Travel Then and Now | Colfax Avenue

A Celebration of National Travel and Tourism Week 2018

Picture this; miles of open road in the summer sun while picturesque landscapes wiz past the car window. The great American road trip helped shape the enamored memories of numerous generations and opened the door to national travel. It also established Aurora, Colorado as an ever-evolving destination – and it’s been that way for nearly 70 years.

Where were these travelers headed? A curiosity for the west sparked by post-war optimism and financial stability led them to the newly paved U.S. Route 40. Construction began in the 1930s, and when completed, U.S. Route 40 was deemed the “Main Street of America” connecting the eastern coast to the great states of the west. Passing through the heart of Colorado, U.S. Route 40 lured hotels, motels, restaurants, and businesses while building the foundation for Aurora as a modern travel destination.

The newly established "Gateway to the Rockies," fueled by automobile travel, evolved Aurora's stake in national tourism. Jennifer Cronk, Curator of Collections, at the Aurora History Museum offered some insight. “When World War II ended, people had more freedom to travel, and the glittering neon signs and sparkling pools along Route 40 in Aurora welcomed tourists heading towards the Rocky Mountains,” she explained.

It also popularized new American-themed dining options including drive-ins and casual dining (roller-skates and all!). Brand-new hotels and motels along with unique places to see made Aurora a destination of ultimate discovery throughout the 1960s and beyond.

As the times changed, Aurora’s place in national tourism evolved. However, the tenacious spirit of discovery within the tourist remained the same. U.S. Route 40 was later renamed Colfax Avenue and is still the longest commercial road in the United States stretching nearly 50 miles across Colorado’s largest metro. The evolution of Colfax Avenue has blossomed into a celebration of cultural diversity, artistic creation, and small-business success while remaining a hub for everything Aurora.

Today, visitors can discover some of Colorado’s oldest locations still in business from Colfax’s early days. An Aurora classic since 1974, La Cueva, is well known throughout the Denver Metro area and offers travelers an authentic and family-style experience. When it comes to ethnic eats, East Colfax has no shortage of options. Those looking to discover something new are welcome to visit Nom Nom Asian Grill, a mouth-watering restaurant bursting with Vietnamese flavor. Jennifer at the Aurora History Museum recommends a cup of Ethiopian coffee at Coffee Canaan at the Martin Luther King Library (pictured below). Those looking for fine dining options flock to Borealis, a contemporary restaurant experience featuring celebrity chef, Tim Freeman.

There's still plenty of historical ties near Colfax Avenue today. "There are a number of sites in Original Aurora that I think are worth seeing,” said Jennifer. “This includes looking at the architecture of some of our historic properties, such as the Robidoux, Milliken, and the Centennial house on Galena Street.” Since it’s early days, Aurora has been a jumping off point for many industries including medical sciences, hospitality, entrepreneurship, and more. Colfax Avenue cultivated countless cornerstone organizations in the Aurora community including the cutting-edge University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus. State-of-the-art facilities, such as the Hyatt Regency Aurora-Denver Conference Center, showcase the city’s dedication to a new-age of tourism while honoring its early beginnings.

Some of Colfax’s greatest attractions have stood the test of time, take for example the Aurora Fox Arts Center. Jennifer mentioned, “The Aurora Fox is great, both from a historic standpoint as lots of residents remember going to movies there in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as for the work they are currently accomplishing." The Aurora Fox Arts Center, founded in 1946, was the city's first movie-theater palace. Today, they produce five different productions, children's theatre, and even acting workshops. Visitors still line up outside to catch a show!

Aurora’s story is one of evolution. Its historic roots laid the foundation for modern tourism. Using pieces from its past, Aurora offers truly unique locations for every traveler. From the history buff and the foodie to the coffee connoisseur and the adventure seeker, Aurora’s longstanding evolution in tourism has paved the path for success in this great city. Enjoy your trip to the Gateway to the Rockies!


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