Early 1800’s – Indigenous Peoples
Like most of Colorado, indigenous peoples ruled the Tennyson Berkeley region for over ten thousand years. In more recent historic times this was the traditional ancestral territory for Native American groups of the plains, including the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Apache, Kiowa, Comanche, Utes, and others.
During 1870-1875 some members of Ute bands lived in the area to access the Denver Special Agency, which was responsible for providing food and supplies. By the early 1880’s however, most of the Native Americans were confined by the U.S. government to reservations in Colorado and other states as a result of continued pressure from growing numbers of European-Americans moving into the region.
1860’s – Gold, Homesteads and Alfalfa Farms
In 1859 thousands of new faces started to emigrate to the Colorado Territory with their eye on the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. The gold prospectors produced tensions that helped contribute to conflict between the white settlers and Plains Indians. As the prospectors were the first major non-native population that entered the region, they essentially pushed out the native tribes leading to the creation of the Colorado Territory in 1861 and to the U.S. state of Colorado in 1876.
At that time, Denver as a city became the central hub of Colorado. People, commerce, technology and homesteads began to pop up. In 1863, the first homesteads in Berkeley were granted and later sold in 1879. The new owners began an alfalfa farm named Berkeley Farms.
1870’s – The Town of North Denver and the Berkeley Motor Trolly
The history of Tennyson Street as a destination begins in the 1870’s, when the area was still largely rural and undeveloped. At the time, the street was known as West 44th Avenue, and it was home to a small community of farmers and ranchers. By 1892, 450 people lived in the area and the town named itself the Town of North Denver.
Realizing the need for services, the Alcott Post Office moved to Tennyson Street in 1896. This was quickly followed by the addition of Eaker’s grocery store, a movie theater, a drug store, furniture and hardware stores. A trolley line, known as the “Berkeley Motor,” was added to the area in 1888.
The “Town of North Denver” officially changed its name to Berkeley in 1898 and was annexed in 1902 when it was included in the state legislature’s official creation of Denver as a city and county. After annexation, Berkeley saw a slow but steady growth in its popularity, both with city residents and visitors.
1890’s – Elitch Zoological and Botanical Gardens
John and Mary Elitch purchased a 16-acre farm at the corner of 38th and Tennyson and in 1890 officially opened Elitch Zoological Gardens. At the time the village did not permit gambling and the sale of liquor was discouraged through high taxes. So the Elitches eagerly embraced the high moral tone, as well as the fruit and shade trees. Attracting families to visit their classy day resort with a bandstand, picnic ground and children’s play area, plus a zoo with animals from John’s friend P.T. Barnum.
John and Mary Elitch also took pride in having a strong influence on the art culture in the neighborhood. Being one of the first venues to show movies in all of Denver, Elitch Theater became known across the country as having some of the best summer stock films. Here, many of the top actors of the early 20th century performed.
1910’s – Lakeside Amusement Park
Denver Mayor, Robert Speer along with businessman and brewer Adolph Zang decided to create Lakeside Amusement Park at the edge of Lake Sylvan, at West 46th Avenue and Sheridan Blvd. They had a dream of lifting this corner of Denver from its dirty, bar-brawling roots into the dream city that Speer envisioned as “Paris on the Platte.” 115 years later, Lakeside Amusement Park is still a staple of our neighborhood offering affordable family entertainment and nostalgic kitsch.
1920’s – A Destination for Entertainment (Music, Film and Art)
The Mulvihill-Gurtler Era of the Elitch Gardens began in 1916 when Denver businessman John Mulvihill purchased Elitch Zoological Gardens from Mary Elitch and began a dynasty of four generations of family ownership.
Starting with the opening of the Trocadero Ballroom in 1917 which featured a dance floor cushioned by horsehair and ringed by four rows of stadium-style seating. Throughout the years, famous musicians such as Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and Lawrence Welk performed on stage. Many Denverites travel to the Trocadero to enjoy world-class dancing and music.
In 1926 Mulviholl hired the Philadelphia Toboggan Company to erect an elaborate twelve-sided Carousel House with a bell-shaped roof, which still stands in the original park today!
This was the second Elitch Carousel to fill the Carousel House and began operating in 1928. It was identified by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company as [carousel number] 51 and took master craftsmen three years to carve by hand. The carousel is a four-row carousel with sixty-seven horses and at the time had been described as the “finest carousel in the West.”
