The apartment blocks behind Union Station are brand new, so it’s easy to forget the neighborhood was a barren rail yard just a couple of decades ago. Yet a few of the place’s artifacts have survived it all, including one hidden in the backyard of a few hundred people.
This particular building went up in 1890 at a cost of $800.
It’s tucked now between the Elan Union Station apartments and Wewatta Street, along with a second building on the same property, and both look utterly the opposite of everything around them.
The strangest part may be that this anachronism is still a residence. In fact, it belonged until very recently to a family that played an unusual role in the reshaping of downtown Denver. And it just so happens that the place was sold this month.
I found the place during an aimless wander.
There’s practically no reason to be walking behind the King Soopers, which is how the one-bedroom building’s residents have maintained some privacy despite the arrival of a few thousand new neighbors.
The building looks industrial, a stout, wedge-shaped thing made of brick, wood and glass. Metal sculptures dot an adjoining garden, while leafy clouds of foliage spill over the tops of the buildings and creep up the chain link fence.
The older of the two buildings is ringed on top with the intricate brickwork you’ll see on Denver’s older structures, and it’s patched in big swaths where its walls had crumbled.
Division Street hasn’t existed in Denver for a long time, but its name still survives on the address of this single lot, No. 1905.
For its first few decades of life, the property was part of a tidy neighborhood at the edge of the rail yard. It belonged to a cabinetmaker before it became a saloon. In the 1908 map below, it’s likely the tiny little building tucked just at the rightward corner of 20th Street and Wewatta. Look how cute!
Anyway, things didn’t stay as idyllic as the illustration above for very long. The rail lines sprawled eastward and gobbled up the rows of houses and green space.
An aerial photograph from the 1940s seems to show the Division Street building standing in a block that has been scraped half bare. By then, the building was home to Lawton Blacksmith Shop, and it later became an office for truckers.
“That neighborhood has really changed,” says Gail Keeley, the historian who surveyed the property. “I’m actually surprised that it’s still there.”
Well, here’s my best explanation for how that happened: At some point, the place came into the possession of one paradoxical man.
Enter Robert Luedke.
The late Robert Luedke made part of his living in the decades of urban renewal, when people thought the way to save downtown was to scrape it clean.
“My dad did a whole bunch of things. He tore down buildings … He tore down all those hotels along Broadway,” said Judy Luedke, his daughter, who lives in Aurora. “It’s so sad that he tore down so much.”
The irony of the man was that he really loved to save things – things like the tiny building on Division Street.
“He started getting in trouble because he had started keeping so much. I hate to call him this, but my dad, he was a hoarder,” Luedke said.
Her family bought the then-vacant property in the 1970s, when “nobody wanted it,” she said. The place was falling apart, but Robert and one of his sons brought it back from the edge.
From there, the story gets a little patchy.
The most recent owners didn’t want to be interviewed.
I spoke to one of the sellers just as they prepared to close a deal on the property. She may have known a bit more about the history of the place, but it was “too sad,” she said, without elaborating further.
The place’s new owner is a real-estate agency based in Vail. We’re awaiting comment from them on their plans for it.
For now, it’s 753 square feet of old Denver, nearly obscured by the new.