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Whittier Neighborhood is one of Denver's oldest residential neighborhoods. Most of the residential subdivisions of the Whittier Neighborhood were created during the period of booming real estate growth in Denver from the late 1870s up to 1893. The neighborhood's development began in anticipation of the city's connection with the transcontinental railroad and the growth of Colorado's rail network. Early residents were principally Anglo American middle and upper middle class citizens but the area's proximity to the railroad yards also attracted small numbers of African American residents during the late nineteenth century.
Whittier grew from the 1870s through the early twentieth century, with some of the finest residential areas dating to the early 1900s. Streetcar service connecting the area to the central business district made Whittier more attractive for residential building. By 1905, Whittier was served by three streetcar lines. During the early twentieth century, Whittier was one of a limited number of neighborhoods which accommodated black residents. By the 1930s, the area was a focus for the African American community and some of its most prominent leaders were Whittier residents.
As the Whittier area developed in the later decades of the nineteenth century, a number of educational, religious, recreational, and social facilities were established to meet neighborhood and citywide needs. Fuller Park, at Williams and East Twenty-eighth Avenue, Denver's second oldest park, was donated to the city in 1879 by Horace Fuller, an attorney and real estate developer. By 1883, the neighborhood included enough school-age children to require its own school building. Whittier School, named after poet John Greenleaf Whittier, was constructed in the southwestern corner of the neighborhood. Holy Redeemer was organized in 1892 as a mission composed of Catholic whites and African Americans. The size of the congregation grew along with the African American population of Denver and Holy Redeemer is now the oldest African American Episcopal congregation in the city.
In 1894, a branch of East High School known as Manual Training High School was completed. The course of study was divided into manual training and academic subjects. An early motto of the school was "one learns best by doing." The Denver Detention Home was established on the western edge of Whittier Neighborhood in 1901. Influenced by the thinking of Denver Juvenile Court Judge Ben V. Lindsey who pioneered the concept that delinquent youth should not be regarded as criminals, the original facility was operated out of an old mansion. The original facility was torn down and replaced as part of a WPA project in 1935. Subsequent expansions incorporated the Depression-era structure and greatly expanded the facility into today's Gilliam Youth Center, named for Denver Judge Philip Gilliam.
By the late nineteenth century, segregation in Denver confined African American citizens to portions of lower downtown and to the Five Points Neighborhood. As those areas became increasingly crowded, the boundaries pushed outward into adjacent neighborhoods. African American migration into the neighborhood began intensively about 1910. High Street in the Whittier area was the dividing line between African American and white residential areas. Blacks who attempted to cross this line and buy or rent in areas to the east were met with violence.
During the 1930s, economic conditions forced many of the owners of larger homes to convert their properties to boarding and apartment homes. This accelerated changes in the neighborhood's population, introducing more boarders and renters to the area. Residential segregation continued in Denver following World War II but, in response to the antidiscrimination and fair housing laws of the late 1950s and 1960s, many African American residents of Whittier began moving east into newer homes in North Park Hill and Montbello. Whittier Neighborhood population declined dramatically and the physical deterioration of homes became a serious problem.
The Great Society and Model Cities programs had a profound impact on the neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s. Whittier became the first federal urban renewal rehabilitation program in Denver to address blighting conditions. While dilapidated units were demolished and DURA efforts helped to stabilize the neighborhood, the historic integrity of the neighborhood's built environment was reduced. During the 1970s and 1980s, the value of the area's historic housing was rediscovered, and a new appreciation for the Whittier Neighborhood as one of Denver's historic residential areas grew. The neighborhood today reflects a mixture of late nineteenth and early twentieth century homes and residential structures erected during urban renewal efforts in more recent years, together with pleasant parks, small businesses, churches and schools, makes it an attractive and vibrant neighborhood within the city.
Adapted from Denver Neighborhood Project, 1993-94 Whittier Neighborhood, prepared for the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission and Office of Planning and Community Development by Front Range Associates, Inc. Denver. 1995.
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