CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. — Things were different in 1908.
Back then, when a local land company decided to name a new Cherry Hills Village subdivision Swastika Acres, it didn’t prompt the same reaction people would have today.
Neither did the name of the land company, itself: Denver Swastika Land Company.
“When the land company elected to use that name there was no negative connotation to that name,” said Dan Sheldon, a current Cherry Hills Village City Councilman.
“At the time, it could have been named anything," Sheldon said. "There was nothing wrong with it at the time.”
That was before Nazi Germany, and before the swastika became a symbol of hate. According to research by Cherry Hills Village, the original name given to the land had no relevance or relation to the meaning associated with swastika today. At the time, village research found, the symbol was associated with good luck and prosperity.
So in 1908, Swastika Acres, located in southwest Cherry Hills Village, was subdivided into 150 lots. Today, and several subdivisions of the land later, it now includes only 56 lots.
The name stuck around, and according to Sheldon, some modern-day lot owners didn’t even know about it.
“From what I’ve heard, people who go in there, and a lot of times, don’t even know when they buy their home in that subdivision, that they’re buying a home with the legal name of their subdivision… as Swastika Acres,” he said.
Sheldon didn’t learn about it, himself, until he was shopping for a home in 2007 and saw it in the documents.
“I found [the name], frankly, quite offensive,” he said. “And I thought, boy, that’s something that should get rectified.”
As a city councilman, Sheldon helped lead the efforts in recent years to get the name formally changed. In 2017, Cherry Hills Village adopted an ordinance that created a process allowing residents to apply for a subdivision name change.
In early 2019, a homeowner living in Swastika Acres completed that process, which included collecting at least 51 percent of the lot owners written support. He collected 30 verified petitions supporting the name change, according to city officials.
Tuesday night, the Cherry Hills Village city council considered a resolution to change the subdivision’s name from Swastika Acres to Old Cherry Hills.
Not everyone liked the idea, though.
In an email to one city council member, a homeowner asked the city to keep the name. In her letter, which was made public with other petitions included in the resolution, the homeowners explained her reasons.
She wrote that she is Jewish, had several family members killed in the Holocaust, and is scared and saddened by the swastika symbol. However, she also pointed out the symbol had a different meaning before Nazis claimed it, and asked the council to consider that in their decision.
“Swastika is an Indian design with peaceful meaning,” she wrote. “I do not know why the Germans picked that name. The neighborhood was named way before the Holocaust. The Jews were all but wiped out in Europe. If we change the name of this area we will be adding to the destruction of native culture. Keep the historic name but call it what you wish. No one uses that name anyway.”
“It’s a very interesting perspective, and one that I understand,” Councilman Sheldon said.
“I understand not wanting to wipe out a historical reference. I don’t think what we’re talking about doing here… is wiping out, removing it from Webster’s dictionary. We’re talking about removing it from the 56 lots whereby somebody goes and sees their deed or title work, and sees that they live in Swastika Acres."
Nobody spoke in opposition to the resolution at Tuesday night’s meeting, and the council voted unanimously to approve it.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” Sheldon said. “Those residents that live in that neighborhood now don’t have to live with that name on their plat.”
The name change will take effect immediately. Councilman Sheldon said the city now has to update the documents associated with the 56 lots, and they'll start that process right away.
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