One day in November, University of Colorado Regent Nolbert Chavez walked from his office to the Centennial House at 1050 Ninth St. on Denver’s Auraria Campus, arriving to find a hawk lying dead on the front porch steps.
“Its body was still warm,” Chavez said.
The hawk was a frequent visitor and symbol of security Chavez had come to admire after months of checking on the progress of the Centennial House — the first home restored on the Auraria Campus’s historic Ninth Street. Chavez has shepherded the Ninth Street restoration, promising displaced Aurarians like Rita Gomez, who grew up at 1050 Ninth St., that he will take care of their former neighborhood.
Ninth Street is a strip of homes on the downtown Denver college campus that was spared at the time of the former Auraria neighborhood’s destruction to create the higher education complex. Thirty-six square blocks, more than 300 homes, were demolished beginning in 1972. Fourteen original Victorian-style homes remain today, thanks to local preservation efforts.
Chavez called Christina Sigala, a curandera — Latin American healer — who also teaches Chicano studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver, which shares the campus with CU Denver and the Community College of Denver.
Sigala has performed ceremonial blessings at 1050 Ninth St. multiple times — most recently on Friday — to clear the air of residual negativity left behind from the mass displacement of the working-class Latino neighborhood and pave the way for a fresh start with the approval of those who were displaced decades ago.
Sigala gave Chavez instructions on how to properly handle the hawk in a sacred manner, telling him to wrap it in red cloth and tobacco until she could take the animal from him.
“She said it was my job to watch the house now, and I take that very seriously,” Chavez said.
At a ribbon cutting for the restored Centennial House on Friday, Chavez promised Gomez through tears that he would watch the house “like a hawk.”
As Chavez, Gomez, Sigala and dozens of displaced Aurarians and community members gathered in the Centennial House, the CU regent talked about the future of the almost-finished home.
The original hardwood floors have been unearthed and the old brickwork of the house was exposed. New windows have been installed and lead and asbestos removed. Chavez painted some of the house himself.
Gomez sat in the front row of the ceremony, shoulders shaking as she wept with joy at seeing her childhood home brought back to life.
“I am so overwhelmed,” Gomez said. “It’s beautiful. I am so proud of this house. That our past is here and all that it will become.”
The space will be used by CU Denver for community gatherings and meetings for the displaced Aurarian community, Chavez said.
In the summer, the Aurarian community will help select a muralist for the home. Then, the restoration will continue at another one of the Ninth Street homes across the street, 1061 Ninth St.
“When I walk in this house now, I swear it feels a little taller,” Chavez said. “Prouder. Ready for the future.”
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