April 25, 2023
Strolling the tree-lined streets of Denver’s Harkness Heights neighborhood on an early summer evening is to be thrown back to another century when John McDonough and Carleton Ellis imagined the neighborhood as the “Capitol Hill of the North Side.”
The neighborhood, which is rimmed by Federal and Lowell Boulevards and 41st and 44th Avenues, was developed by McDonough and Ellis beginning in 1903 with deed restrictions indicating that no house could cost less than $1,000 to build and that homes had to be situated a minimum of 20 feet from the front lot line.
Most of the homes built probably didn’t match the grand plans the developers had for the neighborhood: There are 309 homes in all ranging from 432 to 2,980 square feet, the average is about 1,370 square feet. Mostly, they are tidy one-story or story-and-a-half brick bungalows perched on sloping front yards known as Denver Hills.
Harkness Heights rose during the early part of the 20th century at the height of the Craftsman design era. Home interiors often reveal hidden gems like quarter-sawn oak molding, inglenooks—fireplace surrounds with built-in seating and bookcases—cased openings from living room to dining room and beautiful built-in china cabinets.
People are drawn to the area because of its small-town feel. New neighbors are often welcomed with baked goods from long-time residents and charmed by annual traditions such as the summer picnic and holiday luminaria walk, in which homes and streets are lit with the paper bag lanterns that originated in the Spanish villages of New Mexico.
The front porches and alleys in the neighborhood help to forge friendships. People naturally connect over fences, while dog walking, shoveling snow and admiring carefully tended gardens. Sidewalks lead to local businesses. There’s a Safeway at 44th and Lowell, a Chinese take-out called China Dragon, a nearby Tocabe, Billy’s Inn (a boozy stalwart since 1933) and the wonderful Café Brazil. Harkness Heights is also close to business districts in Sunnyside, on Tennyson Street and 32nd Avenue.
Because Harkness Heights is largely intact (the neighborhood has been largely immune to the scrape offs and contemporary new builds of other historic areas), the Harkness Heights Neighborhood Association has been pursuing a conservation overlay to preserve the neighborhood’s character by creating zoning standards. Some of the requirements in the proposed Harkness Heights overlay include height restrictions, pitched roofs and block-sensitive setbacks to encourage remodeling as opposed to razing.
Visit the neighborhood and see if it doesn’t sweep you back to a simpler time, before the Internet and before TV, when the view from the front porch meant everything.
Population: 933; Harkness Heights has a neighborly feel with 69% owner-occupied homes and an average household size of 2.1 members.
Location: Ten minutes northwest of downtown Denver between Federal and Lowell Boulevards and 41st and 44th Avenues.
Public schools: Denver Public Schools
Public high school: North High School
Nearest hospital: SCL Health Lutheran Medical Center
Nearby parks: McDonough Park, Rocky Mountain Park and Berkeley Park
Fun fact: McDonough Park on Federal Boulevard and 41st Avenue once had a merry-go-round.