After 104 years of successful operation, Elitch Gardens closed its doors forever at its famous northwest Denver location. The second carousel was moved to the new Elitch Gardens site in the Central Platte valley in 1995 leaving the original Carousel House vacant.
The Carousel House remains on its original site at 38th and Tennyson as it approaches its centenary and continues as the site of a range of events such as weddings, chamber music, jazz concerts, Christmas tree sales and just quiet relaxation.
1927 – The Oriental Theater
The Oriental Theater National Register of Historical Places was built in 1927 and originally started off showcasing movie films. In 1960 the owners decided to put in new seats and carpet to attract customers but due to the lack of response the theater had to close. After 45 years of inactivity, it was purchased by Scott Labarbera, in 2005, and turned into a live music venue.
1930’s – Housing Boom
Due to Elitch’s popularity, the Berkeley Motor trolley became one of the most traveled trolley lines in the city. Newspapers began advertising large homes listed as “along the line known as the Berkeley Motor.” This helped start a slow but steady growth of families and residents brought to the area by the modern way of city life. Between 1926 and 1950, the number of properties on Tennyson Street between 38th and 44th grew by 50% in just 2 short decades!
As the neighborhood began to grow and expand one of the most significant events in our history occurred. The street known as West 44th Avenue was renamed in honor of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He was a famous 19th-century English poet, who said “come, my friends, ’tis not too late to seek a newer world.”
The name change was intended to reflect the street’s growing cultural significance and it quickly became one of the most popular and fashionable areas in Denver!
1950’s – Berkeley Theater and Flesher-Hinton Music Company
The entertainment district, fueled by Elitch’s and Lakeside success brought us another historic building that still stands today! 3936 Tennyson Street was built in 1908 as the Berkeley Theater and later became the Alcott Theater in 1918. Sadly the theater closed in the late-1920’s, about the time the Oriental Theatre established itself as the premier Berkeley movie house. The building was turned over several times, eventually sold to Mel Flesher and his brother-in-law, Carl Hinton in the 1960’s.
Mel and Carl started the Flesher-Hinton Music Company as a repair shop fixing band and orchestra instruments for local schools. They remained in the historic building for 6 decades until 2015, relocating to Wheat Ridge. They are still a Colorado, family owned tradition and the 2nd oldest music store in the state!
1976 – Alcott School Fire and César Chávez Park
The 2.9-acre park at 41st Ave and Tennyson Street, often referred to as Alcott Park by neighborhood residents. Is grounds of the former Alcott Elementary School, which sat empty after 84 years of use before being destroyed by fire in 1976.
In 2005 the park was dedicated to civil rights activist César Chávez. He created one of the most successful labor movements in history on behalf of farm workers who faced intolerable working conditions, low pay and relatively few benefits. He was a founding member of the National Farm Workers Association although personally he had few ties to Colorado and Tennyson Street.
1990’s – Social Uncertainty
As time passed, the Berkeley Motor trolley line was removed, Elitch’s was relocated, and the neighborhood lost crucial pieces of its character and identity. What was once a popular Denver destination was ignored and fell into disrepair. People stopped moving into the district, businesses moved out and the once-bustling Tennyson Street was lined with vacant buildings and few patrons.
2012 – Modern Revitalization Efforts
Following the 2008 recession and years thereafter, Tennyson Street struggled to attract new residents and businesses. The city worked on ways to revitalize the area, including a new streetscape in 2012. The renovations included new concrete benches, trees and improvements to César Chávez Park. In addition to the infrastructural improvements to the street, the area was zoned for more population density making way for the 4-5 story condo building you see today.
Over the years, Tennyson Street has continued to evolve and change.Today, it is home to a diverse mix of businesses and attractions, including restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, and art galleries. The street is also known for its vibrant arts and culture scene, with numerous festivals and events taking place throughout the year.
2020’s – Tennyson Berkeley Today
The area continues to grow today, both in residential and commercial properties. The neighborhood prides itself on the variety of services available as well as the many special events that bring people to the area, most notably the First Friday Art Walks.
And while the types of services and merchants may have changed since the early days, the charm and history of the neighborhood can still be seen in many shops along Tennyson where locally owned and operated businesses occupy original buildings.
Overall, Tennyson Street is a vibrant and lively neighborhood with a rich arts and cultural scene, as well as plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation and relaxation. Whether you’re looking to shop, dine, or simply take in the sights and sounds of the city, Tennyson Street is an exciting and dynamic destination that should not be missed.