Colorado Springs was founded in 1871, 12 years after its western neighbor, Colorado City.
The first buildings here were log cabins and thrown-together structures described in a contemporary account as “miserable shacks.” They soon were replaced by substantial creations in wood, brick and stone as cities arose on the once-pristine lands at the base of Pikes Peak.
In the 155 years since those first rude shacks were erected along Fountain Creek, residents of the Pikes Peak region have built hundreds of thousands of commercial buildings, places of worship, factories, barns, industrial facilities, government buildings and homes.
Which ones, as William Faulkner might have said, have not only endured but prevailed? Which structures are most emblematic of their times? Which, whether designed by eminent architects or gifted builders, are most likely to last, preserved by beauty, utility, location or chance?
We chose 10, arbitrarily selecting single buildings to represent about every decade from the 1880s to the 2000s. We tried to avoid the usual suspects, such as the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center or the Air Force Academy’s Cadet Chapel. Those are great buildings, but there are other less obvious candidates — and here they are.
1884: The Husted House, 3001 W. Pikes Peak Ave.
Even 130 years after it was built, this modestly beautiful example of “Carpenter Gothic” is still in residential use. It’s in fine shape today, but only because of Westside savior Dave Hughes, who helped save it 35 years ago. He did so for reasons that architects can appreciate. He loved its design. Here’s how he remembers it:
“Several Westside homes which, in their 1880-90s time were well designed and had many attractive historical features, were owned by people on very low income. One particular home, once named The 1884 Husted House was owned and occupied by a truck driver and his family. You could see its faded glory. It was in bad shape. I asked the City staff, not only to do the essential safety and building code work on it but to do so on the exterior in a way that brought out by restoration its historical value.
“There was an uproar, and the city staff argued ALL they were supposed to do it make the house habitable, not to preserve its architecture. We went to the mat, and the City Manager, knowing how much I, through OWN and Old Colorado City had greatly increased the value of the properties by restoring its historical look and feel, ruled against his staff. The Husted House was repaired and its historical trim and decorative iron fence were put back in attractive shape.”
1890-1900: Johnny Nolan House, 2 Grand Ave., Manitou Springs
The Johnny Nolan House was built in 1890 by J.E. Newton, owner of Newton Lumber Co. Nolan, a Cripple Creek saloon owner, acquired and modified the property in 1900. It’s a wonderfully exuberant Victorian pastiche of a building, a multi-level fantasy of locally quarried stone featuring a four-story turret, multiple balconies and elaborate detailing. The house was converted into apartments many years ago and fell into stately decay. Today it’s boarded up and vacant for reasons best known to its owners. Will it still stand in 2100, or even in 2015? Newton and Nolan built it to last for centuries, but our built environment is fragile and transient at best. Go and take a look, before 2 Grand, like Nineveh and Tyre, vanishes forever.
1907: Van Briggle Memorial Pottery, 1120 Glen Ave.
Built in 1907 by Artus Van Briggle’s widow Ann and designed by Dutch architect Nicolas van den Arend, the building is as striking and original as any in the city. Colorado College now owns the building, which retains much of its original exterior ornamentation. According to CC’s website, “Designed in a picturesque manner displaying Flemish farmhouse and Arts and Crafts influences, the distinctive building served as an advertisement for the company and its image appeared on its promotional materials and letterhead. The red brick walls are enlivened with thousands of polychrome Van Briggle tiles and terra cotta ornaments in decorative panels, chimney caps, window features, and even a sculptural cat and a gargoyle.” Today the kilns and studios are long gone, and the building houses CC’s facilities service department.
1915: YWCA, Nevada Avenue and Kiowa Street
This Nicolas van den Arend building, which narrowly avoided demolition in the 1970s, is decorated with Van Briggle tiles specifically commissioned for the building. The paired balconies on street frontages are particularly notable, as is the abstract tile ornamentation above each balcony. Absent its inventive and restrained ornamentation, it would be plain and unremarkable — just another five-story downtown building.
Built by the local YWCA, it provided classrooms, gymnasium and dining area, private rooms and space for religious, social and cultural activities. The interior, extensively remodeled in the 1970s, retains its original “birdcage” elevator, and many office suites feature original fireplaces with Van Briggle tile surrounds.
1926: Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 601 N. Tejon St.
Grace is the product of two remarkable architects. The original building was designed by Colorado Springs architect Thomas McLaren in 1895. McLaren designed many notable buildings in Colorado Springs, including City Hall and the City Auditorium. In 1926, following the merger of two Episcopal congregations, the main sanctuary was constructed to the design of E. Donald Robb of Boston. Robb’s “Collegiate Gothic” design was inspired by the great tower of Magdalen College at Oxford, England, constructed at the beginning of the 16th century. Grace’s remarkable tower is virtually identical to that of its illustrious predecessor. The building is also notable for its many remarkable stained glass windows, its soaring vaulted sanctuary and its magnificent organ, the gift of Alice Bemis Taylor.
1935: The Navajo Hogan, 2817 N. Nevada Ave.
Builder/designer Nicholas Fontecchio created the Navajo Hogan roadhouse. With its gaudy neon sign and unlikely architecture, the building perfectly embodies the roadside attractions of that era.
