By Shawn Chitnis
DENVER (CBS4) – A group of investors, including Chauncy Billups, plan to revive a popular jazz club in Five Points that was an important piece of black history at a time when the city was segregated and legendary musicians could not stay anywhere else but the Rossonian Hotel.
“The Rossonian was the hub of energy, it was definitely the home for African Americans to come and for entertainment,” said Paul Brooks, president of Palisade Partners. “They would stop in Saint Louis, Kansas City, and they would stop in the Harlem of the West as they would call it.”
Established as The Baxter Hotel in 1912, it would become the Rossonian about a decade later in honor of one of the employees. The building remains at 26th Ave. and Welton Street but has been closed for decades.
“Ross became the manager in 1929 and managed it into the 40s and maybe in the 50s,” said Brooks.
Palisade Partners is the developer working with Billups to bring back the historic hotel and neighborhood gathering spot. The company started looking into the project in 2013 and bought the property in August of 2017. Brooks says the hotel welcomed everyone from Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington.
“I’m personally a huge fan of jazz,” said Pauline Herrera Serianni, the executive director of the Denver Architecture Foundation. “Some of our nation’s greatest jazz musicians performed here, that’s something to be incredibly proud of.”
The foundation is highlighting the history of the Rossonian and the project to bring it back to the community at its annual event, Doors Open Denver. Some of the weekend festivities will take place at the Rossonian.
“I think that there is just a lot of interest in this building given its history, given this neighborhood,” she said. “I’m really most excited to highlight the contributions of the African American community of Denver, I think they are often overlooked.”
Musicians in the early 20th century would perform in Denver but could not stay at any hotels in the same part of the city they were booked to do a show.
“They would often do a second show at the Rossonian and then they would stay at the Rossonian,” Brooks explained.
The role of the hotel remained through the 1950s but as more people moved to the suburbs in the 1970s and 1980s, the hotel lost its appeal. The important role it played to the African American community was diminished before it eventually closed.
“The vision for the Rossonian is that it becomes the living room for the neighborhood,” he said. “The goal is that it has an African American core to it, that it brings back the energy that was here in the 40s.”
The addition of Billups as an investor helps to bring an authenticity to the project, a component Brooks says he has pushed for from the beginning, speaking to neighborhood groups well before they acquired the property.
“Someone that grew up here, he’s a hometown hero,” Brooks said of Billups. “Somebody that cares deeply about this community and really cares about fulfilling all those goals and that mission and bringing back that vibe.”
Brooks says the success of the project will be determined by their ability to find a balance in resurrecting the music and atmosphere that made the Rossonian an anchor in the community but also maintaining the level of inclusiveness that Five Points has always offered to people of all backgrounds. While black musicians were only welcome at this hotel in one neighborhood, the Rossonian and Five Points were always hosting people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.
“Five Points is an incredibly resilient community,” she said. “It’s always been a very inclusive community, so I think you see that reflected in the architecture and the businesses.”
The project plans include a jazz club in the basement, a restaurant and bar on the first floor, and then three levels of hotel rooms between the second and fourth floors. The inside will need to be completely renovated and is bare at the moment. The exterior of the building, however, maintains a historic architectural style, rare to find in most neighborhoods. Brooks and his team plan to restore the beaux-arts façade that remains to this day.
“We just saw an incredible opportunity to highlight this incredibly culturally rich, historically rich neighborhood and this building,” said Herrera Serianni. “I think it’s always important to consider history and where you’ve come from because it always impacts what happens in the future.”
Brooks hopes to break ground in the spring of 2019 and complete the project by the summer of 2020. Neighbors have already told him what they expect before he even begins any of that work.
“’You need to bring back the jazz’ and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
The Rossonian will host several events during Doors Open Denver, including jazz and dance performances, and a historical reenactment by the Black Actors Guild. Doors Open Denver is a celebration of the city’s architecture. Over the course of September 22nd & 23rd, there are six free arts & culture activities as well as dozens of opportunities to tour interesting Denver buildings. Doors Open Denver is presented by Denver Architecture Foundation.
LINK: Doors Open Denver