- Pam Zubeck
- Stephen Nelson and his fiancée, Brianna Escobedo, in their new home with Guyo and Jazz.
A neighborhood just west of Memorial Park constitutes one of the most diverse in the city.
Homeowners of all races live within the roughly three-block area bordered by Hancock Avenue, Cucharras Street and Vermijo Avenue.
So it was ironic when Stephen Nelson and his fiancée, Brianna Escobedo, poised to close on their house last fall, were met with blatant racism vested in an official document.
Filed by developer Peter J. Paoli on March 3, 1941, the Paoli neighborhood covenant declared, “No persons of any race other than the Caucasian race shall use or occupy any building or any lot, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant.”
That’s now illegal, of course, but it serves as a reminder that less than one lifetime ago, people of color could be banned from certain parts of the city just because of their race.
“The history is evident, the way I look at it,” Nelson says. “The thing that strikes me is this whole neighborhood seems very Hispanic and diverse. At what point did they [white people] decide it wasn’t their neighborhood anymore?”
Specifically, the federal Fair Housing Act, adopted in 1968, bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status or disability by landlords, real estate companies, municipalities, banks or other lending institutions and homeowners insurance companies.
At the state level, Colorado’s fair housing law was enacted in 1959 and now bars discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, national origin or ancestry.
Discriminating based on race in any form is referred to as red-lining, a term that comes from the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation’s “grading” of neighborhoods in the 1930s into four categories based in large part on racial makeup, with minority neighborhoods considered high-risk for mortgage lenders and marked in red.
While today covenants dictate paint colors, landscaping, number and type of buildings per lot and other physical attributes of a subdivision, El Paso County Assessor Steve Schleiker says restrictions that call for discrimination against protected classes are illegal and, therefore, unenforceable.
Other neighborhoods also might be subject to such scurrilous restrictions, but without searching every filing dating to the city’s founding in 1871, it’s impossible to know how many.
But there likely are some. Crystal Park Homeowners Association’s covenants note the former title of the Manitou Springs area was “Crystal Park Christian Community.” Asked if that meant the HOA previously restricted access to all but Christian believers, a person who answered the phone for the HOA but refused to give his name said that could have been the case years ago, because the HOA dates back 100 years. “That wouldn’t surprise me at all,” he said.
In Cherry Hill Village outside Denver, Swastika Acres was renamed Old Cherry Hills last year after neighbors favored the change and City Council approved it. The area got its name from Denver Land Swastika Company, named prior to the Nazi party adopting the swastika as its symbol in 1920, CNN affiliate KDVR reported.
The swastika was long used as a symbol of well-being or good fortune and dates to about 7,000 years ago. Even today, it’s a sacred symbol in some religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, according to the Holocaust Museum.
Schleiker says covenants can be removed, usually by a majority or two-thirds vote of HOA members. Or, they can simply not be enforced. Which is the case in the Paoli neighborhood.
Built in the 1940s, the homes there have become in-demand as real estate prices climb, giving rise to a rebirth as new buyers move in. But as Nelson notes, several homes are owned and occupied by African Americans, who’ve lived there for years, and he and Escobedo love their new neighbors and their home.
“It’s got a lot of character,” Nelson says. “It’s a great neighborhood. Everybody is real friendly. A lot of people have been here since they were kids.”
Neighborhood resident Keegan Hatley, who’s white, had just two words when told of the covenant, “That’s crazy.” Hatley says she’s up to changing the covenant, but so far no one is carrying a petition.
Nelson, though, says he and Escobedo might take up that cause. He’s half Hispanic, his mom being a native of Aruba.
When the provision was discovered by them shortly before the closing on their home loan, Nelson asked the seller about it.
“The seller had never noticed it, had never read it,” reports Realtor Haelee Swanson, who was at the closing table. “We couldn’t believe it.”
Nelson says he’s since talked to several neighbors of color about the provision, none of whom recall anything about it, so it’s unclear why the covenant didn’t cause a stir of some kind before now.
Although the covenant has no power of law, Swanson noted she could read its impact on her buyers’ faces.
Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., Swanson says, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Which is why she wanted her buyers’ story told. “You need to stand up and say, ‘enough,’” she says.
The title company wrote an exception in the title insurance policy noting that discrimination as stated in the covenant is illegal. Besides that, it had no impact on the deal. “It was approved, no problem,” the lender’s agent, Kevin Rojas, says. “It closed just like any loan that month.”
Escobedo found the language in the covenant hurtful.
“Honestly, I was taken aback by it,” she says. “As someone who is Hispanic, and my family immigrated here from Mexico, I was shocked and disappointed. I had feelings of frustration and anger. But if anything, it made it more of a victory. I wondered what they would think about it now — to have us living in this household?”
As for Paoli, he shot and killed himself in 1955 in his downtown office building. He’s buried in Evergreen Cemetery beneath a cross-shaped headstone bearing the monogram IHS, representing the Greek name for Jesus Christ.