• Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum is an historic artifact worth preserving

    Fri, March 28, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    ARCHITECTURE

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum in a 2007 photo. Mark Reis / The Gazette.

    It’s no secret that I love the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    I love the building, which opened in May 1903 as the El Paso County Courthouse.

    And I love its contents — the collection of 40,000 items ranging from Van Briggle pottery and American Indian artifacts to the personal papers of Civil War Gen. William Jackson Palmer, who founded Colorado Springs and built the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.

    These artifacts tell the story of life in the Pikes Peak region. (In fact, a Side Streets column is one of the artifacts that has been on display!)

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum boasts three styles of columns: plain Doric on the bottom right, ornate Ionic in the middle and elaborate Corinthian on the far top tower. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum boasts three styles of columns: plain Doric on the bottom right, ornate Ionic in the middle and elaborate Corinthian on the far top tower. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    So it concerns me when I climb the steps to its doors and see cracks and missing chunks from its towering columns — which vary from Doric to Ionic and Corinthian, I’m told by Matt Mayberry, museum director. I hate to see the towers’ ornate, carved stonework crumbling.

    “The columns are melting away,” Mayberry said as he ran his hand over the deteriorating, decorative carvings.

    And it bothers me to see the stains and streaks of water damage under the windowsills around the elegant old building.

    “The building needs a thorough cleaning,” Mayberry said.

    When I look closer, my concerns grow. I see large pieces missing from archways over doors. Mortar is cracked or missing between the pink granite and rhyolite lava base stones. And a growing collection of pieces have fallen off the building.

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It’s a comfort to me that Mayberry and his staff have been diligent in pursuing funds to restore the structure. But money is tight for things such as power washing and new mortar. People tend to want to donate for a new exhibit or something to which they can proudly attach their names.

    That’s why I’m writing a note in support of the museum’s effort to secure a $190,000 grant from the State Historical Society to help fund Phase 4 of a decade-long restoration project.

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    In the first three phases, about $1 million was used to replace rusting metal and repair roof leaks and stones. Phase 3 is ongoing, and I watched Wednesday as a masonry magician finished work on an eroded column base near the main Tejon Street entrance.

    This is not easy or inexpensive work. Century-old mortar must be chemically analyzed for expansion and contraction rates so that matching mortar can be created. And some of the work is not easily accessible.

    Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, inspects decorative stone carving that has disintegrated on a column on the building. He is seeking a $190,000 grant from the State Historical Society to help fund the fourth phase of restoration work on the century-old building. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, inspects decorative stone carving that has disintegrated on a column on the building. He is seeking a $190,000 grant from the State Historical Society to help fund the fourth phase of restoration work on the century-old building. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It will be quite a trick to reach weathered and crumbling overhangs and windows.

    If Mayberry lands his grant and secures a 30 percent match from the city and private donations, Phase 4 will begin next summer on the north and south sides of the building. Then will come Phase 5, which will involve repairing and replacing doors and windows.

    “We started planning for this in 2005,” Mayberry said. “We hope to have it completed by 2016. Then the outside of the building should be good for another 100 years.”

    It’s pretty amazing to think that with a little more tender loving care the Pioneers Museum should stand for another 100 years. Consider that in 1963 the El Paso County Commission declared the building unusable and began planning a new courthouse — the rectangular monstrosity across Tejon Street.

    This building that now resides on the National Register of Historic Places serves as a 146-foot landmark in downtown with its bell tower, four-sided lighted clock, 38 carved Indian head keystones, two lion head fountains, cage elevator and more.

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It’s imperative that we preserve what enlightened Springs residents fought to save from demolition 50 years ago when they rallied behind a “Save the Courthouse Committee” and raised $250,000 to buy it.

    After this architectural gem was boarded up in 1972, I’m thrilled the museum was able to move in seven years later.

    And I’m happy to add my voice to those seeking grants and donations to preserve the museum.

    I’d love to see some deep-pockets benefactor step forward to transform the shuttered fourth courtroom into an exhibit space, restore the tower clock and ditch the clock’s electric motor for its historic water-pressure operation.

    A before-and-after comparison of cherubs over a doorway of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Courtesy photo.

    A before-and-after comparison of cherubs over a doorway of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Courtesy photo.

    About the museum
    • First two floors have large yellow columns, or pilasters, called scagliolia, or plaster painted to imitate marble.
    • Building materials include pink granite from Platte Canon quarry south of Denver and rhyolite tuff called cotapaxi lava from Kerr Quarries near Howard, west of Cañon City.
    • During its 60 years as a courthouse, its basement housed the offices of the courts, surveyors, county physician and coroner.
    • The 16 columns on the top of the clock/bell tower are cast iron.
    • Each of the four porticos are adorned with two cherubs holding blank shields. Original plans called for them to be inscribed with “Justitia Dedicata” or Dedicated to Justice.
    • The building has three floors. The tower is disproportionately tall because it was designed to accommodate a fourth story. The tower was centered in the building, north to south. But it is slightly off center, east to west, to accommodate a larger main courtroom.

    Lions head water fountains grace the north and south sides of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. They are believed to be horse water troughs. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Lions head water fountains grace the north and south sides of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. They are believed to be horse water troughs. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Timeline
    1899: Excavation begins
    Labor Day 1900: Cornerstone is laid
    May 1903: Opens as the ninth El Paso County Courthouse. Construction cost: $420,000. Architect: Augustus J. Smith.
    1963: El Paso County Commission starts planning a courthouse, declares old building unusable
    1966: Commission announces building will be demolished. A “Save the Courthouse Committee,” led by retired Brig. Gen. Kenneth Curtis, persuades the commission to build on a new site and preserve the old courthouse. It raises $250,000 to buy the building after a bond issue failed.
    Sept. 29, 1972: Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
    1972: Building is vacated by the county and boarded up
    1973: Building is deeded to Colorado Springs, which assumes ownership
    1979: Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum moves from its previous home in the gymnasium of the Knights of Columbus Hall at 25 W. Kiowa St.

