“Take away the mountains and the sun, and Colorado Springs looks like Cleveland,” said arts maven Bernard Ewell back in the early 1980s. It was a dull, dispiriting time — suburban development had sucked the life out of downtown, Manitou Springs and the Westside had yet to gentrify and it was easy to be pessimistic about the present.
Our predecessors had built for the ages, and left visual legacies for all who bothered to look.
Yet the built landscape of a bright, optimistic past was everywhere present. Our predecessors had built for the ages, and left visual legacies for all who bothered to look.
I’ve been looking for almost 77 years, and here (in no particular order) are eight of my favorite buildings and structures in Colorado Springs:
• The Jimmy Burns mausoleum, located in Evergreen Cemetery, is a white marble tomb holding the remains of a once-humble workingman who struck it rich in Cripple Creek, built a mansion on Wood Avenue and erected a spectacular opera house downtown. The opera house was torn down in the 1960s, the mansion is a slightly shabby apartment house, but the mausoleum, adorned with Tiffany stained-glass windows, is worth a visit.
• And speaking of tombs, how about the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun? Ostensibly dedicated to the little-remembered 1930s humorist, the shrine is the grave of Spencer and Julie Penrose, as well as Spec’s secretary, Horace Devereux. Pharaonic pretensions aside, it’s a spectacular building and a final gift from one of our city’s greatest benefactors — a gravesite that doubles as a tourist attraction.
• The Van Briggle Memorial Pottery building at Uintah Street and Glen Avenue. Designed by Nicolaas van den Arend, adorned with Van Briggle tiles, this lovely building should have been the template for every manufacturing facility in the city. The pottery churned out ceramics for nearly 60 years, until the building was sold to Colorado College and the pottery relocated to…
• The Midland Railroad Roundhouse at Highway 24 and 21st Street. As kids, we used to ride our bikes to the then-derelict roundhouse and look for treasure. If rusty railroad spikes and pieces of broken glass qualify, we found plenty. Today, the renovated building hosts a variety of businesses, including the Colorado Mountain Brewery. The building’s massive original stonework has been preserved, but no trace remains of the steam locomotives that were once housed there.
• I often walk my unruly dogs past 1214-1226 W. Kiowa St., four Westside homes built by Colorado Springs Building Inspector Edward Coray between 1900 and 1906. They share certain architectural features, but they’re each unique and distinctive. For instance, 1214 W. Kiowa, which Coray built for himself in 1901, is a fine example of Arts & Crafts domestic architecture.
• The Maytag Aircraft Building, 701 S. Cascade Ave. This Lusk & Wallace-designed 1957 single-story office building is a striking 1950s modernist commercial structure.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, it would be remarkable in any city. In Colorado Springs, it’s unique.
• Chicago Houses. Before there were tiny homes, there were Chicago Houses, single-story “shotgun cottages” of around 500 square feet. Between 1897 and 1905, Colorado City entrepreneur George White advertised these “portable houses,” which could be used as alley cottages or stand-alone dwellings. Dozens remain, almost all on the Westside. There are two in the 1300 block of West Kiowa, and at least one in most Westside residential blocks. Like today, there was enormous demand for housing at the turn of the century, but back then there was little regulation to prevent entrepreneurs from meeting that demand. More than a century later, the Chicago Houses have aged well — honestly built, eminently affordable and gracefully designed.
• The Fine Arts Center addition. Building an addition to a great masterpiece like the 1936 John Gaw Meem-designed FAC is a no-win commission for even the most brilliant architect. You have to respect the existing structure, yet overcome its flaws and create seamless connections between the old and the new. At worst, you’ll be accused of architectural vandalism; at best, your peers will praise you for not entirely ruining the deceased master’s work. Denver architect (and Colorado Springs native) David Tryba accepted the challenge, and created masterful, light-filled spaces that somehow make the original building seem leaden and uninspired. By itself, the addition is one of the best buildings in Colorado Springs — so can’t we get Tryba to design something else in town? Developers, take note!