On October 27, 2022, the late afternoon sun broke through the clouds to bathe the Centennial House at 1050 Ninth Street in glorious sunshine. It shone on a crowd of people who had gathered for a public blessing of the Old House – one of the houses that line Ninth Street Historic Park, a one-block street that preserves part of the Auraria district. CU Denver restores the house and on this day the University of Colorado Regent and CU Denver’s Head of External Initiatives Nolbert Chavez asked people to place their hands on the brick facade to bless work in progress. Here is an excerpt from his remarks:
“Now it has been said, home is where the heart is. We have all heard these words. It’s an idiomatic phrase. A way of saying that a home is not necessarily one where you have a roof over your head, nor all the comforts of life. It can be where you feel the most affection from and for the people you love.
This may be where you feel most secure. Or welcome. Or the place where you feel most accepted and supported. Home is where the heart is. A special place. It can be a neighborhood or even a house.
“Behind me stands a house. This is obvious. The bricks, wood, plaster and glass were transformed into a house in 1876. It is for this reason that it is called the Centennial House. And it’s believed to be the oldest brick house in Denver. This house became a home when families started living here. Our special guest Rita Gomez and her brother Terry grew up in this same home.
“She told me stories about what it was like growing up here. Like when she heard her dad drive home and park in the back, she was climbing out the front window so she could keep playing. This is the house where she remembers being told by her parents that their room was off-limits and that a large, heavy door was always closed. It was where she walked to St. Cajetan School with her cousins and friends, and where memories were made that she will carry all her life.
“Then, exactly 100 years after this HOUSE was built, it went back to just a HOUSE. Just a house. A shell. That’s when the City sent letters saying, ‘You have to move. They called this neighborhood “rusty”, used the powers of eminent domain and bulldozed it. Thank goodness Historic Denver for saving this block or there would be nothing left. And in 1976, 100 years after the construction of this house, they handed over the keys to AHEC.
But let’s be honest. The heart of this house and the other 13 of this block were gone. I remember Rita telling me that the day they had to leave, they couldn’t find anyone to help them move because everyone was moving. The 900 people who were forced from their homes would spend the next 50 years saying, “I live in North Denver (or West Denver or East Denver), but my heart is in Auraria.
I have a friend named Carlos Fresquez. He’s a well-known local artist who also teaches at MSU and grew up just south of Colfax in the Westside. He told me a story the other day that perfectly captures that feeling. In 1993 he painted an iconic painting of the Saint-Cajetans church with a low rider parked in front and a bride and groom coming out of the church. It’s called “A Westside Wedding.” It’s nice. But what I didn’t know until the other day was why he painted it in the first place. He did this because he and his wife had always wanted to get married in St. Cajetans but couldn’t because their church was swept away. So, to celebrate his wedding anniversary, he painted what it would have been like for him and his wife to be married there.
“Which brings us to why we are here. CU Denver is about to begin renovations and restoration of this home, 1050 Ninth Street. Our intention is to make the community feel welcome with a dedicated meeting space to honor the entire displaced Aurarian community. Earlier, you heard me mention a memory shared by Rita about her parents’ forbidden bedroom. Their door is always closed to children. So, I took that door off, took the hinges off, and cleaned it up – and had it framed for you, so you know no door will ever be closed to you here, you’re always the welcome.
“Earlier this summer we hosted a private blessing for Rita and her family. It was very special. But today we have invited you all here to participate in a community blessing. Christina Segala is going to lead us into this blessing. She herself is a Displaced Aurarian and a doctoral student at CU Denver’s School of Education. Christina, please come up and take over for me.
“While you go up, allow me to set this up. I will ask anyone who is comfortable to participate in this blessing. I want you to surround this house and lay your hands on the brick and bless it in your own way. Let your hands feel the rough exterior of this 150 year old home. Do not rush. Take all the time you need. Listen to Christina’s words. Give this home a piece of your heart and love. Bless our intention, bless the many hands that will work in it, and bless its use when we are done. Let it be a welcoming place. Full of new memories of laughter and joy, peace and love. And let us all remember today as the day a heart found its way home.
—Nolbert Chavez, Regent of the University of Colorado and Head of External Initiatives at CU Denver
Photos by Paul Wedlake, photographer and video support professional