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum features 38 Indian head keystones over archways  around the building. Each face is unique. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum features 38 Indian head keystones over archways around the building. Each face is unique. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Escape to Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park and recharge your soul

    Wed, March 26, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    A coyote pauses during a hunt in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park on March 22, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A coyote pauses during a hunt in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park on March 22, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    ESTES PARK – A fresh coat of wet snow made the coyote easy to spot as it trotted through the grass and boulders of the moraine.

    It winced as blowing snow pelted its face and coated its thick, reddish-tan fur. It stopped abruptly, crouched and stared intently at the snow-covered ground, its ears straight up and slightly twitching as it hunted in Saturday’s storm.

    Instinctively, I pulled my Jeep to the shoulder of the road and my wife, Cary, pulled out her binoculars. Soon she spotted a second coyote hunting on a parallel course a few yards away. See video of the coyotes here.

    Two coyotes hunt in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park on March 22, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Two coyotes hunt in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park on March 22, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It’s a well-rehearsed routine for us . . . cruising Rocky Mountain National Park, spotting wild animals and pulling off to watch and photograph them.

    This is where we go whenever we get a chance to escape and recharge. Spring break often has provided us the excuse to get away, as it did this year, and explore the park’s 415-square-miles of wilderness located just 140 or so miles north of Colorado Springs on the western edge of Estes Park.

    Since we met nearly 20 years ago, Cary and I have been all over the park on foot and by Jeep. We’ve hiked to the keyhole on Longs Peak (a hot spot on my ankle forced us to turn back) and driven to the continental divide via Fall River Road. And we’ve covered just about every place in between.

    Two elk rear up in Horseshoe Park along the Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park in a file photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Two elk rear up in Horseshoe Park along the Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park in a file photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    I first came to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park as a boy stuffed in the back of my family’s Plymouth Belvedere station wagon, pulling a pop-up camper to a campground along the Big Thompson River.

    After I started dating Cary, this was the first place I took her for a romantic getaway. I wanted her to know this magical place and fall in love with it the way I had.

    The setting is spectacular with Estes, its small shops and restaurants clustered where the Big Thompson and Fall rivers converge, filling a valley surrounded by soaring, jagged peaks including Longs Peak.

    Like most of the national park’s 3 million-plus annual tourists, we have visited in summer with our kids, when Estes Park is wall-to-wall with people and the roads are choked with RVs, minivans pulling campers, cars, motorcycles and bicycles.

    Bull elk spar in Horseshoe Park in a meadow along Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park in this March 22, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Bull elk spar in Horseshoe Park in a meadow along Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park in this March 22, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    We’ve ridden horseback, driven go-karts, roasted marshmallows over a campfire and waded in the streams.

    But more often Cary and I have come in the fall and spring when snow is flying, roads are mostly empty and, in town, many shops and restaurants are closed for the season.

    We’ve chuckled at the chipmunks that beg for scraps. We’ve marveled at the hearty marmots living in the harsh climate among the rocks high along Trail Ridge Road. And we’ve admired the Stellar’s jays that swoop among the Ponderosa pines, the bighorn sheep that nimbly dance along rocky hillsides and the massive elk fighting for dominance. We’ve also spent time searching for elusive moose.

    Cary and Bill Vogrin on their wedding day in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park.

    Cary and Bill Vogrin on their wedding day in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park.

    We like the solitude of the park in winter when it seems like it’s just us and the sheep, coyotes and the ubiquitous elk.

    Sitting by the road in snowstorms, we’ve seen deer and elk spar. We’ve spent hours listening to the bull elk bugle during the fall rut. We’ve hiked to waterfalls in the cold. And we’ve driven high in the park to see its meadows far below draped in white.

    It’s one of those places we find so special that we’ve brought many of our friends with us over the years. (I even brought my in-laws a couple times!)

    One evening, we drove slowly along as a coyote trotted nearby. Suddenly, it stopped, threw back its head and let out a chilling howl.

    Trout spawned in the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park in this 2006 photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Trout spawned in the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park in this 2006 photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Shortly, a haunting howl answered from across the meadow and the coyote took off in that direction. We were all in awe in our Jeep and Mike, my father-in-law, said you could live your entire life and never be lucky enough to see that happen.

    On another evening, I was lucky enough to see two elk rear up on their hind legs and thrash each other with their hooves. I called the photo “dancing elk” and still cherish it.

    Hiking the morning after a hard freeze and snow, we looked down at a stream feeding Sprague Lake and were surprised to see trout frozen in ice. Another time, in the same water, we watched trout spawning.

    The alluvial fan that was created after the Lawn Lake dam failed in 1982 sending water crashing down the Roaring River in Rocky Mountain National Park. The cascading water carried huge boulders and tons of gravel and rock which ripped down tall pine trees before fanning out at the base of Bighorn Mountain in Horseshoe Park, covering Fall River Road and changing the course of Fall River. This is a 2006 photo by Bll Vogrin / The Gazette

    The Lawn Lake dam failed in 1982 sending water crashing down the Roaring River in Rocky Mountain National Park, carrying huge boulders and tons of gravel and rock which ripped down pine trees, fanning out at the base of Bighorn Mountain in Horseshoe Park, covering Fall River Road and changing the course of Fall River. This is a 2006 photo by Bll Vogrin / The Gazette

    We’ve marveled at the enormity of natural disasters that have occurred there, like the Lawn Lake dam break in 1982 that hurled boulders the size of small houses down into the national park, tossing tall trees like toothpicks and changing the course of Fall River.