Meant to replicate the construction techniques of the Navajo, the two large interior domes reputedly were constructed “without a single nail.” It started as a safe place for respectable folks to have a little fun and devolved into a seedy bar, a strip club and a biker bar. Decades later, it’s once again an eminently respectable bar/restaurant with weekend bands. The once-scary bikers have morphed into retired dentists on noisy Harleys, and the strippers are long gone.
Thanks to a recent renovation by owner Johnny Nolan, the Hogan should be with us for another 80 years, a sweetly garish reminder of good times on the North Nevada strip.
1940: Colorado Springs High School (now Palmer), 301 N. Nevada Ave.
Colorado Springs High School may be the city’s first modernist structure. Funded in part by a grant from the federal Public Works Administration, it replaced a soaring Victorian wedding cake on the same site. School administrators declared the previous building structurally unsound, but they may have been motivated by the allure of a modern, efficient and roomy new school.
Two bond issues were passed, and on May 16, 1940, at the cost of $609,000 plus $60,000 for embellishments, “one of the West’s most attractive architectural designs” became functional as the school opened. Edward Bunts, a 1921 CSHS graduate, was the architect of record, but consulting architect Burnham Hoyt likely was responsible for the design. The playful juxtaposition of curves and straight lines creates visual interest without sacrificing functionality. The building has been modified and expanded several times, but the Platte/Nevada entrance remains virtually unchanged.
1957: Maytag Aircraft Building, 701 S. Cascade Ave.
The Maytag Aircraft Building is a rare example of late modernist architecture in Colorado Springs. It’s one of Lusk & Wallace’s earlier works, a surprisingly bold and uncompromising structure that still seems fresh and new. In a 2003 interview, Jim Wallace noted that the architecture was influenced by its owners’ business. The curved roof trusses were deliberately shaped to resemble airfoils, while the inset at the building’s base gave it a “little bit of a floating feeling.”
Local architect Mike Collins, whom Wallace mentored, said, “It’s a beautifully proportioned building like an aircraft has to be beautifully proportioned to fly.”
1969: Private residence, 715 Point of the Pines Drive
Our city’s notable architects tend to be identified with commercial/governmental/institutional work. But they had to pay the bills. Tom McLaren (City Hall, United Brethren Church, City Auditorium) designed elegant North End homes, and Jim Wallace designed the fabulous contempo at 715 Point of the Pines Drive.
Open floor plans, views, natural landscaping, large private lots — such were the features of the residential style that came to be known as “Colorado/California contemporary” or, in Realtorspeak, the “fabulous contempo.” At 3,177 square feet, perched high on a bluff overlooking the city, this house is small compared to the overstuffed McMansions of today’s moneyed elites. Yet its spectacular light-filled interior integrates outdoor and indoor spaces.
1982: Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
In designing the Pikes Peak Center, John James Wallace and Clifford Nakata had to consider two apparently irreconcilable demands: The facility’s overall cost had to be within a bare-bones budget, and the 2,000-seat hall had to have superb acoustics.
Wallace and Nakata settled on a clean, spare unornamented design and partnered with Artec, an acoustical engineering firm, in designing the interior. The result departed significantly from industry practice, incorporating moveable sound-reflecting towers that can also be used for audience seating as well as moveable ceiling panels.
Built by contractor GE Johnson, the project came in on time and slightly under budget.
The Pikes Peak Center has aged well. It hosts more than 200 performance events yearly and operates without subsidy.
It’s interesting to compare it with Denver’s Boettcher Concert Hall, built just a few years earlier. The Pikes Peak Center is arguably our community’s crown jewel, while Denver officials are debating whether to tear down Boettcher and replace it with an outdoor event space.
Score one for Colorado Springs!
2008: Cornerstone Arts Center, 825 N. Cascade Ave.
Colorado College’s Cornerstone Center was our city’s first “starchitect” design since Grace Church in 1926. Seeking to create a signature building on a full half-block bounded by Cache La Poudre, Cascade and Dale, the college turned to renowned Albuquerque architect Antoine Predock.
Clearly influenced by Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, as well as by copycat structures such as Daniel Liebeskind’s Denver Art Museum expansion, Predock’s titanium-clad building might have been dropped down from outer space. Unlike David Tryba’s Fine Arts Center expansion nearby, Cornerstone ignores the neighborhood’s historic context.
Despite its already-dated appearance, it’s a highly functional space. As CC’s website notes, the building “is LEED Certified and features a 450-seat auditorium, sound stage and screening room, although every room can sustain at least three functions. The central atrium features amphitheater seating and is ringed by a catwalk that can be turned over to fine arts exhibitions.”
Don’t giggle at the building’s pretensions! It works.
• • •
Finally, let’s take a minute to mourn a building that was never erected in Colorado Springs, but could have been.
Forty years ago, a major national nonprofit tentatively had decided to locate its headquarters here.
It would have brought jobs and prestige, and might have triggered similar moves by dozens of related organizations.
Lusk & Wallace produced preliminary designs and a model of the proposed headquarters, which was conceived to be a spacious modernist structure that would have made a far more congenial space than the dismal quarters in Washington, D.C., that the organization still occupies.
Colorado Springs and the National Rifle Association — talk about a match made in heaven!