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History of the Avenue

PROSPECTING ALONG WEST 38TH AVENUE

By Phil Goodstein

People searching for gold discovered W. 38th Avenue amidst the Pikes Peak gold rush of 1858–59.  Those hoping for fortunes passed through Denver for the hills, especially Clear Creek Valley, via the modern Park Avenue West - 23rd Street.  From there, they went west on what was originally known as Prospect Avenue, now known as W. 38th Avenue.  Located two miles north of Colfax, the road quickly emerged as the main street of North Denver.

Early on, Irish railroad workers settled close to W. 38th Avenue, building their church, St. Patrick’s, nearby.  By the late 19th century, Italian immigrants flocked to the area.  In addition to worshipping at Mount Carmel Church at W. 36th Avenue and Navajo Street, they opened many businesses along W. 38th Avenue.  An important attraction was the North Side Bathhouse at W. 38th Avenue and Navajo Street, which grew into a veritable recreation center with a swimming pool, playground, and other amenities as the square-block of Columbus Park.

In the 1930s, Latinos started to move to the North Side.  Within a few years, a wide array of Mexican restaurants sprouted along W. 38th Avenue.  At that same time, Northern Europeans also began to make this area their home.  They lived in everything from simple units over shops to ornate mansions.  Such residents joined with others in patronizing Elitch’s at W. 38th Avenue and Tennyson Street, an amusement park which opened in 1890.  Locals went to the movies at an array of cinemas, including the Federal Theatre at W. 38th Avenue and Federal Boulevard.

On the north side of W. 38th Avenue, between Quitman and Raleigh streets, is the city’s oldest social-welfare institution, Argyle Park Square.  It stems from the Old Ladies Home which dates from 1876, moving to the North Side in 1899.  The world’s largest manufacturer of mozzarella and pizza supplies, Leprino Foods, built its majestic headquarters at W. 38th Avenue and Quivas Street.

For years, a trolley served foot traffic on W. 38th Avenue.  As traffic soared on the road after World War II, it became a trolley coach while the city cut away much of the landscaping on the road to expand W. 38th Avenue to four lanes of traffic.  A motor bus came to run on the street by the 1950s.  Traffic modifications have been unending on the boulevard, including the planting of trees and placement of quaint street lamps.

The early 21st century saw a boom of growth along W. 38th Avenue and in adjoining sections of North Denver.  New condo projects rose up and fashionable restaurants emerged.  Merchant groups formed on W. 38th Avenue and in such nearby areas as Highland Square at W. 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard, and Tennyson Terrace along Tennyson Street to the north of W. 38th Avenue.  The result was a thriving mix of people, institutions, shops, and buildings, representing more than a century during which Prospect Avenue – W. 38th Avenue has been the street vital to the destinies of greater North Denver.

Denver historian Phil Goodstein has given countless tours of North Denver.  Among his many books is North Side Story (Denver: New Social Publications, 2011), a comprehensive overview of North Denver.  Click here for more information on his books and tours.