    But mostly, Cary and I have just loved being there.

    In fact, we fell in love there. We were married there in a meadow where the Big Thompson River meanders through willows and around boulders and trout gather in riffles and pools. It’s named Moraine Park but, ever since, we’ve called it Cary’s Meadow.

    Cary and Bill Vogrin on their wedding day in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park.

    Cary and Bill Vogrin on their wedding day in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park.

    For that one day, the snow-capped mountains, the aspen and elk were a mere backdrop to my bride in her wedding dress.

    We bought our wedding rings from a local jeweler, the Golden Ghost. We had our wedding brunch at the historic Stanley Hotel.

    And we started our marriage with a celebratory hike to Fern Falls, holding hands and talking about the future, our children, our careers, our dreams.

    This weekend, we still held hands as we cruised the park and talked. But our conversations have changed with time. Now we talk about getting our youngest through high school and college, about paying off the house and how we want to spend our retirement years perhaps by living in Estes and volunteering in the park. (I still want to finish that Longs Peak hike.)

    As we sat in the snow Saturday watching the coyote, I considered how much has happened since Cary and I first discovered our love of Estes and Rocky Mountain National Park and hiking and wildlife-watching and each other.

    I thought about how much this magical place has given me in my life. How lucky I’ve been.

    And I wondered how many more trips we’ll make here together. I’m hoping many more.

    Cary and Bill Vogrin return to spot where they married in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park in this March 23, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Cary and Bill Vogrin return to spot where they married in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park in this March 23, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Readers debate the tragedy of Joe Rivera’s death

    Sun, March 23, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Joe Rivera in an undated photo. Courtesy Legacy.com.

    Joe Rivera in an undated photo. Courtesy Legacy.com.

    Last Sunday I told the story of Joe Rivera, a star high school athlete and successful car salesman who ended up addicted to alcohol and drugs, spending his days panhandling on West Colorado Avenue until his death at age 48.

    The story triggered an emotional response among Rivera’s family and readers.

    The family criticized me for writing about his addiction, his arrests and his failed trips to rehabilitation centers. One relative called me a “sick, vengeful spirit,” rejecting my argument that the public needs to know the people living on our streets are humans deserving of respect and compassion who should not be dismissed or judged.

    But the vast majority of online comments, phone calls and emails were supportive of my attempt to put a human face on the issue. I was humbled by the number of people who said their husbands, brothers, sisters, mothers are battling demons much the same way Rivera did.

    Some readers, such as Vicki Gramm, noted that the people we see on the streets are not all addicts.

    “What many people don’t know are the ones that are homeless because of a recent crisis: a loss of a job, PTSD, etc.,” Gramm wrote. “It can happen in a matter of one or two paychecks. Can you go without one?”

    That sentiment was echoed by Estaven Shepard, who described the majority of the people on the street as “ordinary American citizens who are down on their luck, can’t find a job or have been victimized by our financial system, legal system or society in general.”

    Several readers attributed a surge in homelessness to a lack of mental health services.

    Toward the end of his life, Joe Rivera would stagger up West Colorado Avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street where he would collapse for hours as in this April 26, 2013, photo. Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. He spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Toward the end of his life, Joe Rivera would stagger up West Colorado Avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street where he would collapse for hours as in this April 26, 2013, photo. Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. He spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “I think unmanaged mental health regardless of the cause — PTSD, depression, diagnosed condition, abuse etc. — combined with self-medicating substance abuse will almost always lead to this outcome,” Marsha Rana Wayman said. “The takeaway from this is to try and get help as soon as possible.

    “I hope someone else facing a struggle reads this, heeds the warning and decides to make a different choice today.”

    Bryan Kochis wrote: “You can’t make good choices when you’re not in a healthy state of mind to begin with.”

    Others were more harsh in their assessments of Rivera and the homeless in general, condemning them for making poor choices to use alcohol and drugs, for failing to stop and for refusing help.

    Terry Murphy, who said he’s a firefighter working on the west side, criticized the city for not making panhandling illegal and for not locking up those found intoxicated in public and keeping them jailed until they are persuaded to change their lives.

    “Have them pick up trash on the road or clean up the camping areas along the creeks,” Murphy wrote. “Make it worse for them out there than going to rehab. They need to be forced to see how bad off they are. If they are constantly given shelter, detox, ambulance rides and hospital visits for free, they have no reason to change.”

    Many readers denounced that approach, saying it doesn’t recognize that addiction is not a choice and that mental illness also contributes to behaviors the rest of society views as abnormal.

    Joe Rivera, seen in the 1983 Coronado High School year book.

    Joe Rivera, seen in the 1983 Coronado High School year book.

    Steve Brown, executive director of Westside Cares, which provides emergency services to the homeless, said many don’t understand the complexity of homelessness. And they don’t appreciate how easily people can stumble into it.

    “We need to make the wider community understand that our neighbors in need are more like us than not like us,” Brown said. “It’s culturally unpopular to say, but the difference between me and Joe Rivera is not very far. That’s a scary thing to tell people.”

    And that’s why Brown believes it is important to tell the stories of people such as Rivera.

