application process has involved taking an inventory of the buildings, documenting the history of the neighborhood while layering the Chicano Movement into the story.

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La Alma mural on the La Alma Lincoln Park Recreation CenterShannon Schaefer Stage

“That evolved into a cultural historic district proposal, outreach meetings around customized design guidelines to recognize those layers of change over time and the cultural component,” Levinsky said. “COVID created a slowdown, but everybody got going again earlier this year.”

If the application is approved, La Alma Lincoln Park would be Denver’s second-ever historic cultural district.

One of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods with homes dating to the 1870s, La Alma Lincoln Park is unique because of its ties to the Chicano Movement in the 1960s and 1970s—the largest and most widespread civil rights and empowerment movement that transformed the identity, politics and community dynamics of Mexican Americans.

“The idea is to honor the history and tell the story,” Levinsky said.

If approved, the cultural historic district would encompass the northern blocks along Lipan, Mariposa and parts of Kalamath streets between 10th and 14th avenues. The park itself is included as is the Denver Inner City Parish and the West Side Action Committee, an organization that grew out of the Chicano Movement and was instrumental in pushing for social change.

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1100 block of Mariposa in La Alma Lincoln ParkShannon Schaefer Stage

The La Alma Lincoln Park neighborhood was built near the railroad and Burnham Yards as a working-class immigrant community in the 1870s and 1880s. There was a flour mill and other manufacturing businesses in the area, and the neighborhood’s earliest residents — many of whom were German, Irish, Italian, Jewish and Mexican immigrants — were employed there.

By the mid-20th century, the neighborhood had a large population of Latinos, Hispanos and Mexican-American residents, many of whom became influential leaders of the Chicano Movement, which spent much of its efforts on equity in education.

One of the ways the Chicano Movement connected to the neighborhood was through the murals painted on both public and private buildings. Artist Emanuel Martinez was one of the key people who created the murals and in developing the Chicano/a Mural Movement in Denver. Martinez designed a mural titled “La Alma” (The Soul) that still exists at the La Alma Recreation Center.

The application for designation as a historic cultural district currently is in the community engagement stage, with a public hearing slated via Zoom for 11 a.m. Saturday. The meeting also can be joined by phone at (720) 928-9299 with meeting ID 813 6929 7680.

“This provides an opportunity for the community to ask questions of Landmark staff,” said Kara Hahn, Denver’s principal city planner.

Denver’s Landmark and Preservation Commission will review the application in mid June. If the commission approves the application, it will head to the City Council in early August.

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1300 block of Lipan in La Alma Lincoln ParkShannon Schaefer Stage

Because most of the homes in the neighborhood are old and small, many of the questions neighborhood residents have revolve around whether changes can be made to their property, Hahn said.

“If something is in a historic district, any changes to the exterior go through Landmark design review with the intent of preserving the character of the neighborhood,” Hahn said. “If someone wants to make a rear addition that’s compatible, that would be appropriate.

“We’ve been working with the community for the past year to customize the design guidelines to oversee the district to make sure they reflect the character of the neighborhood while allowing change.”

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