The history of Sunnyside spans over 100+ years and, of course, the only consistency has been change. This page is still a work in progress, but if there’s anything you would like to contribute, or if you see an inaccuracy, or if you think something is missing, please email us at history [at] sunnysidedenver.org or you can always contact us!
The Sunnyside Timeline
1858 – The Highland region originates when Denver founder William H. Larimer, Jr., wades across the Platte River to stake out high ground on the bluffs northwest of Denver. Sunnyside is formed as one of Denver’s original neighborhoods – including Berkeley Lake, Potter Highlands, Sloan’s Lake, and West Highlands.
1860’s & 1870’s – Large numbers of Irish immigrants move to Highlands. Many are drawn by both the locale and the employment opportunities in the nearby rail yards and smelters.
1876 – Colorado becomes the 38th state of the Union.
1878 – Nathanial P. Hill moves the Boston & Colorado Smelter to the Village of Argo – east of present day Pecos. The smelter is situated on the line of the Colorado Central Railroad.
1886 – Street Car Service connects Denver to downtown.
1880 – 1895 – A large influx of Italian immigrants – primarily from Southern Italy – come to Highlands to work in the railroad. Many purchase land in the area for a nominal price and establish large gardens. Vegetables grown in these gardens are sold throughout the city, and peddled door to door in North Denver. “Little Italy” was full of small, one-room brick cottages along Osage, Navajo, Mariposa, Lipan and Inca. One early mercantile business was located along W 38th Ave at Jason.
1893 – The Silver Panic happens and the city of Denver slips into a depression.
1896 – After years of trying to remain independent, Highlands is annexed to the city of Denver.
1896 – The Denver Post reports that the trip from North Denver into downtown via horse car takes about an hour.
1900’s – Sugar beets are introduced in Colorado as the solution to an ailing economy, and the sugar companies begin recruiting laborers from the southwest and Mexico. Hispanics slowly began to replace the Italian residents.
1902 – Smedley Public School is built at 43rd and Shoshone was named for Dr. William Smedley, a dentist and Quaker who came to Denver in 1870 for health reasons. He is active in educational circles and served on the school board.
1904 – In the years following Annexation, efforts are made to standardize the naming and the numbering of Denver Streets. Throughout Highlands, streets were given alphabetical Indian names, as well as chronological numbers.
1905 – The Missionary sisters of the Sacred Heart open the Queen of Heaven Orphanage designed by Mother Cabrini at 48th and Federal. Until 1967, it was home to hundreds of girls each year before foster care replaced the orphanage. Also by this time, a number of street car routes are present throughout the Highlands neighborhood. No location in the neighborhood is more than three blocks from one of the trolley routes.
1913 – The Argo smelter burns down and is never re-opened.
1916 – Prohibition is passed.
1920’s – The Federal Theater is constructed at 3830 Federal Boulevard to showcase popular flicks and newsreels.
1925 – Zoning ordinances categorize a several areas for business and commercial use. These include Tejon Street, Federal Boulevard, West 38th Avenue and the area east of Pecos.
1927 – The 38th Avenue Subway (under-passage) is completed, carrying cars and pedestrian traffic under the railroad tracks and into downtown. As progress marches on, the windbreak of cottonwoods along 44th, are cut down with street was widened.
1931 – Construction of Horrace Mann Middle school is completed at 41st and Navajo. The complex construction provided much needed work for skilled craftsmen during the beginning of the Depression in Denver.
1934 – Ralph and Mamie Smaldone, open the Tejon Street Café. They have three sons: Eugene, Clyde and Clarence – as well as a daughter.
1943 – The original Ernie’s pizza Bar opens at 44th and Elliot. Throughout the neighborhood, Ernie’s is known for its fried chicken.
1947 – Eugene, Clyde and Clarence Smaldone move the Tejon Street Café to the corner of 38th and Tejon, and rename it Gaetano’s – Italian for “Clyde.” This same year, The Sunnyside Drugstore opens at 4600 Lipan selling hot meals, cigarettes, beer and comic books.
1950 – Streetcar service ends in Denver.
1952 – A major public housing facility opens east of Pecos.
1967 – The Queen of Heaven Orphanage is closed and replaced by foster care.
1970 – The Hispanic population of the neighborhood doubles from 1960 to 1970, and many younger Italian residents leave the area for the Northern and Western suburbs.
1987 – The Germinal Stage (founded in 1973) moves from 18th & Market Streets to their current 100-seat converted storefront at 44th and Zuni. Over the years, their repertoire includes Moliere, Shakespeare, and Shaw as well as contemporary pieces.
1989 – The Denver Planning Department leads a process whereby concerned Sunnyside residents meet for months to formulate a neighborhood plan. As the plan was nearing completion, the Sunnyside residents were encouraged to start a neighborhood organization to help ensure the neighborhood plan was implemented as envisioned and to make future improvements as needed. Thus, in 1989, SUNI was born!
1992 – Sunnyside neighborhood is one of many areas throughout Denver that will plants thousands of trees this weekend as part of the annual Denver Digs Trees.
1996 – Sunnyside is identified as one of the Target Neighborhoods for the Denver Foundation’s Strengthening Neighborhoods Program. Multiple grants help build community projects.
1997 – Artist Mark Lansdon’s ‘Garden of Flowers’ sculpture is installed at Chaffee Park. The sculpture is constructed using recycled tractor and car parts.