    “We need to recognize the people on the street are somebody’s sons and daughters and they are every bit as beloved by God as you and I,” said Brown, an ordained minister who has been at Westside Cares for 12 years.

    A surprising caller agreed with Brown. It was Michele Rivera, who married Joe Rivera in 1997 and had a son with him. She said it’s important that people realize how dangerous drugs and alcohol can be and how hard they are to quit.

    “They can destroy amazing people,” she said. “Without drugs or alcohol, Joe was Mr. Sunshine. He was a great father. Everyone loved him. But crack and meth turned him into a monster.

    “The whole point was simply that it can happen to anyone — a stock broker or the editor of The Gazette. It can happen.”

    Several readers offered condolences to Rivera’s family and friends and reminisced about his warm personality and his elite athletic ability.

    Joe Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. Rivera spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue each day, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. He is seen here in the 1983 Coronado High School yearbook.

    Joe Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. Rivera spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue each day, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. He is seen here in the 1983 Coronado High School yearbook.

    David Kuosman of Boulder summed up Rivera the best:

    “Thank you for your article on Joe Rivera. I know your article was really about the broader issues of homelessness and substance addiction across an over-arching backdrop of mental health concerns — and Joe Rivera was just the face for these issues, but it was a beautiful article about my friend Joe.

    “Joe was one of my best friends growing up in the Springs in the late 1970s. My older brother, Carl, (along with my younger sister, Debbie) and I would spend our summers with the Rivera brothers (Joe and Gabriel) at the downtown YMCA. Joe and Gabriel were amazing and vibrant boys — hysterically funny and extremely gifted athletes. Joe was actually a better soccer player than basketball player, although I think he preferred basketball.”

    Kuosman described how he and Carl would sometimes see Joe and Gabriel during their high school years at open gyms playing basketball. He was saddened to learn how his old friend’s life spiraled to a tragic end.

    “I’m sure the article was difficult for Joe’s family, but you should be commended for tackling the topic in an honest, candid, non-judgmental, and non-condescending manner,” Kuosman said. “These issues are difficult and pervasive in our society and they need light cast upon them.

    “And from a personal standpoint, I appreciate you reminding me of the beautiful soul that we knew as Jose (Joe) Rivera — I only hope your article initiates some wave of change in my brother to submit to long-term care for his issues. That too would be a fitting tribute to Joe.”

  • Couple hopes new owner will be lifesaver for Village Seven pool

    Fri, March 21, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Jacque Thurman stands in front of the Village 7 Swim Club pool on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. She and her husband, Mike Thurman, bought the pool in 2012 but have not had the money to open it. So they are trying to sell it. The pool was built in 1970 by developer Omer "Bud" Shepard to promote his Village Seven subdivision at Austin Bluffs Parkway and Academ;y Boulevard. It was managed eight years by Rose Rook who then bought it in 1978 and operated it until 2012 when she sold it to the Thurmans. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Jacque Thurman stands in front of the Village 7 Swim Club pool on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. She and her husband, Mike Thurman, bought the pool in 2012 but have not had the money to open it. So they are trying to sell it. The pool was built in 1970 by developer Omer “Bud” Shepard to promote his Village Seven subdivision at Austin Bluffs Parkway and Academy Boulevard. It was managed eight years by Rose Rook who then bought it in 1978 and operated it until 2012 when she sold it to the Thurmans. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It’s a bit of a fixer-upper. But with nearly an acre in the middle of Colorado Springs, it’s got a great location. And there’s plenty of parking and room for entertaining.

    And when it’s spruced up, I predict it will be one of the most popular places in the neighborhood.

    For sale: the Village 7 Swim Club on Nonchalant Circle South.

    That’s right, the neighborhood pool is for sale, listed on Facebook and craigslist websites for $149,000.

    What a rare opportunity for a family-run, neighborhood business.

    The secluded entrance to the Village 7 Swim Club on Nonchalant Circle South. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The secluded entrance to the Village 7 Swim Club on Nonchalant Circle South. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    That’s exactly what Jacque and Mike Thurman thought when they bought it in December 2012 from longtime owner Rose Rook.

    “We used to run a pool in Pennsylvania,” Mike told me. “That’s why we were attracted to this.”

    But once they started looking hard at the pool, they realized they’d taken on too expensive a project.

    “We just couldn’t make the numbers work,” he said.

    I could see the disappointment in his face as he showed me around the grounds.

    Although he and Jacque never swam at the Village 7 Swim Club, they spent many summers at pools in their native Pennsylvania. They came here in 1998 to work at Focus on the Family. Today, he owns a diagnostic lab for sleep disorders.

    Jacque said “unanticipated life changes and financial changes” forced the couple to abandon their pool dream.

    “We caught a vision of a family-owned pool our own kids could help us run in the summers,” Jacque said. “We thought it would be a great opportunity to teach our kids about hard work, ownership and businesses.”

    But they started adding up the cost of changes they wanted to make, like an estimated $50,000 for a new liner, and realized they couldn’t afford it.

    “I know somebody would like to see this pool come back to life,” she said.

    The trick is finding that person who shares their dream and will step in and reopen the place. It had been a summer hot spot since it opened Memorial Day 1970 to serve the 850 or so homes in Village Seven, a 1,500-acre neighborhood near Academy Boulevard and Austin Bluffs Parkway famed for its streets with whimsical names and miles of walking paths.

    Rose Rook coached the Village 7 Swim Team in Colorado Springs for 42 years until she retired in 2012 at age 84. She is seen in a June 15, 2007, Gazette file photo.

