Cataloging the history of an 1880s community
lakewood» Nearly a century before Lakewood became Lakewood, the first homes in the city’s Eiber neighborhood went up.
Local farmers grew sugar beets, apples and corn and raised chickens for transport to the growing Denver market, using the former Smith trolley station at Garrison Street and 13th Avenue as a dropoff point for their produce.
That old trolley line is now the Regional Transportation District’s W-Line, which conveys thousands of commuters to Golden and Denver every day. As one of the oldest neighborhoods in Colorado has undergone transformation from an agrarian outpost to an inner-ring suburb, residents of “Eiberhood” are struggling with how to move ahead with the times while maintaining their neighborhood’s rich and unique history.
Posing the most immediate threat to Eiber’s existing character, according to Eiber Neighborhood Association president Paul Ditson, is the prospect of denser transitoriented developments being built around Lakewood’s rail stops along 13th Avenue.
“Eiber, especially north Eiber, is facing some significant pressure as a result of the W-Line and the revitalization of Colfax Avenue,” Ditson said. “Our oldest assets are at risk of being torn down to make way for higher-density housing.”
Just last week, the City Council agreed to down-zone a block of Holland Street, between 13th and 14th avenues, to ensure that multifamily homes aren’t built where there is now a row of half a dozen modest, single-family homes. The city could take a similar approach with other blocks in the Eiber neighborhood — a movement is afoot to salvage a Masonic temple at 14th Avenue and Independence Street — to ensure that new, denser residential projects don’t overwhelm or wipe out potentially historic properties.
“This is a very good example of what we can do to preserve our heritage,” Ditson said.
As a sign of the how important history has become to a city that officially incorporated in 1969 and formed a historic preservation commission only a few years ago, Lakewood has embarked on a historic survey of the Eiber neighborhood, which saw its first residents stake out ground for farms and orchards in the 1880s before transitioning 50 years later to a home base for workers with jobs at the Denver Ordnance Plant, now site of the Denver Federal Center.
The survey, which is partially being funded by a $33,885 grant from the History Colorado State Historical Fund, is homing in on 315 homes built before 1946. The city wants to see whether information gathered from the survey can identify any structures that might be eligible for historic landmarking, be it at the national, state or local level.
“We’re getting a very good understanding of Lakewood’s history,” said Holly Boehm, principal planner for the city. “It’s helping us to understand our past and the people who came before us.”
The Eiber neighborhood encompasses a broad swath of Lakewood, bounded by Colfax Avenue and Sixth Avenue on the north and south and by Oak Street and Wadsworth Boulevard on the west and east. It is named for George and Lillian Eiber, who moved to the area in 1920. George Eiber, a photo-engraver for The Denver Post, began a poultry business in 1943 and joined with neighbors in building a local turkey business.
The housing stock is diverse, from low-slung, postwar apartment complexes to stately, largelot homes that have land for horses, goats, chickens and bees.
“I am really impressed with the architectural variety in this neighborhood,” said Mary Therese Anstey, a historic preservation consultant with History Matters LLC, who on a recent morning went door to door taking pictures of 1930s- and 1940s-era homes on Lakewood Heights Drive. “A lot of people have lived here for a long time and they care about their properties.”
Anstey, who said her work cataloging historic homes in Eiber began in the fall and will carry on into the spring, said she has come across houses built in a wide variety of styles, such as Tudor, Cape Cod, Queen Anne and late Victorian. Pointing to a side gable on one home, original steel frame windows on another and a cross-hipped roof on a third, Anstey notes that the builder in one instance was more embracing of an avant-garde style while his neighbor was more of a traditionalist.
Not everything passes the test of architecturally pristine or historically important, especially if the home has been radically altered over the years, she said.
“It has to be important architecturally and it has to be physically intact,” she said.
Owners of homes that are deemed historically significant may be approached by the city for landmarking. Unlike Denver’s more aggressive approach to landmark designation, which last month resulted in a public clash between a homeowner and a councilman over property rights in the Jefferson Park neighborhood, Boehm said Lakewood’s historical preservation ordinance requires owner consent before such an action is taken.
Deb Treseder, who lives with a rooster named Tommy, 14 hens and a pair of goats on a threequarter-acre property on Eighth Avenue, said the Eiber neighborhood is “an awesome little area.” She said her home was trucked to the neighborhood from Lowry Air Force Base during the 1950s.
She has lived in Eiber for three years and wants Lakewood to take a thoughtful approach to development in the neighborhood, lest it lose a sense of itself and what it represents for the city.
“We want them to pause and see if there is some historical value to keeping some of these homes,” she said.
Eiber, especially north Eiber, is facing some significant pressure as a result of the W-Line and the revitalization of Colfax Avenue. Our oldest assets are at risk of being torn down to make way for higher-density housing.”
Paul Ditson, Eiber Neighborhood Association president
Deb Treseder plays with her goats after feeding them in the backyard of her home, in the Eiber neighborhood of Lakewood, on Dec. 22. Historians are surveying the neighborhood, which dates back to the 1880s. RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post
Deb Treseder waits for her dog to come in the gate after feeding her chickens and goats in the backyard of her home, in the Eiber neighborhood of Lakewood, on Dec. 22.