The last traces of the “East Montclair” neighborhood are no more, except in people’s hearts and minds.
Last night, the East Montclair Neighborhood Association — a collection of people who live along Colfax on the eastern border of the city — formally decided to change its name to the East Colfax Neighborhood Association, at long last embracing the city’s official name for their area.
The decision, made by a vote on Tuesday night, reflected changing attitudes about Colfax Avenue, a stretch of Denver beloved by many but long shunned by others.
The street has long been derided as unsafe, or even an “open-air” market for “prostitution and drug dealing,” as police Lt. Ernest Martinez described it yesterday.
Among the older people in the crowd, the name “Colfax” was something to be avoided — which may be why the founders of the neighborhood association instead chose to name it “East Montclair” back in the 1970s. For them, East Colfax is an unwanted presence that passes through their rows of modest mid-century ranch homes.
“Why would we want to be associated with that?” one woman asked the group. (I didn’t catch her name.) “East Montclair is the name of the people and the houses and the businesses that have East Colfax running through it.”
Others pointed out that “East Colfax” is not a very specific name, considering how famously long the road is.
The city government itself, however, has officially referred to this mile-long stretch as the “East Colfax” neighborhood for decades. So does Google Maps, which is one reason that the younger residents identified it that way.
With that in mind, board member Tom Fesing argued for unifying the neighborhood’s two names. He also said that banding behind the Colfax name would better connect the northern and southern parts of the neighborhood. That suggestion was approved in a 24-to-11 vote on Tuesday night.
More than just a change of websites and marketing materials for the neighborhood group, the discussion showed that a growing number of residents want to embrace the brand of East Colfax.
For Jamie Perkins, East Colfax is a powerful name because the city is finally turning its attention to the avenue. By aligning with that identity, she argued, the neighborhood could follow in the footsteps of Elyria-Swansea and Globeville in creating influential resident groups that can fight for equity.
“We have been horrifically underinvested in, for decades,” she said. But there was hope in the room that that might change soon.
Stretches of the avenue closer to downtown now are densely packed with small, new businesses. Out on the eastern stretches, the city is promising new investment — including its plan to redevelop the former PT’s strip club and to build bus-rapid transit.
“This is where we live. This is our square of Denver,” said Patrick Payne, 38. “Capitol Hill was a sore name 10 years ago, too, until they put a little spit-shine on that.”
For now, it remains one of the last accessible stretches of Denver for many people.
“I wanted to stay in Denver,” said Tiehlor Meredith, a mental health professional and one of the neighborhood’s newest residents. “I liked the affordability.”
And she voted to embrace East Colfax, she said, because she still liked its grit.
This story was updated with further comment from Fesing.