    Rose Rook coached the Village 7 Swim Team for 42 years until she retired in 2012 at age 84. She is seen in a June 15, 2007, Gazette file photo.

    When it opened, the pool was managed by Rose Rook, a native of Germany who married a U.S. soldier, Art Rook, who was then stationed at Fort Carson until his retirement.

    “We moved here in 1966,” Rose said. “In 1970 we bought a house in Village Seven and I was hired to manage it (the pool).”

    Then, in 1978, Village Seven developer Omer “Bud” Shepard asked Rook if she wanted to own the pool.

    Omer "Bud" Shepard in an undated file photo.

    Omer “Bud” Shepard in an undated file photo.

    “He said: ‘We don’t know anything about pools. Why don’t you just buy it from us?’ ” Rose said. “So we did.”

    They ran it as a private swim club, building a membership base of about 300 with a swim team that competed for years. She also gave lessons every summer, teaching thousands of children to swim over four decades.

    The pool struggled at times as the neighborhood changed.

    “Village Seven just didn’t have many kids anymore,” Rose said. “To sell out our memberships, we opened it to the whole city.”

    By 2012, Rose was no longer able to handle the daily operations.

    Rose Rook holds a water noodle during practice of the Village 7 Swim Team in this June 15, 2007, Gazette file photo. Rook coached the team 42 years until she retired in 2012.

    Rose Rook holds a water noodle during practice of the Village 7 Swim Team in this June 15, 2007, Gazette file photo. Rook coached the team 42 years until she retired in 2012.

    “I was very ill,” said Rose, 85. “I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

    And though she sold it to the Thurmans, Rose hasn’t been able to completely let go of it.

    For example, as the pool sat vacant, she became concerned neighbors would blame her for its appearance, with its dying grass and weeds everywhere.

    “It looks awful,” Rose said. “It never looked like that when I owned it. Even in the winter. I am very frustrated. I told them I’d come down and help them even though I can barely walk.”

    The basketball / volleyball courts at the Village 7 Swim Club. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The basketball / volleyball courts at the Village 7 Swim Club. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    She knows it’s important a new owner is found before things deteriorate too much.

    “People came back year after year,” Rose said. “It was a fun place.”

    Her memory was echoed by her daughter, Mary Jones, who became an avid swimmer like her mother and a prominent swimming coach in the area.

    “Our whole family swam there,” Mary said, fondly recalling her time there and her mother’s dedication. “She coached swimming until she was 84. We all spent our summers there and my kids grew up at the pool.”

    People from across Colorado Springs visited the pool, Mary said.

    The popular Shack Shack at the Village 7 Swim Club. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The popular Shack Shack at the Village 7 Swim Club. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “It was a wonderful family place,” she said. “If you asked me to pick one good memory, I couldn’t. There were just so many good memories.

    “There just aren’t places like that anymore.”

    Like her mother, Mary hopes the pool is reopened soon. After all, she wants her own granddaughter to swim there.

    Hopefully, the Thurmans say, they can find a buyer and get the pool reopened this summer.

    That hope is shared by neighbors including Matt Blanski, whose home backs up to the pool, which sits secluded among mature trees shading its basketball/volleyball court, playground and picnic areas.

    “I’m sure the whole neighborhood would use it,” Matt said. “When it first closed, people were talking about it. It would be nice to have it open again.”

    The playground and picnic area of the Village 7 Swim Club. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The playground and picnic area of the Village 7 Swim Club. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Goofy email brings call for colorful Colorado Springs characters

    Wed, March 19, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Phillip Cargile, the Wagon Man, stands along West Colorado Avenue on May 28, 2013.

    Phillip Cargile, the Wagon Man, stands along West Colorado Avenue on May 28, 2013.

    I don’t know about you, but I get some goofy email.

    And I’m not talking about the come-ons from Nigerian bankers and young girls promising to get “drunky” with me.

    These are from real people. Some are asking for help. Others think they want me to speak to their group. Some want me to join their club. (Clearly, they don’t know me.)

    For example, last week I was invited to become a charter member of the private club at the new Pinery at the Hill on Bijou Street across Interstate 25 from downtown Colorado Springs.

    The email promised “member mixers and power hours.” The initiation fee is just $600 with annual dues of $2,400.

    Do they not realize I’m a newspaper writer? Heck, $3,000 is what I paid for my 14-year-old Jeep!

    Thanks for thinking of me, Pinery. But it’s safe to say you won’t be bumping into me at any future power hours.

    But that isn’t the goofiest email I’ve gotten lately.

    On Monday, I received this inquiry from a fellow named Jake Rosen who said he’s an associate producer for ABC News as well as for the Travel Channel where he’s been asked to line up episodes for a pilot program that will take viewers to unique small towns and explore their history.

    Bill Boo BooI’ve had similar inquiries in the past. A producer for the Hoarders cable show once wrote and another Hollywood type was seeking candidates for a new reality TV show. (Funny, he rejected my idea of “Side Streets Boo Boo.”)

    This guy Rosen had a very specific request of me related to our marijuana trade. He’d seen my columns about drug dealing in Shooks Run and knuckleheads who broke into pot shop trash bins.

    Drug RV Angry Man

    A man suspected by neighbors of dealing drugs from his house in Shooks Run did not like being photographed in July 2010. Gazette file photo.

    He wanted me to provide him names of “people who dive into dispensaries dumpsters and get their left over weed and sell it on the black market.”

    Or, he’d like me to hook him up with an “ex-street dealer who used to sell pot but with the legalization his biz has gone bad and he/she is leaving the state.”

