Denver’s Tennyson Road faces additional modifications as bungalows are near being demolished
For residents of the Berkeley neighborhood in northwest Denver, Tennyson Street is the historic high street that was shaped by their previous life as the junction of an urban streetcar line. It’s a very different place today than it was a few years ago.
Block by block, bungalows, one-story commercial buildings and parking lots have been replaced by townhouses, condominiums and apartments along the strip that stretches from 38.
Last month, a Denver city architecture firm presented plans for a potential new building on the northwest corner of Tennyson and West 45th Avenues across from a fire station. This early-stage proposal is to replace two apartments there with a three-story building with 14 apartments and two ground floor spaces for companies.
In the same block, 4558 Tennyson, most recently the site of Berkeley Park Running Co., was demolished earlier this summer. According to city files, the house, built in 1901, was demolished in advance of a planned major renovation that could bring 90 new apartments and new retail space to the street.
In a city that seeks more housing as its population grows, developers’ interest in Tennyson has been welcomed by some, including business owners, grateful to have more customers nearby. But the finished products did not always go down well. Many houses that once housed shop windows in converted homes now have log houses that populate the sidewalk with rental offices, private training facilities, and garages on the ground floor.
“I would say there are certain parts of Tennyson that could be called the flagship of poor urban development,” said Bill Killam, who has lived in Berkeley for 35 years and chairs the Zone and Planning Committee for the Berkeley Regis United Neighbors Association. “Nobody’s going to want to live in the Tennyson area and this neighborhood because they want to walk three blocks from slot houses.”
Rachel Schick, 29, moved to Berkeley two years ago, drawn to the energy and abundance of activity along Tennyson. Even in her relatively short time there, she noticed how quickly old things are dismantled and new things come up.
“I don’t want to say that it’s a step in the wrong direction,” said Schick. “But the apartment complexes are all a dozen.”
The plan for the corner of 45th Avenue represents a step forward in the struggle to maintain the main street character of the corridor. It would add more residential density, but also include retail space on the ground floor. What’s even better is that the retail space faces Tennyson.
There was no guarantee that would have been part of the proposal before Councilor Amanda Sandoval advocated a special zoning mandating the inclusion of commercial space on the first floor in new projects on the Strip.
The overlay was adopted this spring with the unanimous support of the city council, the end product of years of work with neighborhood stakeholders, said Sandoval, who represents northwest Denver on the council. Her father ran a restaurant on the Tennyson Corridor before selling it when he got pancreatic cancer. At this point there is now a five-story house.
“Lots of people said it was too late for Tennyson,” Sandoval said earlier this week. “And I would say for parts of it I wish the overlay was in place sooner.”
The zoning update applies not only to the Tennyson Strip, but to several other commercial corridors in the Sandoval neighborhood as well. You and your staff plan to speak to other neighborhood organizations who may want to apply the idea in their areas as well.
Developers pushed back before the Tennyson overlay was adopted, Sandoval said. A major point of contention was that the new rules came into effect immediately after they were passed. Projects that were in the design phase and had not yet been approved had to be returned to the drawing board if there was no commercial space involved.
“The developers were upset because it cost time and money,” said Sandoval. “But I told them it was worth it because of the result.”
The submitted plan for the two houses on the northwest corner of the 45th is far from final. It’s just a concept map at this point, the first step in the city’s review and approval process. The scale and even the use of a future building could change before a formal site plan is submitted, city officials warned.
An architect from Denver-based RealArchitecture submitted the concept plan, city records show. The company previously worked on a row house project on the Tennyson Corridor. Voicemails requesting an interview with the architect were not returned. It is unclear whether the zoning overlay influenced the design.
The future of this corner may be in the air, but there are three empty houses in Block 4300 of Tennyson, the days of which are numbered. The trio, which sits between the Asher Hotel and Cozy Cottage restaurant, had all been converted into commercial space in the past, hosting rental businesses like a tattoo parlor and barber shop, and most recently serving as an interactive art project that occurred during the pandemic.
Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post
Building on Tennyson St. in Denver on Thursday, August 5, 2021.
As soon as the federal funding of the property owner First Stone Development has been clarified, the brightly painted houses will be torn down to make room for an expected three-story residential building with 34 residential units. The site plan for this project, which is going through the city’s approval process, provides for a sales area of 3,000 square meters on the ground floor.
Tennyson is no stranger to Leonard Taub, who owns First Stone. He built 28 townhouses in 4469 Tennyson, a project he said sold out quickly last year.
His upcoming apartment project was not affected by the zoning. He was already planning to include a lot of commercial space and the job the overlay imposes doesn’t bother him. He also criticizes some of the developments along Tennyson, particularly the now-banned slot houses.
“Of course I’m in favor of development, but it has to be done with a thought process, not just urban blight where they just mix in as much as possible,” he said.
In addition to Taub’s trio of homes, Cozy Cottage owner Michael Mueller has a nuanced view of the growth he saw in a Tennyson bungalow during his years of American and Mexican breakfast and lunch. The street’s “ancient charm” has been watered down, he said, but more living space means more customers nearby for businesses like his. It can also mean that the front range will be less spread out, he hopes.
“If you love Colorado, and you love the open space and all the wonderful things that have brought you to Colorado, then you need to understand that it is better to make better use of currently developed areas than urban sprawl and a huge city of out to see Cheyenne to Trinidad, ”said Mueller.
Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post
A gated building at 4353 Tennyson St. in Denver on Thursday, August 5, 2021.
Cozy Cottage isn’t the only business operating in a converted home on Tennyson, but converts are dwindling.
For Killam, it is regrettable in several ways that fewer old houses serve as commercial space on the corridor.
There is history in the houses. Historic Berkeley Regis, another neighborhood group that Killam is a part of, examined the now demolished Berkeley Park Running Co. home and found it once belonged to a former lawmaker and railroad workers leader, John Harrison Spelts.
In addition, small, previously affordable apartments also offered affordable space for small businesses.
“One problem with these new, large buildings is that the (commercial) space is not small enough,” said Killam. “They are not built and developed so that small retailers can afford the space.”
In Killam’s view, there have been some success stories in maintaining the Tennyson Corridor. Feral Mountain Gear’s 2018 move to a renovated movie theater on 3936 Tennyson Street stands out. It’s worth noting that the move became necessary when the previous landlord of the outdoor equipment store decided to redesign the bungalow he previously lived in.
He also likes the renovation of the building on the corner of 42nd and Tennyson, where a second floor was added to a 1930s commercial building that kept street-level brickwork intact. The modernized building is now occupied by a brewery and a golf simulator shop.
“We’ve seen the neighborhood change immensely – some good, some bad,” said Killam. “The more structures, the better, but you have to have this balance between development and maintenance, and that’s what we really work for.”