Once again, it’s “Best Of” season. For decades print pubs — to include the Business Journal and its sister publication, the Colorado Springs Independent —have trumpeted their annual best-of issues to amuse and entertain their readers. They’re fun to compile, fun to read and great for advertising revenue. Like a chilled glass of our city’s most award-winning beer, they disappoint few, delight many and benefit the local economy.
Like every other local politician/columnist/journalist/civic do-gooder of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, I yearned for such recognition. I dimly remember getting an honorable mention as Best Politician and a third place tie for Best Journalist, but no wins! I might have placed higher if I’d worked harder, been smarter or chosen different career paths, but so what? My laziness gave me plenty of time to appreciate great books, brilliant business people and high achievers in every field.
Here’s an idea: How about a Colorado Springs Best Of All Time list? I’ve learned a lot since I popped into the world at Glockner Hospital 29,961 days ago, forgotten much and had more fun than I deserve.
Eligibility: Honorees must have substantially contributed to and enriched our city. Being born here doesn’t matter if you left town and became famous elsewhere, returning only to attend your parents’ funerals, or your high school reunion. No silvers, no bronzes — only golds. We’ll start with architects.
Thomas MacLaren was the go-to architect in Colorado Springs in the first quarter of the 20th century. He designed scores of buildings, most of which still stand. No job was too small, and none were too big. He didn’t restrict himself to any particular style, and respected the intelligence and ambition of his clients. Born in 1863 in Scotland, he came to Colorado Springs at the turn of the century and got to work. You recognize his work by its grace, enduring beauty and continuing utility. Consider City Hall, City Auditorium, Sacred Heart Church, North and West Junior High schools (now middle schools) and Carnegie Libraries in
the Springs, Manitou, Salida and Boulder.
Sacred Heart, located on the northeast corner of 21st Street and Colorado Avenue, shows that MacLaren wasn’t limited to gloomy buildings. As Cathleen Norman noted in In & Around Old
Colorado City: A Walking Tour, “[Sacred Heart] was patterned after the old Mission Church of San Felipe in Arizona, which has two doomed corner towers.” It’s a cheerful pink stucco structure, one that soothes congregants and neighbors alike. Erected in 1922, it has aged gracefully even as the neighborhood has changed over time.
Sadly, MacLaren has no peers. Thirteen of his buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including City Hall and the Aud, and half a dozen are in the North End Historic District. As a local journalist observed in 1902, applauding the plans for a new City Hall, “Since the founding of the city, both the municipal and county
offices have been housed in cheap, ramshackle buildings, entirely incommensurate to the dignity and standing of Colorado Springs and El Paso County.”
There have been many fine architects in the region during the last century, but none with MacLaren’s portfolio. RTA Architects has done good work for decades, especially with the Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center, but architectural firms today are collaborative, collective and corporate — no more one- and two-person firms. U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro have made quite a splash, but will they ever design another structure in our fair city?
Seems unlikely, unless Dick Celeste has some magnificently expensive Downtown scheme. Couldn’t he just partner with Perry Sanders, Phil Anschutz and DS+R to build a 150-story building that will make everything in the city look ramshackle?
Rock on, dreamers…