    Sure, Jake. I’ll set you up with that drug dealer pronto. I’m sure he’s on my speed-dial. And the dumpster divers, too. Got ‘em in my Rolodex.

    Finally, I got an email from a reader in London. As in England. (I guess my accent doesn’t throw them off!)

    Ken Graham of Soda Folk.  Courtesy photo.

    Ken Graham of Soda Folk. Courtesy photo.

    Anyway, this sounded like a request from a legitimate reader: Ken Graham, who said he is a native of Colorado Springs who moved across the pond in 2012.

    “I’ve been reading your Side Streets column for a long time, and still check in now and then to get a glimpse of what’s going on in my home town,” Graham wrote.

    He was inspired to write after reading my profile of Tim Burke, who recently closed Ethan’s Room Skate Shop in the basement of his advertising agency.

    Graham explained that he had started “Soda Folk,” a company that produces “all-natural, premium American soft drinks for UK customers.” (Reckon he’s going to sell a lemon-limey drink?)

    He’d settled on a product motto: “Uncommon Flavor for Uncommon Folk.” But he said he was struggling to create brand names for each flavor. I checked out his website, sodafolk.com, and he seemed to be for real.

    “So it occurred to me that the labels should celebrate some of the fascinating people I met growing up in Colorado who embodied my and my company’s values,” Graham said. “I’m still on the hunt for other remarkable people, and was hoping you might be willing to help.”

    He wants the names and images of a few “uncommon folk” who are “unique to Colorado” and willing to have their portraits drawn for his labels.

    So I’m thinking maybe Side Streets readers have some ideas for Soda Folk labels.

    I have a few immediate recommendations for Graham.

    He’s got to create a Wagon Man energy drink. After all, Wagon Man Phillip Cargile walks hours every day with his arm outstretched, reaching out to all who see him. He’s a natural and a great visual with his tattered coveralls and straw cowboy hat.

    Rose Ella Scott Arveson Simmons

    Rose Ella Scott Arveson Simmons

    I’d also suggest Rose Arveson, whose daughters promoted her for sainthood claiming roses they placed on her casket had wilted, died and been resurrected 10 days after her burial and they cured people who touched them. Perhaps Graham should sell a Saint Rose bottled water. Holy water.

    Not sure if Graham only wants humans. But I’d also suggest the Rockrimmon Buck, which became famous after it perched on a retaining wall to recuperate after a hard winter of rutting.

    Nothing says outdoors Colorado like a huge buck with unique antlers. (Try to forget that he was beat up, limping and ended up killed, probably hit by a car, along Highway 115.) The buck could be the face of a cream soda, maybe?

    Please add your suggestions on Facebook or send them to me by email.

    The Rockrimmon Buck in January 2013. Gazette file photo.

    The Rockrimmon Buck in January 2013. Gazette file photo.

  • Joe Rivera’s tragic life and death illustrate the complexity of the homeless issue

    Sun, March 16, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Joe Rivera spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. He is seen here on Dec. 6, 2013. Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse.Cary Leider Vogrin / The Gazette

    Joe Rivera spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life was a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. He is seen here on Dec. 6, 2013. Cary Leider Vogrin / The Gazette

    They are known as the homeless. Street people. Panhandlers, beggars, hobos, bums, crazies, drunks and junkies.

    The labels make them easier to dismiss as sub-humans and mere distractions.

    To many they are harmless irritants who try to coax money for food, booze or drugs.

    They sleep in shelters, cheap motels, with friends and relatives, under bridges, in tents and on park benches. But most just call them “homeless.”

    Many are troubled by their appearance on street corners and at parks across Colorado Springs. As their numbers grow, calls have gone out for a solution.

    Joe Rivera was one of these folks. In fact, many of the labels applied to him.

    And the tragic story of Rivera’s troubled life and recent death at age 48 illustrates how complex these people of the street are and how difficult, if not impossible, it will be to find a solution that provides shelters, treatment, day centers or whatever else is needed to help.
    ___

    Joe Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. Rivera spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue each day, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. He is seen here in the 1983 Coronado High School yearbook.

    Joe Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. Rivera spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue each day, washing windows for cash and panhandling. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. He is seen here in the 1983 Coronado High School yearbook.

    To look at the Coronado High School yearbooks from 1982 and ’83, it’s a surprise that Rivera ended up being a guy who cruised West Colorado Avenue every day for years, in sun, rain or snow, often pulling a red wagon with a bucket and squeegee, offering to wash windows for cash . . . money he would spend on liquor and drugs.

    In the yearbooks, Rivera was pictured as a soccer player and the star of the basketball team.

    There was even a large photo of the young Rivera with a bushy head of hair standing calmly at the free throw line in his No. 34 jersey, contemplating his next shot.

    Rivera was such a good basketball player he earned a scholarship to Trinidad State Junior College and the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo, as it was known.

    But his basketball career never developed and gave way to jobs selling cars, first on a family-owned lot and then at car dealerships on Auto Row.

    How Rivera’s life deteriorated into years spent drunk and even unconscious on the streets was pieced together talking to friends of his family, business owners and Colorado Springs police who came to know him.
    ___

    I was among those who encountered Rivera along West Colorado Avenue where my wife, Gazette journalist Cary Leider Vogrin, owns a small business.

    Even before her business opened, Cary met Rivera when he showed up at her store with his bucket and squeegee offering to wash her windows for cash. He was even a customer from time to time.

    But the encounters became troubling over the years as his behavior became bizarre and even frightening.

    His squeegee bucket became a prop to hide his vodka or Evil Eye or Pit Bull or whatever he was drinking.

