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John and Jerry

Tracing Neals Roots in Denver.

9/25/04


NEAL CASSADY’S DENVER

By

John Allen Cassady

Denver, September 23, 2004. We drove the “Beatmobile” into Denver, up from Colorado Springs, Wednesday afternoon, Septeber 22nd. Our first order of business was to hook up with Paul Verizzo, a local Beat scholar who was the first to write in to the “Ask Carolyn” page on Kerouac.com. (See the link to Paul’s web site there as well).

Paul has done extensive research on Denver history, with particular focus on the Beat era, using Tom Christopher’s wonderful “Neal Cassady Biography” magazines, Volumes One and Two, as a starting reference. We piled into Paul’s Jeep and headed downtown, while he regaled us with countless fascinating stories and local lore. First stop on the tour: East High School, where Neal attended under the tutelage of Justin Briarly, and while working nights at the Gates Rubber company (still at 999 South Broadway) recapping tires for the war effort (and/or at the Goodyear plant, now long gone).

Next stop, the Kingston Row townhouses on 21st Street, where Neal lived as a young boy. Built in 1890, they were originally beautiful 3-story red brick homes, but were divided into tenements, housing up to 6 families each, by the time the Cassadys moved into number 411, and later into number 407. But the highlight of the 2-day tour for me was when we discovered, armed with the photograph in the Christopher bio, of where Neal and his older brother Jimmy were sitting in the 1932 photo. By matching the door behind them, as well as a painted wall design, lattice work, steps and other features, we deduced without a doubt that these were indeed the very steps upon which the 2 boys posed, Neal at age 6, instead of at the Snowden apartments, as most historians have assumed. The actual address is 401 21st Street, and of course we had to take the obligatory photo of me sitting on the same step as my father had 72 years earlier. The buildings are now beautifully restored, and Myron, the current owner of number 401, came out and graciously invited us inside to see the original hardwood floors on the third story where Neal once played. What a fantastic find after all these years!

We then proceeded around the corner to Ebert Public Elementary School, which is featured often in Neal’s autobiography, “The First Third.” We drove by the baseball diamond (now called “Sonny Liston Park”) where Neal learned to play ball, and stopped at the big empty lot where the Snowden Apartments once stood, the first landmark on the day’s tour that was not still intact. The family lived at the Snowden off and on for years. Across Champa Street was a tiny brick hovel, now boarded up, where Neal also lived for a time.

Another highlight was the next stop, the Colburn Hotel, where my mother Carolyn lived while attending graduate school at the University of Denver, miles away by trolley car at the time, and where she first met Neal. Not one brick has changed since then, right down to the bar/restaurant on the ground floor, where she would meet friends. Of course we had to toss back a few in the bar there, toasting Carolyn, Neal, the piano, the old wood on the walls, what else? The guy next to us, etc. The bar downstairs is now called “Charlie Brown’s.”

We drove out to the U of D campus to take photos of the same buildings that Carolyn graced in 1946. Incredible architecture—they don’t build them like that anymore. (The buildings were also quite impressive, ha ha).

We ended up at “My Brother’s Bar” at 15th and Platte streets, the oldest bar in Denver still serving food and drink at the original location. First opened by Maria and Angelo Capelli in 1873, Neal mentions it (then called “Paul’s Place”) in a letter to Justin Brierly, written from the Colorado State Reformatory, and I quote: “Dear Justin, At the corner of 15th and Platte streets there is a café called Paul’s Place, where my brother Jack used to be a bartender before he joined the Army. Because of this I frequented the place occasionally and consequently have a small bill run up. I believe I owe them about 3 or 4 dollars. If you happen to be in that vicinity, please drop in and pay it, will you?” Photocopies of the original letter are proudly distributed like napkins at the bar, and a poster of Carolyn’s famous photograph of Jack Kerouac and Neal arm in arm hangs on the back wall. Our lovely waitress, Jill, bought us a round of beer and entertained us with her wicked humor. We enjoyed the place so much, we returned the following afternoon to meet the current owner, Jim Karagas, who graciously sat and told us stories of how he and his brother Angelo bought the place back in 1970 in the then-seedy neighborhood and worked hard to restore it to its current funky elegance, just as it looked in Neal’s time.

Many thanks to Paul Verizzo and his insightful remarks along the way. A truly remarkable tour, “in search of the old Dean Moriarty we never found.”

Denver Blog

John cooking.

John taking photo of EDHS.

Neal must have slid down this bannister.

Inside the HS built in 1924.

East Denver High School.

Old Homestead

Note how the lattice work formed the shadows.

Myron and John with photo of building

 

 

In front of the old homestead.
This is the same porch as the one Neal is sitting on this picture.

 

In front of the old homestead

Carolyn's University

Carolyn's University of Denver.

Carolyn's School.

Photos at Colburn

Toasting Neal Carolyn.

At the bar at the Colburn.

The elevator at the Colburn.

The Colburn.

Paul pointing out the Colburn.

Hey Ma! Hey dad!

Carolyn's room below the open window with plants.

 

Neal's School

Neal's school as a 'Drug Free Zone'.

Neal's elementary school.

Jill said 'I don't care if I'm squinting as long as my boobs look good'.

 

Snowden

Nealsroots/Snowden/Small brick hovel where Neal lived for a time across from Snowden on Champa

 

Paul points out empty lot where the Snowden Apartments were

Empty Snowden lot with modern Denver in background.

Second Nite at My Brothers Bar

Carolyn's photo (kerouac.com poster) at My Brother's Bar since 1996

 

Chrisy Jill - best friends

John, Jill

Outside of My Brother's Bar (note no outside signage)

Paul, John, and Jim

Paul Verizzo, Jim Karagas, John and Jerry.

Paul, John, Jim, Dan and Jerry.

They all come out for the Beat Mobile

 

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