Looking for a gorgeous Victorian house to restore — or would you prefer one in move-in condition? Perhaps a grand mansion that would make anything on Wood Avenue look like a backyard shack or a simple brick bungalow for less than $100,000?
You won’t find either in Colorado Springs. But drive 40 miles south on I-25 and you’ll discover an unrivaled trove of historic residences and neighborhoods.
Unlike Colorado Springs, where upper-class, middle-class and working-class historic neighborhoods are defined by geography, Pueblo is cheerfully grab-bag. Modest cottages were built next to grand mansions, helping create the city’s friendly, egalitarian culture.
In the early 1890s Pueblo was the largest and arguably the most prosperous city in Colorado, nicknamed “The Pittsburgh of the Rockies.” Thousands worked in the steel mills of Colorado Fuel & Iron and in the immense railyards that bordered the Arkansas River.
Workers, company executives and capitalists all needed housing. Entire neighborhoods were created in a few years. By 1900, city boosters called Pueblo “The Prosperous City with a Lasting Legacy,” and set to work building neighborhood parks, grand municipal buildings and fine, harmonious commercial districts.
Their legacy endures, but Pueblo has lagged since the local steel industry collapsed in 1982. With a stagnant, aging population and a hollowed-out manufacturing sector, Pueblo might have become the Detroit of the Rockies.
Instead, it has been reborn.
Thanks to steady public infrastructure investment, today’s Pueblo is lively and fun. Imagine Denver without traffic, Boulder without high prices or Santa Fe without attitude. Most of all, imagine affordable real estate.
According to Trulia, median home sales prices in Pueblo are on the rise, increasing from $125,000 in March of 2015 to $138,000 as of March 9, 2016. That’s a 10.4 percent jump, but Pueblo is still inexpensive by national metrics. It’s the least expensive major metropolitan area in Colorado and the sixth cheapest in the country.
Consider a spectacular home at 326 W. Pitkin Ave. that sold in October. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as are its eight equally gorgeous neighbors on the 300 block. Completely renovated, the three-story, 6,126-square-foot brick structure has six bedrooms, four baths and a detached garage. It sits on a fenced and immaculately landscaped 0.27-acre lot. Sale price: $410,000.
Too pricey? Here’s another renovated Victorian at 2331 N. Greenwood Ave., a 3,015-square-foot frame house built in 1905 on a 0.39-acre fenced corner lot. Everything is new — windows, doors, flooring, kitchen, baths, electrical and plumbing. It’s located in the historic Northside neighborhood and it’s yours for $299,000.
“This is just a beautiful place,” said Jones-Healy real estate broker Laura Sperry. “You can live in it or it could easily be a B&B.”
Pueblo’s Northside neighborhood looks a lot like the North End in Colorado Springs — well-kept Victorians on large lots with uniform setbacks, mature landscaping, wide sidewalks and bike-friendly streets. But judging by one extraordinary building, Pueblo’s movers and shakers were far less conservative than their 19th century Colorado Springs counterparts.
Five blocks south of Greenwood, a vast mansion rises behind a wrought-iron fence, a joyous eruption of Victorian excess that belongs in a fairy tale, not on a prosaic Pueblo street. The National Register property Gast mansion, built for Pueblo attorney Charles E. Gast in 1892, remains a private residence. Its four-story stone turret soars above unkempt grounds, dominating the neighborhood. An ornate stained glass window sparkles in the sun. It’s absurdly romantic, architecture become poetry. Alas, it’s not for sale.
But keep on walking. There’s another lovely and eminently practical home at 1125 Greenwood listed at $350,000. Within easy walking distance of downtown, it has five bedrooms, three baths and 3,340 square feet of finished space on an 8,000-square-foot lot.
Pueblo’s marijuana-fueled commercial real estate boom has attracted statewide media attention, as has a spike in gang activity.
Yet Pueblo remains a safe, family-oriented community that may be ready to take some giant steps forward.