    And rather than a polite window-washer he became a sometimes aggressive panhandler.

    Toward the end of his life, Joe Rivera would stagger up West Colorado Avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street where he would collapse for hours as in this April 26, 2013, photo. Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. He spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Toward the end of his life, Joe Rivera would stagger up West Colorado Avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street where he would collapse for hours as in this April 26, 2013, photo.  He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Over the years he became a common sight along the avenue, standing with open containers of booze, urinating in the street or parking lot, brawling with other street people and collapsing unconscious on benches.

    Toward the end of his life, Rivera would stagger up the avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street. He would drink until he passed out, slumped over with his head smack up against the stone wall. Sometimes he stayed like that for hours as cars roared past.

    Cary had heard many stories about Rivera. She began asking folks who knew Rivera and his family about him in hopes of helping him.

    What she and I learned was heartbreaking. And it resembled the stories other street people have told Cary as she has befriended them and sometimes reunited them with long-lost families. We both conducted interviews for this story.
    ___

    To the casual observer, Rivera was only another “homeless” person. But the term didn’t accurately apply to him. He had plenty of family in Colorado Springs who took him in and tried to help him. And he had friends who took him in. Repeatedly.

    His family declined repeated requests for interviews. I don’t blame them. They told me they want to remember the young, charismatic athlete full of promise and not dwell on his ugly life on the street.

    Ghana Evans went to grade school and junior high with Rivera and recalls his friend as athletic, very friendly and competitive.

    Joe Rivera, seen in the 1983 Coronado High School year book.

    Joe Rivera, seen in the 1983 Coronado High School year book.

    “He was one of my best friends at school,” Evans said, describing how they practiced high jumping on an old mattress in the back yard and tried to imitate the basketball dunks of Julius Erving.

    “He was very active, very athletic,” said Evans, who works at a gas station on West Colorado Avenue.

    The friends parted ways when they went to different high schools. Evans joined the Navy and didn’t see Rivera for years.
    ___

    Evans and many of his family and friends thought basketball would be Rivera’s future.

    “I asked him one time why he didn’t stick with that,” said Officer Bobby Jeffords, a 35-year veteran of the Colorado Springs Police who frequently dealt with Rivera while patrolling the neighborhood as part of a dedicated westside team.

    “It was very sad. He said: ‘I got involved in drugs and alcohol.’”

    Instead of pursuing basketball, Rivera started selling cars and spending his free time drinking and doing drugs.

    “Joe was a great car salesman,” said Linda Schlarb, who has owned Old Town Propane at 2725 W. Colorado Ave. for 21 years and is friends with one of Rivera’s uncles. “His uncle said Joe made more money than any kid that age should make and he started getting into drugs. Eventually he got into trouble.”
    ___

    Drug and alcohol abuse led to arrests, the first in 1985 at age 20, according to public records.

    By the time he died Jan. 21, Rivera had gone to jail 35 times and received numerous summons for public intoxication, open containers of alcohol, urinating in public and other petty crimes, police said.

    Friends and acquaintances recite a series of arrests, stints in jail and trips to rehab.
    After one of those episodes about nine years ago, Schlarb said Rivera started washing windows, pulling his bucket and squeegee in a little red wagon.

    “But he was always drunk so I wouldn’t let him wash my windows,” she said. “If they come in drunk, I won’t help them and Joe would get rip-roaring drunk.”

    Lori Daugherty of Olde Town Optical and Gifts across the street had similar experiences with Rivera before she closed her business.

    “We used to hire him to do our windows,” Daugherty said. “And he did a good job.”

    Then he started asking to borrow money. And he lied, telling Daugherty he wanted to buy a squeegee pole.

    “We lent him the $40 to get the poles because we wanted to help him out because he was trying to get back on his feet,” she recalled. “He went right down the street … to the liquor store. That was the end of it.”

    He never paid the money back and began begging for cash instead of washing windows.

    “He noticed (others) were making more money bumming money and they didn’t have to work,” Daugherty said. “That’s when he started bumming and not working.”

    Eventually they banned him from their shop because he kept coming in drunk.

    Other business owners also reached out to Rivera, said Martin Camarata, who operates Chip Monk Windshield Repair at 30th Street and Colorado Avenue.

    “A lot of people tried to help Joe,” Camarata said. “But he was one of those people you just couldn’t help.”
    ___

    Despite the problems Rivera might have caused, the locals on the avenue also shared a concern for his well-being.

    Daugherty said she and her husband would call his mother when Rivera’s behavior became extremely bizarre.

    “Everybody knew him and even when he was at his craziest, you might say, he was just a fixture on the Westside,” she said. “We kept trying to help him out so he could get back on his feet. When you didn’t see him you kinda wondered: ‘Well, where the heck is he now?’”

    Camarata recalled giving Rivera rides to a family member’s home after he had a particularly bad fight or when he was passed out in extreme cold.

    “A half-dozen times I’d pick him up in my Suburban, pile him in and drive him to his mom’s house,” he said. “She’d try to take care of him. Within a week or two, he’d leave and he’d be out there again.”
    ___

    For boyhood friend Evans, it was a shock when returned to the old westside neighborhood after 10 years in the Navy and saw Rivera for the first time.

    “I recognized him and I had to sit,” Evans said. “I was surprised to see what condition he was in.”

    Joe Rivera in an undated photo. Courtesy Legacy.com.

    Joe Rivera in an undated photo. Courtesy Legacy.com.

    And like others on the avenue, Evans rooted for his old friend when he came back from rehab sober and looking good.

