Santa Fe Drive Week

Once a land of warehouses, the southern end of Denver’s Santa Fe Drive is transforming

It was once a hub of industrial labor, but a recent flood of businesses and cultural institutions is giving the area a makeover and a new reputation.

Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Allan Tellis. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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The southern end of Denver’s Santa Fe Drive is transitioning from being a purely industrial area to a renaissance neighborhood with a little bit of everything for everybody. The area has long been a mix of residential housing and often vacant warehouse space, but a new influx of business interest is crafting a new era.

Let’s take a look at who’s moved in, bringing thirsty, hungry and artsy Denverites with them.

Lower Santa Fe Drive turned out to be the perfect fit for Copper Door Coffee.

Copper Door Coffee was able to benefit from the neighborhood’s history as an industrial hub. The zoning in the area allowed them to process coffee, which has to be done in areas zoned for manufacturing.

Hannah Ulbrich, the shop’s owner, was having trouble securing a location for her business to call home before she landed at Santa Fe and First.

“We needed a space that was zoned for manufacturing, but we also wanted a retail location that could help support a community,” she said. “So when we were looking for places, we were like, ‘Where can you get the industrial manufacturing side of things and also be able to serve a community that wants a really good cup of coffee?’ So we did a lot of research, and this was the one space we landed on.”

Hannah Ulbrich, owner of Copper Door Coffee Roasters, in her new location in The Yard on Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Hannah Ulbrich, owner of Copper Door Coffee Roasters, in her new location in The Yard on Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Copper Door Coffee is now stationed in a sizable mixed-use development called The Yard, 900 W. First Ave., which is named in remembrance of its history as a substantial lumber yard. Since originally checking out the area in 2016, Ulbrich has seen the area become filled with new businesses that springing up at an electrifying pace.

“There are people that have lived here for a long time and have already seen how great it is, and the businesses are starting to invest and develop in these areas, and we really want to do it a cognizant way that respects the neighborhood and the community,” Ulbrich said.

She’s happy to be able to breathe new life into the industrial area and is glad the businesses in the area have had the opportunity replace the underused lot with things like her coffee shop, a couple of new gyms and restaurants. She hopes the area will continue to grow in a way that is smart and sustainable and puts the community’s needs first.

“Me and my husband had this conversation, and he said, ‘Do you feel like you’re gentrifying the neighborhood?’ and I said no because this place was undeveloped. We didn’t kick anybody out to be here, It was a lumbering space that wasn’t being utilized, and I feel like there are so many buildings here that are sitting empty,”  Ulbrich said. “What I would like to see is those be developed in a way that serves the neighborhood and gives what the neighborhood wants.”

The owner of Black Sky Brewery has been excited to contribute to his longtime neighborhood.

Black Sky Brewery, even as young as it is, now stands out as a veteran establishment in the area,. They have called their building on the corner of Fifth and Santa Fe home for nearly five years. The metal-themed brewery’s owner, Harry Smith, has been elated to be able to house his business in a neighborhood he has lived at for more than 20 years.

Black Sky Brewery on Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Black Sky Brewery on Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“Being able to get a chance to have a place in the neighborhood and transform a corner from a seedy, dark corner to somewhere fun has been a privilege for me,” Harris said. “It’s a really diverse crowd of people. I really enjoy the opportunity to see families come in during the day and at night you have business people or somebody going to the Space Gallery for a wedding, or in our case, metal heads that just want to hang out.”

He thinks the area still has plenty of room for expansion as the city continues to expand into every little nook and cranny.

CHAC is poised to bring its artistic flair to the developing cultural hub.

The Chicano Humanities & Arts Council (CHAC) has also made its way down south on Santa Fe. It recently nestled into a new gallery space on Second and Santa Fe after getting priced out of its old space in the heart of the Art District on Santa Fe.

The group hopes to bring their whole artist community a couple of blocks south with them. Executive director Lucille Rivera said this move may have given the organization the perfect opportunity to rebrand itself and continue to thrive as it has for many decades now.

“We’re not afraid of this change. We’re going to continue,” said Michelle Hernandez Sanchez, CHAC’s education director. “That does speak to the original vision of those Chicano and Chicana artists that said, ‘You know what? If we can’t show at the Denver Art Museum, we’re going to create our own gallery.’ And that’s the Chicano spirit. That’s always fighting for our space and fighting to claim our space, so it’s really exciting we’re here now.”

The gallery is well known for being an integral part of the Chicano art movement in the city. The gallery has displayed art from some of the most famous Chicano artists in the world while also keeping the Chicano artist community in Denver at the core of the organization. When they decided to move south on Santa Fe, the executive team admits, they worried they might lose some of the traction they had gained over the last couple of decades.

Lucille Rivera, executive director of The Chicano Humanities & Arts Council, known as CHAC, speaks to a reporter in the organizations new location on Santa Fe Drive by 2nd Avenue, Aug. 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Lucille Rivera, executive director of The Chicano Humanities & Arts Council, known as CHAC, speaks to a reporter in the organizations new location on Santa Fe Drive by Second Avenue, Aug. 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“This has always been a catalyst for the Chicano movement,” said Sean Trujillo, an artist and board member at CHAC. “Honestly, in my personal opinion, we’re not going anywhere no matter what — gentrification or whatever. Us as a minority group, we can displace in different parts of the city but the community itself is never going to leave. CHAC is always going to be that hub, that source where people can find comfort in this art, comfort in their community and their peers.”

A packed grand opening party on the First Friday Art Walk made it clear that people would gladly make the trek a couple block south to experience the gallery.

Some of their newfound focus on certain functions of their gallery like educational programs and event planning will also drive traffic to their new home, Rivera hopes. She believes the move to the new building was an act of divine intervention and that they will have great success on the new block.

Hernandez also noted that CHAC this isn’t the first time they’ve bounced to a different section of the city: “No one was looking further south, but you know what? CHAC is because CHAC has always been a visionary organization and a way to bring different people together. So I think definitely our education and our events are what draws people in, but the art is what keeps people coming back.”

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