The hammer only becomes a tool through possibility and vision

In sitting down to research the history of Colfax Avenue I found this statement, embedded in an article written by Denver Post staff writer Robert Sanchez in 2006. It speaks specifically to Lakewood, CO and to the portion of Colfax known as the West Corridor.

“The avenue was rutted dirt and mud when Eastern European immigrants set up shop atop a hill west of Denver and built Colorado’s pre-eminent tubercular sanitarium amid apple orchards and pig farms.

More than 100 years later, West Colfax Avenue is a street in transition. Vacant buildings mix with old-time motels, massive developments and big-box retailers, creating an eclectic mix of past and present.”

Robert wrote his story in 2006 and eight years later, Colfax Avenue continues to regain its footing through new developments and businesses, and a focus on arts, culture, and community.

But I don’t want to go through the entire history of Colfax here. The folks at have already done a wonderful job of that and I encourage you to check out their site for more information. Instead I want to share a personal experience with you, the story of the little house on Otis Street, a house only two blocks from West Colfax Avenue.

And because storytelling is a form of art, this is my contribution to the Vintage Colfax – Yesterday and Today show, currently at 40W Arts Gallery now through April 5th. The show captures the history and character of Colfax Avenue through multiple mediums and is a wonderful way to experience Colfax through the eyes and minds of the artists on display.

The Hammer Only Becomes a Tool Through Possibility and Vision

I felt a sense of excitement as the car moved lazily through traffic along Colfax Avenue. In my years of living in Lakewood this street held a familiarity for me, but now my boyfriend intended to purchase in the area as well. We passed Sheridan and then Pierce Street and eventually pulled to a stop. Steven turned toward me beaming, and pointed to the property.

The little house on Otis Street was ugly, both inside and out. It was a spring day, warm and blue and open, and the sunlight captured the front facade in that same way that harsh florescent lighting captures a woman in her fifties, each particle of light only serving to highlight the wrinkles. Primarily I noticed the multi-colored paneling, tones of green, yellow, and off-white that blended together harshly. The inside of the house was worse, much worse. I opened the door and was accosted by the smell of cat urine, pungent and lingering. “It smells like cat piss in here,” I frustratingly noted. “You’re planning on buying this house?”

I couldn’t really say much else. This man standing next to me had only been mine for about ten months. I loved him and wanted more but each time I broached the idea he tabled the discussion, or emotionally backed away to the point where I wasn’t comfortable pursuing the topic further. At this point in our relationship I was feeling a little lost. Should I move forward with this man or accept that he wasn’t ready to commit and cut my losses altogether?

As I walked slowly though the rest of the rooms I tried to imagine myself here. Yes the hardwood floors were blackened with dirt and soot, uneven and in bad need of a refinish. Yes the kitchen looked reminiscent of a seventies explosion, complete with fake wood paneling and retro laminate countertops.

I opened the last bedroom door to find not one but three semi-feral cats roaming the room. Apparently the previous owners abandoned them here.

I came close to screaming, as I demanded that Steven’s realtor call the former homeowners immediately. Steven hadn’t signed the closing documents yet and I’d be damned if I would allow him buy this house otherwise. In muted but firm tones I heard her state that the cats would need to be picked up today, preferably within the next hour.

Needless to say an argument ensued later that evening. “How can you buy this house?” I implored. “It needs too much work and honestly I don’t think that smell will ever really go away.”

“I’ve always wanted to remodel a house though. You know that’s a dream of mine. Work on this with me, we can do it together.”

“And then what Steven, what happens then? I work on this house with you and you move in and we’re still in the exact same place as before. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be your girlfriend without getting anything in return. I love you but I’m just tired of being the person in the relationship who loves more.”

Steven softened immediately and walked toward me to give me a hug. “I’m just not ready yet. I’m sorry but I cannot make that commitment without a little more time.”

The last statement sprung me into action again and reawakened my initial anger. We fought for a little longer and then he left, not for good, but for the entire evening and I felt an intense and deep pain within my chest as if my lungs were collapsing and could not pull in enough air. It was one of the loneliest nights of my life but as I sat on the floor crying I thought not about our relationship, but about the house instead. It had a lot of problems but Steven was right, it was ripe with potential as well.

The neighborhood was changing, growing in ways that thrilled us both. I’d lived in the area for years and always enjoyed the gritty, but endearing flavors that made Lakewood home. Recently though I’d noticed something new. Businesses popped up monthly and people biked or walked along streets that once appeared abandoned.

If I was willing to look deeply would I notice other areas of my life that showed glimmers of transition as well? The little house on Otis Street needed time, it needed attention, and it needed someone who was willing to see the possibilities but to understand that you can’t always predict the ending.

And so we moved ahead. The house consumed us. We worked on it during most of our off-hours, sometimes together and sometimes alone. We painted and scrubbed and hammered away through one month, and then two.

I learned to tile my first bathroom in the little Otis House and began to feel confidently that I could take on more complex housing projects. Steven refinished his very first kitchen and the final product was beautiful, with modern cabinets the color of straw and espresso dark wood flooring that we stained together, both kneeling side by side to scrape down the edges that could not be finished with an electric sander.

When Steven asked me to marry him in the fall of 2010 I said yes. He eventually moved in with me, and the friends who introduced us rented, and moved into the little Otis Street house. Their first child was born shortly thereafter and we stood on the doorstep one cold December evening, knocking on the painted blue door, a color that I had chosen and that Steven loved, firmly and with intention.

It flung open suddenly, my closest friend Katja exhausted but beaming, with a newborn baby enveloped tightly in her arms. “Look Mia”, she said to the tiny sleeping face, “Your godparents are here.”

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