Any developer aiming to remodel the house at 637 Galapago St. is going to have to wrestle with the legacy of the Biblical Jewish strongman Samson.
The inventor of Samsonite luggage, the Shwayder family, founded the company while living in the stone and brick house in La Alma/Lincoln Park.
On Monday, the Denver City Council deemed the family’s home significant enough to remain relatively unchanged, for as long as Denver exists, by designating it a historic landmark.
Property owner Eric Kratzer learned about the home’s history from a neighbor who had heard the story from a 100-year-old local. He found it fascinating and applied with the city to preserve the home.
“It also seemed we were on the verge of losing the story,” Kratzer told city council members Monday.
He may have been right. City Councilman Paul López said he walked by the house every day as a kid — his grandfather even worked for Samsonite — but he was still unaware.
“When this was brought to our attention as it came through the process, I had no idea,” López said.
Samsonite started as the Shwayder Trunk Manufacturing Company in 1910. Isaac Shwayder, a Polish-born immigrant, founded the business with his sons Jesse and Benjamin.
The company gained a reputation for durable luggage with innovations like hidden locks, which is why an early suitcase model was named for Samson — a character with legendary strength. That valise sprouted the company’s official name change in 1965.
The Italianate structure was built around 1890 by James J. Castillo, according to the historic preservation application. It was a rectory, originally, where the priest from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church lived. The Shwayders lived there from 1900 to 1921.
The family’s first factory was at 16th and Platte, but they moved to a bigger manufacturing space at the Gates Rubber Factory site as the company grew.
As an Eastern European Jewish family, the Shwayders encapsulated a time in Denver’s history when immigrant entrepreneurs gained a foothold in the city. Aside form the home’s corporate and architectural significance, that’s one reason city staffers found the site historically relevant.