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cover image: Eugene Register-Guard Newspaper, October 30th, 1996

Hop Alley colophone design, layout & story: Jenny J Taylor, 2012 typefaces: Overlock & Bonzai Regular images & inspiration: • Denver Art Museum • Chinese on the American Frontier, by Arif Dirlik & Malcolm Yeung • Eugene Regiter-Guard • Denver Office of Cultural Affairs • Denver Public Library • Denver Post •

The Chinese people were the first Asian-Americans to come to Denver around 1860 when where conditions were basic they were follow the and impoverished to say the Transcontinental Railleast. road and other cheap manual labor positions.

Denver Bound

They mostly settled in the areas of Denver that had more affordable property such as the former Lowry Air Force Base as well as a neighborhood that was known as Hop Alley (“hop”, slang for the opium dens in the area). Sometimes simply called Chinatown, Hop Alley was in the alley between Wazee and Blake, and around 17th through 20th Street. About 500 Chinese people populated the small alley in the nineteenth century

picture: Children and a dog stand in Hop Alley (between Wazee and Blake Streets). A sign on one of the buildings reads: “Specialties Co. 2024 Blake”. c. 1930


In Its Peak At the peak of Hop Alley’s history, the back streets had retail stores, saloons, residential properties, small theaters and 17 know opium dens. There were also tunnels, trap doors and secret rooms that connected the area and allowed residents to move about the neighborhood, sight unseen. picture: A Chinese-American man hangs a scroll with Chinese characters in Hop Alley. Celestial lay nearby and smokes possibly opium from a water pipe. c. 1910


With heated tension between the Chinese and other immigrants rising due to a great deal of job competition (even though the wages were very low) and the continued negative press about the opium dens in Hop Alley, a large riot broke out in 1880. Although sometimes overly dramatized, historians say that the riot started late Halloween night in 1880 when a mob broke out after an intoxicated white group attached two Chinese railroad workers calling out slurs like “dirty, filthy Chinese” and “Stamp out the yellow plague!”. Businesses and residential buildings were burned, over 3,000 individuals of all races were involved and one Chinese man said to have been lynched.


illustration: An anti-Chinese riot in Denver’s “Hop Alley” Chinese district in 1880, in which one Chinese man was lynched. A historic marker now commemorates the event in the popular district that’s today known as Lower Downtown, or “LoDo.”


The Alley “ Market Street’s Soiled Doves (a.k.a Call Girls) were the only ones to come to the rescue of the Asians, who provided them with clean sheets and opium (hence the term Hop Alley).” - Tom Noel, Denver Post

picture left: Present day Hop Alley picture right: Men, include a police officer, stand in Hop Alley. A sign with Chinese characters is on a wood frame building. c. 1920


men playing pool, hit one of them agency in the area. with a cue stick, and was promptly In the meantime the shot at by the other pool player. He riot became worse, missed, but word quickly spread as one of the Chinese that a Chinaman had killed a white was lynched. Cook man. A large crowd gathered with gathered 15 of his own the intent to destroy the Chinese, men, and ten others along with all their possessions. that he knew were tough The eight policemen on duty were gunfighters. By this time unable to control the crowd, even there were 2000 rioters, “The Anti-Chinese riot in with the help of fire hoses. The destroying the Chinese November of 1880 is quite a riot continued into the night. At laundries. Cook and his men story. Denver had a secthe time, the police were without arrested nine men trying to tion of town, populated by a Chief. The City Council held an torch one of the buildings. Chinese laborers, known emergency meeting and appoint- When the crowd attempted as “Hop Alley”. The name ed Dave Cook as Acting Chief. to free them, Cook instructed was in reference to the Cook had previously been City his men to fire into the ground, widespread use of opium Marshal and was widely known then aim the smoking muzzles of amongst the “Celestials” for his bravery and intelligence. their guns into the rioters faces. as some people referred to He was currently the head of That ploy worked well as the mob the Chinese at that time. A the Rocky Mountain Detective backed off. Between Cook’s men, group of railroad laborers Association, which was widely the police and sheriff’s departments, entered a bar in the area respected throughout the and 125 special officers, the city was and confronted two Chinese west as the premier detective quiet by morning.”

There is a plaque that describes this event in a bit more accuracy which currently hung in Lower Downtown Denver. The following text is from the plaque and is taken from A Brief History of the Denver Police:

The Riot

picture: Denver’s current landmark plaque in Lower Downtown part of a historical walking tour.




Because of the growth of Denver’s industrial businesses in the 1940s and the need to improve lower downtown, the city tore down Hop Alley. This wasn’t a tough decision because of the overall condition of the area since the eighteen hundreds. Many of residence were displaced which caused some further distaste in the Chinese community.

picture: Two-story wood frame building on either Wazee or Blake Street near Hop Alley. Signs on nearby buildings and windows read: “2032”, “Conway Bogue Realty Inv. Co. Real Estate In All Branches Fire Insurance 524 17th St”, and “Public Station Local And Long Distance Telephone”. c. 1920

Life was hard for the immigrants in the West in the nineteenth century, especially for the Chinese workers that were living in poverty in the drug soaked neighborhood of Hop Alley. The combination of repression, lower wages and possibility of becoming a part of the opium drug ring as a seller or as a user kept a large part of the Chinese population in a hopeless state. Because of this struggle, one can only hope that they have finally found peace in their eternal resting place.

picture: Gravestone from the Riverside Cemetery. 2012

Final Resting


Funeral Procession


c. 1875 picture: View of a marching band in a funeral procession probably on Wazee Street. They play instruments that include: baritones, trombones, clarinets, and trumpets.


The End “ Opium is the perfect drug for people who want to remain articulate while being completely trivial.� - Tony Kushner, A Bright Room Called Day


Hop Alley  

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