La Gente: El Movimiento/The Movement

Largest Hispano and Mexican Neighborhood in Denver

In the late 1800s Ute, Arapaho, Apache, Comanche and Cheyenne tribes occupied the eastern plains. After the discovery of gold in the Platte River in 1858 the Russels from Auraria, Georgia staked claim to the land, quickly displacing the Indigenous tribes in the area. Irish, Germans, Hispanos, Mexican Americans, and other ethnic groups settled in Denver in the early 1900s, many in Auraria. By the late 1930s, Auraria became the largest Hispano and Mexican American community in Denver. Carolina and Ramon Gonzales migrated to the United States to escape the violence of the Mexican Revolution. They moved to Denver and rented a home in the Auraria neighborhood. With seven children to raise and extended family members to care for, the Gonzales couple purchased a home at 1020 Ninth Street in 1933. By 1946, the family home had evolved into the Casa Mayan restaurant, introducing Denverites to Mexican food and culture and becoming a well-known cultural hub.

The Gonzales Family standing in front of their restaurant, Casa Mayan and home, The interior of Casa Mayan, circa 1946, Notice to Vacate from Urban Renewal Authority

Auraria, and 13 other neighborhoods were redlined by the City of Denver, delineating cultural minority neighborhoods on city maps in the 1940s. The red lines around neighborhoods helped banks determine which areas did not have access to mortgage loans serviced by the Federal Housing Authority and limited access to other social services. The policy was intended to prevent investment and development in redlined minority neighborhoods. In 1969, the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) described the Auraria neighborhood as a “slum beyond rehabilitation” and proposed the site to build the Auraria Higher Education College Campus because it was the cheapest per square foot. Approximately 241 families, and 104 additional individuals lived in the designated area targeted for destruction. The residents were notified and within weeks the neighborhood organized and formed the Westside Coalition to challenge the development project.