“Everyone knows Route 66 because they had a better PR guy, a better song, and a TV show,” Elvis impersonator, artist, and Colfax Avenue historian Jonny Barber once told the Los Angeles Times. But Barber, a Denver, Colorado resident, wants to put the spotlight on another notable U.S. thruway: Colorado’s wild and unpredictable Colfax Avenue.
In 2017, Barber opened the Colfax Museum to preserve the street’s legacy. He’d been storing all his Colfax memorabilia—which includes odd treasures like a stegosaurus footprint dating back 150 million years, posters, and a hotel room door broken by a drunk guest at the bed and breakfast he and his wife used to run—in his basement, and now he’s moved it into a proper museum.
Even before he opened the museum, Barber spent the last 14 years acting as the keeper of Colfax history. And what a history it has been.
Beat Generation stalwart Neal Cassady met a Columbia University student at a Denver public library on Colfax. That student, named Hal Chase, later introduced Cassady to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. If the two hadn’t met, “there would have been no Beat generation,” said Barber.
Clint Eastwood filmed Every Which Way But Loose on Colfax. It was once the site of the world’s biggest laundromat. The adventurous sorts could even wrestle a reptile at the Alligator Garden that called the street home. There’s even an 0ft-repeated story that Playboy magazine called the street “the longest, wickedest street in America” (though this is up for debate).
Wickedest or not, Barber wants to preserve it all. Barber’s Colfax Museum is housed in a space provided by a local florist. For Barber, the weird history of the highway is worth protecting, no matter what the future holds. “If Colfax looks different in 20 years,” he said. “I can’t change that, but I can create a time capsule full of its stories and tall tales.”
Colfax runs 53 miles through the state, starting in Denver and cutting its way toward the eastern plains. Colfax makes up a mere 26.1 miles of that.
The road, which is part of U.S. route 40, originally stretched across the country, from Atlantic City, New Jersey all the way to San Francisco. These days, this little ribbon of Americana is cut off in Utah.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open from 11:00 to 5:30. Check its Facebook page for the most current information.