Once again, it’s sesquicentennial time. Last week, I listed five drivers of our history. Here are five more, listed chronologically.
The business of health, 1871-1946
Even before the city’s founding in 1871, the Pikes Peak region’s clean air, dry climate, abundant sunshine and high altitude were believed to be curative for respiratory diseases, especially tuberculosis. Gen. William Jackson Palmer’s new settlement was particularly appealing to invalids from the smoky industrial cities of the East Coast and Midwest who sought relief from a virtually incurable disease. “A migrant throng of [health seekers] supported a sizable American industry merchandising climate, location and services,” Helen Clapesattle noted in her biography of our city’s most noted TB physician, Dr. Gerald Webb. Many such migrants came to the Springs, got better and never left. Hospitals, sanatoriums, medical specialists, boarding houses and drugstores catered to their needs for more than 70 years, ending only when antibiotic treatment became widely available in 1946.
Camp Carson 1942
The Great Depression had severely affected Colorado Springs, and the city’s recovery was slow and uncertain. By 1939, hundreds of homes were for sale with few takers, dozens of Downtown storefronts were boarded up and city leaders saw only one way to end the misery. “It was plain to them,” wrote Marshall Sprague in Newport in the Rockies, “that since war was the world’s business, Pikes Peak must go to war too.” The city put together a 25,000-acre tract to offer the Army and rebutted claims that the region was buried in snow from October to April, while business leaders furiously lobbied Washington decision-makers. In mid-1941, they got the good news: The Army would immediately begin construction of a $30 million post in the Springs. Camp Carson opened Jan. 31, 1942, employing 11,500 workers at its peak during the war years. The local economy went from bust to boom in a few months, empty North End mansions were converted into apartments and the city’s military era began.
Air Force Academy 1954
Once President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill authorizing construction of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs quickly jumped to the head of the line. After a selection committee appointed by the secretary of the Air Force toured 67 potential sites, three finalists remained: Alton, Illinois; Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; and Colorado Springs. It was no contest; the committee voted 4-1 for the Springs. The Academy is a glittering military jewel in the city’s crown and is also a major visitor attraction, one that will be significantly improved by the planned Gateway Visitor Center. Also in 1954, Camp Carson was designated Fort Carson, completing the transformation of the hastily thrown-together WWII Army camp into a permanent post.
Boom and Bust 1941-2021
In 1941, my parents bought a dilapidated three-story home on North Tejon Street for $2,100. In the fall of 2020, the updated house sold for $971,000. In the sad annals of coulda/shoulda, I would have done well to stay in my childhood home rather than seeking my fortune in the great world. Yet although long-term real estate investments have always worked out, sudden collapses periodically hammer investors and speculators. Consider the Savings & Loan debacle of the 1980s, the high-tech exodus of the late 1990s and the financial crisis of 2008. In each of these instances, some folks bought high and sold low, as tenants went broke and banks closed the spigot. The question: Are we approaching another bust, with evaporating jobs and plummeting real estate prices fueled by soaring interest rates and high inflation? We’ll see.
City for Champions 2014
Former Mayor Steve Bach assured his legacy by securing $120 million in state sales tax increment funding to help build four visitor-related projects: the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame, a downtown stadium, a sports medicine center and a new Air Force Academy visitor center. The four morphed into five as the single stadium has been divided into two. The museum is open as is the sports medicine center, while the downtown soccer arena and the Colorado College hockey arena are near completion. City for Champions projects have ignited an extraordinary Downtown renaissance and will benefit the city for many decades. Thanks, Steve!