Colorado Springs at 150 | Colorado Springs Historic Buildings Lost and Rescued | Premium
Editor’s Note: This month, as Colorado Springs prepares for its 150th anniversary on July 31, The Gazette has prepared a series of articles on the history of our city. Return for a fascinating glimpse into the people and events that made Colorado Springs the landmark it is today.
Colorado Springs’ iconic and historic buildings are reminiscent of key eras – the richness of the gold mining era can be seen at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum and the tuberculosis huts scattered around the city remind us of when patients flocked to town for the dry air.
However, beloved buildings – perhaps too many – have been lost over the decades. In some cases, buildings were demolished despite calls from citizens. Some were lost in the downtown urban renewal campaign, and others fell because private landlords found them too costly to save.
The following is a small sample of lost and saved landmarks.
Perhaps the most famous lost building in town is the Burns Theater, built by millionaire James Ferguson “Jimmie” Burns as an opera house on East Pikes Peak Avenue in 1912. It was turned into a cinema in 1927. An elegant building with an Italian marble interior, it was demolished in 1973 and replaced with a driving bank and parking lot. How could such a thing happen?
“It was very complicated in the sense that the owners no longer had the legal use of the building once it closed as an operating theater,” said former city planner Tim Scanlon.
The building did not meet modern building codes, and after 12 months the bank that owned it lost the right to operate it without bringing it into compliance with the code. The bank claimed the building was woefully substandard and couldn’t be updated for a reasonable cost. She therefore spent an “extravagant” sum to demolish the solid building, he said.
The citizen-led Pikes Peak Area Landmarks Council fought for the building, listed it on the National Register of Historic Places, and pushed Colorado Springs City Council to acquire the building. When the city council decided to ask voters if they wanted to save the building, two council members had to withdraw from the vote because they were serving as trustees for the bank, so the effort failed. There is also speculation that the arts community did not want the city to invest in the Burns Theater because it was working on the new Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts, he said.
Second Hotel des Bois
The hotel was part of Brig. General William Palmer’s vision for the city and greeted visitors as they left the train depot, according to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. The Italian Renaissance-style building opened in 1901 and replaced an old hotel that burned down.
By the 1960s it was old, tired, and with 12 foot ceilings it cost a fortune to heat. It was also the wrong way. The owners wanted the front doors to greet guests arriving by car on Cascade and Pikes Peak Avenue, Scanlon said. It was replaced by what is now called The Antlers, A Wyndham Hotel, in 1967.
The Cotton Club and buildings south of Colorado Avenue
While not an architectural gem, the Cotton Club, owned by Fannie Mae Duncan, has hosted Duke Ellington and Count Basie among other big names and drew an interracial crowd. Long after the building was demolished, Duncan was recognized for her work as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and community activist and was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, among many other honors.
The club was one of many buildings in a downtown neighborhood with many black-owned businesses and homes that were demolished in the urban renewal movement that swept the country in the 1960s and 1970s, said Professor John Harner of the University of Colorado Colorado. Springs. Back then, businesses were fleeing city centers and suburban malls were the hot new movement. Cities were faced with dilapidated city centers and, instead of offering business development programs like municipalities do today, they razed entire neighborhoods, he said.
“Back then, people thought they were doing the right thing,” he said.
In Colorado Springs, the area bounded by Colorado Avenue to the north, Sahwatch Street to the west, Vermijo Avenue to the south, and Nevada Avenue to the east was considered a formal urban renewal area, Scanlon said. The Plaza of the Rockies, the Alamo Corporate Center, city and county administrative buildings, and parking lots are structures that now stand where historic buildings housed businesses such as tattoo parlors, taverns and restaurants. second-hand stores, he said.
“We have eliminated a tired part of the downtown area and eliminated the uses deemed undesirable. We ended up with a pleasant urban environment,” said Scanlon.
However, the city’s use of a prominent estate to grab private property for urban renewal in the 1970s created a loathing for this tool, and it could help save more buildings today, did he declare.
The success of the urban renewal of the 1960s and 1970s is also in the eye of the beholder.
“We’d be much better off with 25 little shops in every block than with a giant megastructure you can’t even walk in,” Harner said.
Small stores attract pedestrians and make a block more welcoming, while few people will continue to walk past large parking lots, he said.
Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum
While many buildings have been lost, public and private efforts have saved some classic buildings, most notably the Old El Paso County Courthouse, built as a symbol of the wealth of the community.
The historic council helped save the old courthouse built in 1903 from demolition, in part, by arguing that if El Paso County wanted to demolish a building erected for the public in a public park, it should organize a vote. The vote never took place, but eventually the city regained ownership of the county building.
In addition to a strong argument over public ownership, the idea of moving the Pioneer Museum into the building also came up and that was the key, Scanlon said. Often the hardest part of saving a historic structure is finding a new use for the building, he said.
At one point, the largest school in the city, it was closed in the 1980s and concerned citizens feared it would be irreparably neglected.
Scanlon recalled borrowing the keys from the owner and clearing a path through the building to make tours and stir interest in the Richardsonian Romanesque building built in 1891.
In the end, the Colorado Springs Housing Authority saved the day by raising the funding to turn the building into offices, he said.
Now home to the Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, the old railroad office building was going to be demolished for a new bank building. When those plans failed, it was to become a parking lot in the 1990s until a well-known Colorado figure stepped in, Scanlon said.
Former Governor John Hickenlooper bought and saved the building from the redevelopment, turning it into a brewery as he had done with other old buildings. The city’s enforcement of its historic preservation order gave Hickenlooper 90 days to act, he said. The ordinance, even now, cannot stop the demolition, it can only delay it, he said.
At one point, the project also ran into a problem and ran out of money. The contractors had to be convinced to take shares in the building as payment, Scanlon said.
Save history for the future
Scanlon believes there is a broader understanding and appreciation for historic buildings that could help save more in the future.
Private lenders from the 1950s to the 1970s were much more comfortable with the new structures because rehabilitation presents a lot of uncertainty and a lot of money is needed for contingencies. Now, historic preservation is much more of an industry, lenders are more comfortable with it and more professionals have expertise in safeguarding structures, he said.
This is the key, as most of the preservation is done by private companies, he said.
Historic buildings may be safer in the future, in part because cities and business owners have found they can boost tourism and the interest of those who come to downtown for restaurants and restaurants. entertainment, Harner said.
“It pays off in the cultural capital that you create. The place that you preserve will really have character, a certain originality,” he said.