What’s not to love? With its mix of old and new, sober and stoned, there’s a unique characteristic about Colfax, where each step has the power to catapult you into a different phase of time. The avenue is so drenched in history and each block has a story all of its own. It has an undeniable energy that encompasses you as you stroll along.
It’s the kind of street that has the ability to completely alter Jack Kerouac’s writing style and coalesce a movement that we call the Beat Generation. Colfax is where The Jimi Hendrix Experience had their last gig with Noel Redding and broke up, after being tear-gassed by cops at the Denver Pop Festival in 1969. It was at Colfax and Sherman where Boyd Rice, sporting big, full sideburns, was hollered at by a man in a pickup truck to sing an Elvis song which then inspired his alter-ego, Helvis, a satanic Elvis impersonator. It was on Colfax, at The Fitzsimons Hospital, where President Eisenhower had his famed stay after suffering from a massive heart attack. And where the dubious, racketeering Bunco gang was locked away in the Sunday School basement at a Universalist church on Lafayette and Colfax. And the list goes on.
“You can totally see why I’m so addicted to Colfax, like I can’t get enough,” says Jonny Barber. “Colfax was bigger and better than Route 66, the only difference is they had better PR.” Jonny is the mastermind who’s bringing history back to life and bridging all these wild connections. He’s doing so at, what is so aptly named, The Colfax Museum. From matchbooks and postcards to a musical jug brought in from Steamboat Springs, Jonny’s fascination for Colfax has been over a decade in the making. The museum is now is open to the public at an unassuming spot on Colfax, Ed Moore Florist & More (6109 E Colfax).
Bells jingle as you open the door and the smell of roses permeates the air. Snaking your way amidst aisles of cleverly original cards, the museum sits towards the back of the venue. It’s an unlikely spot to host a museum. However, Lydia, the shop’s owner, was the first (and only) to lovingly open her doors to Jonny and welcome his eclectic collection. “Lydia is like a goddess. She was the very first person that ever supported colfaxavenue.com when I started in 2004. That was also when I was doing the Velvet Elvis act and she had me perform at her wedding. We’ve just been friends forever. So, I’ve been running this Colfax museum idea by everybody in the city, and everyone talks big until it’s time to deliver. So when I run into Lydia she says, ‘I heard you wanted to start a museum? Well, you can move in tomorrow.’ And so this was part of her flower shop and she literally started moving stuff out of the room the same day.”
Jonny’s lust for Colfax has recently landed him on the front page of the LA Times. “The night before the story ran, I get this email that says, ‘I think they’re giving you page one.’ And I’m like HOLY SHIT because I was thinking it would be a public interest story or something and he goes, ‘No, times are so shitty that everyone needs a feel-good story like you wouldn’t fucking believe, and you’re it.’”
Previously living in Seattle, at a time when the music scene was blowing up and Beck was still busking on the streets for change, Jonny felt living in that bustling area, was maybe not the best fit for him. “It was an incredible, incredible time to be involved with music, just mind-numbing. But, me and my music and my kind of sensibilities just didn’t fit in with the grunge thing. There was just a real dark side, all that real Satanist, devil-worshiping. No, thanks.” So he abandoned that life and high-tailed it to Colorado in 1995.
Throughout his years in Denver, Jonny has acquired his own laundry list of stories, both warm and seedy. “When you drove by the Bluebird Theater there would be, like, 10 hookers in the front. It was like, take your pick. They were everywhere, on the corners with the crack dealers, and freaks, and a lot of crazy people.” And while he’s seen a lot of grit, it’s the plethora of characters that have flowed into his life that has ignited his unrequited love. “Colfax is the greatest street in the world. It gives me an entree to meet people like Ed, who then gives me a signed picture of Johnny Cash from 1955.” Ed is a die-hard Johnny Cash fan who has collected hundreds of signatures from music performers outside the former Four Seasons Hotel on East Colfax.
Through Jonny’s connections with others, combined with his passion and knowledge of Colfax’s funky and creative past, he’s creating an air of excitement for residents, both previous and present. “So many people are really behind this museum because you’ll see everyone says the same thing. They come in and they’re always like, ‘Thank God somebody is preserving this because it’s disappearing so fast.’” Due to his support from the community, Jonny has become THE unofficial spokesperson for Colfax and has rightfully earned the title of Colfax Historian.
However, it’s not only his extensive repertoire of all-things-Colfax that has gained him all this fame but also because of the genuinely good person he is. His laid-back demeanor and easy-going nature makes him approachable. He’s someone people want to visit with and share their stories while reminiscing about a familiar and fascinating boulevard. He welcomes people in like a grandmother welcomes her grandkids, with love and a big smile.
His sincerity and sense of humor caters to people from all walks of life, and even though he has been in the spotlight, he still remains humble along the way, “I’m scared because as much as I popularize Colfax, I know I’m like the enemy too because the more popular it gets, the more all the morons will come in. But I figure, at least on the way out, let’s build a time capsule for all the really cool stuff — for the people that I know and love in Denver, for the people that made Denver cool.”
Editor’s addition: The Colfax Museum (www.colfaxmuseum.com) is curated and financed by Jonny Barber. He would appreciate any donation you can make to keep the museum going and find a permanent home. You can donate by purchasing Colfax memorabilia at the museum, 6109 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80220 (Ed Moore Florist and More), or buying one of Jonny’s new albums at www.jonnybarber.com. #DoitforColfax