La Raza Park, a Northside gathering place, may one day be a historic landmark

Councilmember Amanda Sandoval and community members are hoping to put an application forward next year to earmark La Raza Park as a historic landmark.
6 min. read
Artist Emanuel Martinez unveils his new sculpture, a tribute to La Raza Park and the city’s Chicano activists. Sunnyside, June 20, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Activism, art, history, riots, splash-ins, summer solstice celebrations and community. La Raza Park on the Northside has seen and held them all.

The Sunnyside park at 1501 W. 38th Ave. has been the central gathering place for Northsiders for the past 50 years, even when it was officially named Columbus Park after Christopher Columbus.

The patch of greenery is where Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales and other members of the Chicano movement gave speeches. It's where folks found job opportunities. It's where kids would lay out by the pool before it was filled in after a riot and clashes with police.

The history here is palpable, something not felt across a lot of the city as historic sites have been razed and residents have left, or been displaced, taking their stories along with them.

Denver City Council member Amanda Sandoval and State Sen. Julie Gonzales unveil La Raza Park's new sign. Sunnyside, June 20, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

So before any entity thinks about changing La Raza park, Councilmember Amanda Sandoval and Northsiders are being proactive.

Sandoval and community members hope to apply next year to get historic landmark status for La Raza.

"As Northside Denver has gentrified and changed, I want to make sure that the people who are coming into our community understand who was here before them and how important it is to honor them and how much we have fought for and how the struggle has been real," Sandoval said.

The idea for the landmark proposal stemmed from a city project that looked to identify and catalog places related to Chicano and Latino residents. The goal was to identify culturally relevant places that could one day be landmarked for preservation. The city released the report this year titled "Nuestras Historias: Mexican American/Chicano/Latino Histories in Denver."

Denver has a multitude of landmarks and historic districts but many of them highlight the histories of the city's white residents. Denver's adaptive reuse senior development project administrator Jenny Buddenborg previously said about 4% of the city's 7,200 historic properties were connective to minority communities.

An alter is set up at La Raza Park as Northsiders celebrate its official renaming. Sunnyside, June 20, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

One of those places mentioned in the report was La Raza park.

The landmark proposal is in its very early stages, but Sandoval kicked off the community engagement portion Wednesday night with a screening of a "¡Qué Viva la Raza! Honoring a Denver Legacy" at the Holiday Theater.

The film was produced by the city's Office of Storytelling, which was created in 2019 to create multimedia projects centered around the "untold" stories of Denverites.

About 100 people gathered to watch the movie and later reminisced about Northside memories.

The film focused on Latino and Chicano Denverites in Northwest, West and East portions of Denver. It starts off describing how Denver's redevelopment boom has torn down historic buildings and the stories behind them, leaving behind cold, uniform and sometimes unaffordable buildings.

"Like the way the Northside looks and RiNo and Five Points, it's so boring and there's no life there," an unnamed voice in the film says. "It's just stale, you know. Just leave the damn community the way it is."

State Sen. Julie Gonzales, State Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and City Council Members Amanda Sandoval and Jamie Torres unveil La Raza Park's new sign, June 20, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The film dives into the history of Latinos living in Denver since the 1800s and how they were displaced as more white Europeans moved here.

It also focuses on local activist and business owners who shaped the area including Rosa Linda Aguirre, who previously owned restaurant Rosa Linda's.

Aguirre talks about her business and how the Northside was a melting pot of cultures from Latinos to Italians to Orthodox Jews and Polish residents.

"We were like a bouquet, un floreo de diferentes colores, idiomas y podíamos caminar en la calle, no teníamos problemas. We didn't have any problems. We walked on the streets. We knew each other. We knew everybody," Aguirre said. "It was a family neighborhood and that's what I love."

At the end of the film, Sandoval along with the city's Chief Storyteller Rowena Alegría and Nita Gonzales, Corky Gonzales' daughter, discussed their memories of the Northside, specifically La Raza Park.

Diane Medina poses for a portrait under the La Raza Park kiosko. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Residents also stepped up to tell stories about their history with the park.

Diane Medina's family has lived across from La Raza for years. She recalled, speaking to the crowd, a day when police showed up in force equipped with tear gas to break up a celebration that wasn't permitted. Medina said her father allowed folks to gather on their porch to continue the celebration, even as police attempted to intimidate him.

Medina added that it was hard to express what the memories of the park evoked.

"How do you explain to people how you felt when Corky would talk and the band played cumbia, played all night long?" Medina said. "How do you explain to people how that made you feel... It was a sense of community and that has been lost a little bit but you know what it's up to each and everyone of us [to continue that]."

Another speaker said they may or may not have spray painted the old Columbus Park sign with the true name of the park, La Raza.

Sandoval's office emphasized that the proposal process has just begun and perhaps can be presented next year. For now, folks can reach out to her office to discuss the proposal and tell their stories.

"My ask for you, because this starts with community, tell five of your friends, three of them will tell five of their friends... and that's how you build community," Sandoval said. "I want these stories to continue to come in."

People cheer as officials unveil La Raza Park's new sign. Sunnyside, June 20, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

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