If you've been in the city long enough, chances are you've probably heard of the Jazz Festival that happens every summer. But did you know Five Points was a Jazz hub from the 1930s through the 1960s? Let's explore the history of the neighborhood.
It's important to understand how this part of Denver turned into a magnificent, groundbreaking music scene at the cost of racism but the profit of the freedom music gives people. Denver was established in 1858. By the 1930s, over 75 percent of Denver's Black residents resided in Five Points, partially due to discriminatory housing policies the city had enacted. The first all-Black fire station was established in the neighborhood in 1931, Fire Station 3. This essentially set the stage for businesses and musicians to drive their talent for all it's worth.
Most Jazz venues were located up and down Welton Street, though they did extend to Curtis and Lincoln Street. Coined with the nickname "Harlem of the West," the venues in the neighborhood were plentiful, all hosting live music from local jazz artists and big-time names such as Duke Ellington. These businesses helped create a whole new culture and music scene in Denver.
The Rossonian Hotel first opened in 1912 under a different name before being bought by Alfred H.W. Ross, a white man, in 1929, essentially making it a famous playing ground for jazz artists. We're talking about names such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. Could you imagine a good night's lineup?!
Leroy Smith may not have been a musician, but he was a Black man in America with a love for music. After opening a record shop in 1939, Smith opened The Voter's Club located at 2617 Welton Street. This nightclub was an invitation to live music and a place to have a voice – Leroy Smith was a political activist and would encourage attendees, mostly Black customers, to vote and make a change in the city in which they lived.
Rainbow Ballroom, initially opened in 1933, was technically located outside Five Points on Lincoln Street, yet it is one of the most iconic jazz venues in Denver -- and who better to run such a place than Leroy Smith, With one of the biggest dance floors at the time, with a capacity of 3,000, it was a no-brainer that musicians from all over would flock here to perform. Smith was booking the BIG timers, hosting Count Baisie, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, and Nat King Cole.
Another Black businessman, Otha Rice, purchased Rice's Tap Room and Oven in 1965 for $25,000. The Tap Room became a Jazz and Blues nightclub, hosting special event days like "Blue Monday," where many local and out-of-state artists performed.
The Roxy Theatre opened in 1934 and was the only Black-owned movie house in the city. With over 500 seats, it was the perfect spot for people like Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday to play. The Roxy Theatre on Welton Street is still open to this day for live music to continue to exist.
Systemic racism has held people back from prospering for thousands of years, and while it’s not something that can be fixed in an article like this one, what we can do is continue to educate and dismantle those barriers. Community College of Denver is fortunate to be close to prominent historical businesses encouraging diversity and community. CCD strives to make every single student feel welcome and safe to be themselves. We want our students to express their individuality and talents. Do you have a talent or passion for music? If so, you can find a piano in the Tivoli Student Center available anytime the keys call your name. One might call it an ode to the Five Points Jazz Scene.