Denver’s Five Points neighborhood once known as the ‘Harlem of the West’

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DENVER (KDVR) — Once acclaimed as the “Harlem of the West,” Denver’s Five Points neighborhood gained popularity as a destination for some of the world’s most famous jazz performers including Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday.

Today, it is one of the most sought after areas for real estate investors.  

A walk down Welton Street reveals landmarks that still stand, like the famed Rossonian Hotel where those performers graced crowds of all races, including Blacks who came to Denver to make their mark in history in areas of sports, art and business. African-Americans were not allowed to stay at other hotels in Denver at that time.

A unique history also lies just off Welton, on the side streets. 

Terri Gentry is the great-granddaughter of Denver’s first licensed Black dentist, Dr. Thomas Ernest McClain.

She is also a historian at the Black American West Museum on California Street, which is temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The structure was once the home of Denver’s first licensed Black doctor, Justina Ford, who delivered thousands of babies born to women of all racial backgrounds who could not afford medical care or weren’t allowed to be treated in Denver hospitals due to racism.

Gentry’s great-grandfather joined Dr. Joseph Westbrook, who was of a mixed racial background, to fight injustice. Gentry tells FOX31 Westbrook bravely sneaked into Colorado Ku Klux Klan meetings then warned the Black community of any impending danger.

“They would take that information and take it back to the Black community to make sure that we were safe,” Gentry said.

Members of the Boule organization (Sigma Pi Phi fraternity), which still exists today protected Dr. Westbrook’s identity.

Redevelopment in Five Points is attracting droves of investors creating a real estate gold mine, but historian Calvin Williamson, who was born in Five Points, wants new residents to realize the historic goldmine they now call home.

Williamson is bringing people together through his Facebook group Northeast Denver Love and History and by chatting with his new neighbors at the Coffee at the Point café on 26th Avenue and Welton.

“I believe it starts with first getting together, understanding one another, having a conversation” Williamson said. His message is popular among those new to Denver and others who tell FOX31 they had no idea of the rich history that surrounds them.

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