In the 1980s, when most of Denver seemed ready to give up on the historically Black Five Points neighborhood, Carl Bourgeois did not.
He looked at the blight along the 2400 block of Washington Street and saw past the weeds, broken windows and crumbling brick.
“My dad just saw a gem,” his daughter, Nicole Stewart, said. “He saw a treasure that nobody wanted.”
Bourgeois bought what is known as the “Triangle Building” on the corner of Washington and 24th Avenue with a plan to turn it into an office space with glass windows.
“People laughed and said, ‘You know folks are gonna throw stones and break them,’” Ron Williams, a close friend, said. “He did it anyway.”
Eventually, Bourgeois would buy multiple buildings in the 2400 block of Washington Street, proving to the community — and the rest of Denver — that the neighborhood was worth their investment. And he showed how to preserve a historic neighborhood and adapt it to modern needs.
Bourgeois died Sunday at 71 after a lengthy battle with cardiac amyloidosis, a condition that reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood, Stewart said. He is survived by daughters Stewart and Ashleigh Bourgeois,, grandchildren Mogale Stewart, 17, and Nelson Stewart, 15, and a large extended family.
Per Bourgeois’s wishes, no memorial service is planned.
Bourgeois was born in Colorado Springs to Alfred Bourgeois, a Fort Carson soldier, and Bobbie Stroud, who was part of a family with deep Colorado roots. He was the fourth of their seven children. He also had four half-siblings and two stepbrothers, Stewart said.
Bourgeois’s mother died when he was 27, and he helped raise his younger siblings, Stewart said.
In the 1970s, Bourgeois and his family moved from Colorado Springs to Denver, where he and his then-wife worked in banking. He made his first real estate investment when he bought 2413 Washington St. with his partners Ed Smith and Killian Ikwuakor.
Bourgeois invested in Five Points when banks would not loan people money for projects in the Black neighborhood, his brother Charles Nelson said.
“These buildings didn’t just all come together. It was very difficult — one building at a time,” Nelson said. “Today, people develop in Five Points all the time and you can get financing and high rents.”
Bourgeois was a visionary who knew what he wanted to do and how to make money, his family and friends said. But he also gave back.
“He didn’t talk about it. Didn’t want to talk about it. He just did it,” Williams said.
Bourgeois gave breaks on office rent to nonprofit organizations. He organized annual July 4 parties and jazz concerts in the neighborhood. He dipped into his pockets to give money to people on the streets and donated to charities.
“From my perspective, of course he was a businessman, but he was a socially conscious businessman,” longtime friend Sid Wilson said. “Because of what he believed, he was able to implement strategies to bring personal beliefs and support to the community. He supported the community with all the means he had at his disposal.”
Alvertis Simmons, who runs the Simmons Foundation for Youth and Change, met Bourgeois years ago when he heard about a businessman who helped people in the community.
“He was very gracious and very kind, quiet,” Simmons said.
Bourgeois told Simmons that he was familiar with the work Simmons was doing in the community and offered his support. He helped pay for Thanksgiving turkeys and donated to Simmons’ annual backpack drive for school children.
“You didn’t have to beg for help,” Simmons said. “Tell him what you need and why you need it and he would do it.”
Simmons also said Bourgeois’s calm demeanor served as an example to others.
Bourgeois, who was 6-foot-3 and weighed more than 230 pounds, loved to play basketball.
Simmons recalled a game where he’d thrown an elbow at Bourgeois and then Bourgeois set a hard pick as Simmons was running back up the court. Simmons didn’t see it coming and hit the floor.
“I jumped up like I was going to do something and he stared me down and said, ‘Let’s play basketball,’” Simmons said. “He taught me to play hard and keep cool, to think, ‘Is it worth it?’ before you do something and to learn to walk away.”
Bourgeois developed a friendship with South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela after they met at a concert. That friendship would lead Bourgeois to buy a 50-acre farm in South Africa and to make business investments there. Bourgeois would invite Denver business people to South Africa to make introductions and encourage international deals, Wilson said.
“We were all net beneficiaries,” Wilson said.
Bourgeois’s last project was restoring a dilapidated historic property on Walnut Street in Colorado Springs, near his childhood home. The old Victorian house was in disrepair and the property was overgrown with weeds, home to wild animals and served as a camping spot for people without homes.
Bourgeois bought it in 2016 with the vision of turning the house into a retreat named after his mother, who taught music and art, and building a music pavilion on the land that he planned to call the Bobbie Stroud Music and Art Pavilion, Stewart said.
“He wanted his final project to be a tribute to his mother and all the things that she did,” she said.
Bourgeois hosted one last holiday party there on July 3, inviting nearly 500 people to eat and listen to music.
“Our deal was he was going to stay in the office and open the windows and watch from a distance,” Stewart said. “I looked up and there he was.”
Bourgeois had talked some cousins into carrying him and his wheelchair outside so he could greet his guests.
“Whether they knew or not, my dad knew this was going to be his last party,” Stewart said.
Source: Read Full Article