Community members and descendants of the Spivak family, known for broad contributions to medicine, research, journalism and the arts, came together at the historic Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society — now Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design campus in Lakewood Aug. 8 to celebrate the important contributions and lasting legacy of the family via a presentation from RMCAD Professor Thomas Keefe.
For many in Lakewood and surrounding areas, the initials JCRS conjure up the West Colfax location of one of Colorado’s most enduring entities — Casa Bonita. But long before Black Bart acted in a faux shoot-out or the first cliff diver took the plunge — even before pre-Casa days when the shopping center opened in 1957 with big-name staples like J.C. Penney, Joslin’s and F.W. Woolworth — JCRS was a long-standing organization serving residents of the greater metro area.
"Consumptive" was a term used to describe someone with a wasting disease, particularly pulmonary tuberculosis — fitting, in that JCRS was an organization founded in 1904, to treat TB patients.
According to History.com (and backed up everywhere by fans of the movie Tombstone), by the end of the 19th century, Colorado was thought to be one of the best places in the country for someone with TB to recover. So, the state had a larger than average population of TB patients, and several sanatoriums to treat them.
One of the founders of JCRS, Dr. Charles David Spivak, also led the organization from 1904 until 1927. Spivak, a Russian immigrant, came to Colorado after attending medical school and practicing medicine in Philadelphia. Although JCRS was nondenominational, serving patients of every faith, it had a kosher, Jewish kitchen and over the years, treated thousands from the West Colfax Jewish community. In addition to his work as a doctor, during his time in Denver, Spivak became a well-known community leader, arts patron, writer and publisher. In 1954, the JCRS campus was repurposed from TB treatment to cancer treatment and research.
The author of a book about RMCAD, JCRS and the Spivaks, Keefe’s telling of the storied family’s history was filled with little-known facts, amusing anecdotes and slides, newspaper clippings and images of paintings by Spivak’s son, pioneering Jewish painter, Haim (H.) David Spivak.
Haim David Spivak, born to the Spivaks in 1893, was just 3-years-old when the family came to Colorado. He did not follow in his father’s footsteps to become a doctor, but instead studied art in Denver, Chicago and New York. After serving in WWI, he returned to Denver, working as an art instructor. Before his life was cut short by a brain tumor at the age of 39, H. David Spivak became a renowned painter and was co-founder and president of the Denver Artists Guild.
Keefe started his presentation by reading an official proclamation from Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul recognizing the invaluable contribution of Dr. Spivak and JCRS.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser also sent a letter in recognition of the Spivak family, calling them a bedrock of the community and state.
“The line of impressive artists in your family, as well as your support of the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, has provided an important contribution to the rich cultural backdrop of Colorado," Weiser wrote. "Your family’s continued example of community leadership and investment are an inspiration and your story is one of the many that make Colorado such a special state.”