2000 – The (then named) Sunnyside Bluegrass Festival begins in the backyard of a neighborhood couple who wanted to have a free music festival for their friends and neighbors. By 2000, the neighborhood population has evolved to 72% Latino, with 16% of residents not speaking English as their primary language.
2001 – The Enchanted Gardens of Northwest Denver Garden Tour is started by The Conflict Center to serve as the organization’s primary fundraiser.
2007 – A local Sunnyside couple applies for two small grants to revive the Bluegrass festival. The name is changed to the Sunnyside Music Festival and the event is moved to Chaffee Park at 44th and Tejon. Also in 2007, Sunnyside is listed in 5280 Magazine’s ‘Where to Buy Now’ article, naming Sunnyside as an area with ‘turn-of-the-century single-family homes on tree-lined streets [where] the smell of fresh tortillas … are commonplace, as are neighbors talking over fences and from porch to porch.’
2008 – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Business Civic Leadership Center’s chooses Sunnyside as part of their pilot outreach program. Each home received free home recycling registration, a front-yard tree, junk mail reduction forms and a CFL porch light bulb.
2009 – Chaffee Park is chosen as the locale where the nonprofit organization KaBOOM! joins together with 200 Volunteers to build a 2,500 square foot playground in one day. Mayor John Hickenlooper, Councilwoman Judy Montero and other community leaders attend. Also in 2009, The New Ernie’s opens to much excitement, and features drinks and pizzas in a friendly pub-style Atmosphere.
2010 – Sunnyside is once again listed in 5280 Magazine’s ‘Where to Live Now’ as a neighborhood that’s ‘finally arriving as focal point for homebuyers who want to get in on the northwest Denver boom.’
The Subdivisions of Sunnyside
Sunnyside is one of Denver’s original neighborhoods, founded in 1858. Others included Berkeley Lake, Potter Highlands, Sloan’s Lake, and West Highlands. What is now Sunnyside (38th to I-70 and Federal to I-25) was, originally comprised of:
The Original Sunnyside: 38th to 41st, from Pecos to Tejon
This small development was only three blocks square, but this happy name was eventually chosen by the Planning Commission to represent the entire area from 38th to I-70 and Federal to I-25.
Lewis K Perin’s farm: 44th to 48th, Federal to Zuni
If you live in this area, you may have the same rich soil that Lewis K. Perrin used to grow his crops over 135 years ago! Perrin was one of Colorado’s earliest successful farmers, moving to NW Denver in 1875. He built a large house (since demolished in 1958) at what would now be 4375 Clay Street. He grew sugar beets, and there was an orchard, a grape arbor and a deep 850-foot well that piped water to neighbors as far away as 41st and Alcott. He planted the long windbreak of cottonwoods along 44th, which stood until the street was widened in 1927. Lewis Perin died in 1897.
Perrin’s Addition: 38th to 44th, Federal to Zuni
While Perin’s actual farm was comprised of one piece of land, this area was broken up into smaller blocks, and the farmland was subdivided into plots for strawberries raspberries, asparagus and celery.
North Highlands: 44th to 48th, Zuni to Pecos
With original streets named for wildlife (Antelope, Bison, Coyote Deer and Elk) North Highlands was comprised of small Victorian houses, scattered with newer homes as the years went on.
The Village of Argo – 44th to 48th, Pecos to Broadway
The Village of Argo (including Richardson’s subdivision) – incorporated in 1879 – was built around the Boston and Colorado Smelting Company, founded by Nathaniel P. Hill. Hill developed a process of extracting gold from ore. The smelter burned in 1913 and was never rebuilt. A major public housing facility opened in 1952, but a few small original Argo houses can still be seen in this area.
Richard’s Subdivision was laid out in blocks, and served as an area for company workers which was complete with a hotel, small shops, a Methodist church, an elementary school, train stop and horse car line which traveled up Pecos to 38th, and then Lipan to 44th. Later, trainmen employed by the Moffet railroad also lived in Argo. Almost all the residents were immigrant families – Swedish, Germans, Scottish, Hungarians. In 1902, Denver was made into a separate county and the village of Argo was swallowed up.
Several areas of Sunnyside were unincorporated while these larger plots were divided up. They may have been farmland or just prairie.
Trolleys in Sunnyside
In 1871, horse-drawn streetcars began service in Denver, and in the 1888 Denver Tramway Company began cable car service. In 1901 the Tramway Power facility opens – where REI is now located.
In 1896 Horse cars ran down Pecos St. into downtown, as well as out to the Village of Argo The trip from North Denver into downtown via horse car was reported to take about an hour.
By 1905, a number of street car routes were present throughout the Highlands neighborhood. No location in the neighborhood was more than three blocks from one of the trolley routes. Trolley Line #28 Traveled North up Tejon, down 44th, and ended at the Shrine Temple at the Case Golf Course. Trolley Line #13 Traveled down Clay, up 38th and continued on to Elitch Gardens.
Several of the business and retail areas of our neighborhoods off major feeder roads (Tejon, 44th Avenue) make a lot of sense when you envision the trolley lines that extended past them. In fact, many of these same lines are used by buses today.
In 1950 Streetcar service ended, although there have been several proposals by Cable Car enthusiasts to bring them back.
(Images courtesy of the Denver Public Library, Western History Collection)