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Editorial: El Chapultepec — Denver’s legendary jazz hall — is worthy of preservation

El Chapultepec is worthy of preservation.

If there’s any way for the Monforts to save El Chapultepec, we urge them to reconsider their plans to raze this cornerstone of Denver’s historic jazz and live music culture.

The building on the corner of Market and 20th may not look like much from the outside, and by all accounts, the inside of the building is in bad shape, too, but that’s part of the historic ambiance.

For almost 90 years, El Chapultepec was known as a place where local musicians could get their start and rub elbows with world-class performers who were drawn to the unassuming venue by its authenticity. Losing that sense of place and identity in Lower Downtown would be a shame.

The daughters of the former owner of the restaurant and live music venue have started the El Chapultepec Legacy Project to capture exactly what was lost in 2020 when the venue shut down — another casualty of the COVID-19 economic shutdown. The website captures the storied history of the site.

And Dazzle has committed to preserving the legacy of live music without a cover charge offering free El Chapultepec piano bar sets.

Thankfully, that storied history won’t be erased if Kenneth Monfort, the executive vice president of Monfort Companies, demolishes The Pec.

But preservation of the physical building or at least preservation of the spirit of the venue will not only be good for the community’s heritage, but it could be good for business.

Imagine if Preservation Hall, which opened in the 1950s to musicians as a free practice studio, hadn’t survived the redevelopment of the French Quarter in New Orleans? Certainly some would walk past Preservation Hall and wonder why the old shanty was still standing without knowing the deep roots planted there. But tourists flock to the hall for some of the best jazz in the city.

Lower downtown has spent the last 30 years gentrifying. Little remains of the eclectic downtown scene that for almost a hundred years drew visitors far and wide for live performances by some of the best local bands and some of the biggest names in music too.

Today, the scene is still lively and vibrant, but it’s dominated by modern architecture, fine dining, sports bars, and nightclubs. Even the Tattered Cover bookstore in the Monfort’s new McGregor Square has closed, leaving a bookstore-shaped hole in the heart of LoDo.

Monfort shared documents with The Denver Post indicating the building is unsafe and structurally unsound. We have no reason to doubt him. He said it could cost millions to try to preserve the building, and already the company plans to spend $15 million on the block that includes a nice-looking historic building next door that is the Giggling Grizzly.

Monfort said the neon green cactus cantina sign will remain at the site, and he’s been working with Anna Diaz and Angela Guerrero on their legacy project to incorporate some of their work at the site.

All of this is laudable, and we hope no matter what, Monfort pursues capturing the history at the location.

However, the current artist renderings released by the development company show an open-air patio on the corner where El Chapultepec now stands. The building may not pretty, or have many windows, and it may be expensive to repair, but for the community, for the city, it’s better than a patio.

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Updated March 20, 2024 at 10:51 a.m. Due to an editor’s error, an earlier version of this story had incorrect information about The Giggling Grizzly. The beloved bar at 1320 20th Street is open for business.

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