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Strong Foundations

The Home Tour And Street Fair, Through The Years

By Sierra Fleenor, Executive Director, GPHC, Inc.

The Park Hill Home Tour began in 1978 when Bob Jamieson, a realtor, started this neighborhood tradition. The event has evolved and changed greatly since that time. I recently went to the Greater Park Hill News archive and then sat down with former chair Roberta Locke and current chair Lana Cordes to learn about the hidden history of Park Hill’s Home Tour and Street Fair.

The oldest mention of the Home Tour I could find in the GPHN archive dates back to the September 1979 issue in which Mary Strunk wrote a front page article announcing the year’s Home Tour. Her playful tone and exuberance for the community come through in every word, describing the eight homes featured that year. “Just imagine basking in the warmth of a sunny October afternoon as you walk with us through eight beautiful and fun homes—enjoying the congenial hospitality of well-informed hostesses,” she wrote.

The event, which took place on Oct. 14, 1979 coincided with a Broncos game, which Strunk handily tackled. “You are thinking you can’t make the tour because the Broncos play—aha! We’re ahead of you — the Broncos are out-of-town the day of the tour — and just to please you ‘die-hards’ we promise to keep those congenial and hospitable hostesses well-informed with up-to-date Bronco scores just so you can enjoy the tour.” Strunk further enticed readers to join with promises of ideas for renovations and improvements for their own homes. “Haunted by that out-dated [sic] kitchen — boy have we got kitchen inspiration for YOU.”

The article concluded with a reminder to readers to buy their $4 tickets before they sold out.

Thirty-nine years later, the tradition of scheduling the Home Tour and Street Fair to coincide with a Broncos “Bye Week” continues.

2001-2014

Longtime neighborhood realtor Roberta Locke recalls joining the Home Tour effort in 2001 when she helped manage the silent auction. In 2002, the chairperson at the time stepped down in June, just months before the event and well into the planning phase, due to a lack of clarity about what volunteers were supposed to do in preparation. A couple volunteers, including Locke, stepped up and they pulled off a lean Home Tour featuring only four homes. The following year, the prior year’s chair stepped down and Locke started what became an 11-year term as the Home Tour chair.

The biggest changes Locke noted during her time were tied to the Street Fair – a free all-day street party held the same day as the Home Tour – and to the number of volunteers engaged in the work. For many years only four to six volunteers helped plan the Home Tour, but Locke and others were determined to create a more robust committee of volunteers. By the middle of her tenure, a committee of up to a dozen volunteers attended monthly planning meetings. “We had such a blast,” said Locke.

Locke inherited a minimalist Street Fair that took place in a different location determined each year by the location of the houses on the Home Tour. The Street Fair had a heavy focus on artists and also included a silent auction and a few family-focused activities. Locke and her team found that people weren’t spending much time at the Street Fair, so they decided to diversify the booths.

Around 2012 Kate Sultan took over the Street Fair management and expanded the event, moving it to a permanent spot on the Forest Street Parkway between Montview and 19th Avenue, where it still takes place today. The move was prompted by having houses on that street participate in the Home Tour, and Street Fair became even larger including artists, food, and other vendors, which in turn attracted larger crowds.

After Locke’s term concluded, another local realtor, Nina Kuhl, stepped up to chair the Home Tour for two years, continuing to make the event “bigger and better,” according to Locke.

2016 and beyond

Lana Cordes became chair of the Home Tour last year, bringing new changes while preserving the event’s spirit and tradition. Cordes works closely with Street Fair organizer Rob Barber, as well as a team of volunteers, to plan the annual event. Of this year’s homes, Cordes said attendees will see “a really good cross-section of architectural styles, different size homes, and different stages” of renovation.

One of her main goals for the Home Tour is for folks to know that this event is a major fundraiser for GPHC, funding approximately 30 percent of our organization’s annual budget. “It’s a Park Hill tradition, but there’s a cause behind it,” Cordes said.

Another goal has been to reduce waste and “lean up” the event, eliminating unnecessary expenses. This year that included forgoing a couple generators and encouraging vendors to use compostable and recyclable materials at Street Fair booths. This year’s Street Fair will feature a Sustainability Zone, connected to GPHC’s involvement in Denver’s Sustainable Neighborhood program. People will have the opportunity to speak with sustainability experts around a variety of topics and every hour on the hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 15-30 minute sustainability talks will occur.

Cordes declined to divulge which of the houses on this year’s Home Tour is her personal favorite, but she gave me a clue. “The owner knows a lot about the house,” including all the little stories behind each quirk. There’s a particularly interesting tale about a feature of that home, but you’ll just have to see if you can spot a man’s face in one of the fireplaces on display.

At the end of the day, Cordes noted, “When you buy a ticket, you will get an insider’s view of a unique and diverse neighborhood.”

Last year the Home Tour featured five homes and two churches. Almost 1,000 people visited homes, and the Street Fair attracted approximately 5,000 people.

In all, more than a 120 volunteers contributed 1,800 hours of time to support the event. More than $45,000 was raised – ultimately resulting in more $32,000 in profits to support the programs and services of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc.

If you’re inspired by the stories of the stalwart Home Tour chairs, volunteers, and home owners throughout the 39 years of the Park Hill Home Tour, we hope you will join us on September as either a volunteer or an attendee.

Highlights of the homes featured this year, as well as information about ticket pricing, the Street Fair, and how to volunteer are can be found here and here.


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