My first step into Firehouse #10 was out of a snowy January morning and into a warm, welcoming blanket of sound and spice. Beans cascading into bags, women chatting and laughing amongst themselves on the line, and the pervasive scent of cumin that seemed to be baked into the bricks themselves. When I mentioned the smell, my interviewer’s eyes lit up.
“You should smell this place on brownie day,” Anne said. “It’s incredible.”
In 1996, Women’s Bean Project moved into the renovated Firehouse #10 Station. The improved and increased operating space allowed the Project to provide training more efficiently and effectively. The first floor was relegated for production, and the second floor crew quarters were converted into administrative offices. It was the first step in a 26-year long journey in the two-story historical building. The station was first built in the 1920s, and the Bean Project was the first organization to live within its walls after the Denver Fire Department. In those 26 years, the Bean Project saw the first Ready, Set, Grow luncheon, our 30th anniversary, two rebrands, and over a thousand women served within the Firehouse’s brick walls.
Many longtime supporters and staff have a deep nostalgia for the firehouse. Geoff, Director of Sales for over 14 years, describes convincing his kids that there was a gorilla that lived in the basement of the building. He is now taking those same sons on college campus tours.
In 2008, Women’s Bean Project won a contest through HGTV to receive renovations to Firehouse #10. A $100K CDBG grant was awarded and combined with grant funding to install an elevator in the building and the overall renovations were focused on increasing the capacity to serve more women. This may have marked a turning point for the firehouse. Capacity and functionality were starting to present as problems within the converted space. The firehouse fit the Bean Project’s original sweet and charming feel, but as the business evolved so did its need for a professional manufacturing space.
The build-out of the Bean Project’s new home in Athmar Park was started with exactly these pain points in mind. Named The Bean Factory, it focuses on what the firehouse couldn’t do, what it lacked, and what potential a new space could have for growth beyond anything the firehouse could manage.
In 2022, Women’s Bean Project sold Firehouse #10 and moved into 1300 W Alameda Ave, closing the red brick chapter of the Project’s history.
As one of the move team members, it was odd to see the old building emptied out of all desks, machinery, and people. The hand-painted green walls and hardwood floors seemed to retain a sense of warmth. 26 years of bean soup, hard work, and women’s laughter had made their mark on the Firehouse. I’m not sure that will ever fade.
Though many visitors to The Bean Factory mourn the loss of the firehouse, they are more moved by the progress our new building has allowed. Production space has more than tripled, and hiring plans include 100 women a year by the end of our third year in the building. The wide-open Hub lunch space retains that welcoming community feel that Women’s Bean Project prides itself on.
Though the building may no longer be hand built, the new lives women carve out for themselves here certainly are.
From a basement room to a rented storefront, to Firehouse #10 and finally to The Bean Factory. In each step of the Bean Project’s journey, we move towards growth as a tool for hiring more women, changing more lives, and providing support to as much of our community as possible. Until the day every woman who wants to join the Project has had a chance to change her life, when Women’s Bean Project puts itself out of business, we will continue to expand to support more women better. In the same way that we encourage our participants to focus on their present and their future, we too must look at our tomorrow. So, in memory of Firehouse #10, immortalized in our Firehouse #10 Chili Mix, here’s to baking the scent of cumin and the sound of laughter into our new concrete walls.