    “He was more sane than when he was drinking heavily,” Evans said.

    That was the case last fall after his last stint in rehab.

    “I hadn’t seen him in a while and I asked him how he was doing,” Evans said, describing how they reminisced about their carefree days as boys playing sports in the backyard.

    “He said he was doing better,” Evans said. “(But) I could tell he had been drinking a little bit already. I just told him I wished the best for him.”

    Camarata remembers being encouraged at seeing Rivera sober, too.

    “One day he walked up and it was the cleanest I ever saw Joe,” Camarata said. “He said hello. He looked me eye-to-eye and he seemed like a different person. His brother told me Joe had been to rehab. He was a different man. I was so glad.”

    But the sobriety didn’t last.

    “It wasn’t a month later he’d fallen off the wagon,” Camarata said.
    ___

    Given Rivera’s history, it was no surprise to Jeffords when, after only a few weeks, his sobriety ended.

    “He was standing next to a liquor store, can of beer in his hand,” Jeffords said, describing how he and his partner were on patrol at the time.

    “He tipped it up and we were driving by,” Jeffords said. “We stopped and we did write him up. Our thought was, the only way he’s going to get help is if he’s forced into it.”

    Rivera was drinking a 24-ounce can of malt liquor beer. He received a $100 ticket.

    Once Rivera got enough tickets, as the routine typically went, a judge would offer him the option of going to jail or back to long-term rehab.

    “The only option we had was writing him up,” Jeffords said.
    ___

    But there would be no more rehab for Rivera. Many who know Rivera believe he died after sleeping outside during severely cold weather in December and January.

    Schlarb said Rivera’s family said he became ill from exposure to the cold.

    “He got pneumonia,” she said, adding that family said his condition deteriorated and led to his death.

    There was no autopsy available from the El Paso County Coroner’s office.

    His death didn’t surprise many but saddened those who came to know him.

    “He was somebody’s brother,” Daugherty said. “He was somebody’s son. I just feel so bad for his mom.”

    Camarata called his death a tragedy.

    Schlarb said it was sad and a reflection on the family’s inability to get mental health professionals to commit Rivera for inpatient treatment.

    “The family was trying to help him,” she said. “But the courts decided he wasn’t crazy enough to be put away and given medication. That, to me, is just wrong.”

    Jeffords echoed the general feeling of sadness.

    “I kinda miss the guy, actually,” Jeffords said. “The whole thing is just very sad.”
    ___

    Perhaps the saddest thing is that Rivera’s is not an unusual case.

    His history of substance abuse, mental illness and self-destructive choices is mirrored in many of the estimated 1,170 people who described themselves as homeless in the 2013 survey led by the Pikes Peak United Way. Of that total, about 300 described themselves as chronic homeless.

    Many more live in shelters, motels, group homes and with friends and relatives but spend their time on the streets.

    “There’s a lot more ‘Joes’ out there,” Jeffords said. “They are guys that have problems with alcohol or drugs. They were college students or professionals with great jobs and families who got hooked on something and it took them right down the drain.”

    He described how he’s been working with two guys recently who sleep under a bridge rather than go to a shelter or enter a program.

    “There’s no magic out there to stop somebody like Joe from being self-destructive,” Jeffords said. “You can talk until you are blue in the face. You can tell them they are killing themselves. But you can’t stop them.”

    I considered Jeffords’ observations, and it really bothered me. I’d like to think Rivera was an extreme case. But Jeffords convinced me he was not.

    “Joe was definitely not a unique individual,” Jeffords said again. “There are a lot of Joe Riveras out there.”

    Toward the end of his life, Joe Rivera would stagger up West Colorado Avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street where he would collapse for hours as in this April 26, 2013, photo. Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. He spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Toward the end of his life, Joe Rivera would stagger up West Colorado Avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street where he would collapse for hours as in this April 26, 2013, photo. Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse.  His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Blight to Bright may help reduce Colorado Springs’ condemned, abandoned homes

    Fri, March 14, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Curtis Olson stands in front of a string of condemned houses on East Brookeside Street on March 12, 2014. He hopes his nonprofit organization Blight to Bright will help reduce the number of blighted properties in Colorado Springs by taking ownership and demolishing them or helping owners develop a plan to make the habitable. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Curtis Olson stands in front of a string of condemned houses on East Brookeside Street on March 12, 2014. He hopes his nonprofit organization Blight to Bright will help reduce the number of blighted properties in Colorado Springs by taking ownership and demolishing them or helping owners develop a plan to make the habitable. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Curtis Olson hates seeing boarded-up homes, like the string of deteriorating bungalows on East Brookside Street near Cheyenne Creek that are targets for street people, drug dealers and vandals.

    Olson, 50, knows that condemned houses are a blight on a neighborhood and erode property values in every direction.

    And Olson is trying to do something about it: he has founded a nonprofit agency, BlightToBright.org, to help rid the city of blighted houses. He’s especially interested in what the industry calls “zombie” properties that sit vacant and allowed to deteriorate because the owner has abandoned them.

    BlightIt’s a nationwide problem. A study released Thursday by RealtyTrac, which compiles housing data nationwide, reported 21 percent of homes in foreclosure nationwide in February had been vacated by the owner, making them what’s known as zombie properties. The data was part of its U.S. Foreclosure Market Report.

    Those sorts of statistics motivate Olson to act before Colorado Springs joins cities such as Detroit, Cleveland and many others under attack by zombie properties.

    To launch his project, Olson is mailing brochures to the owners of the top 100 houses on the city’s list of condemned properties. The brochures offer to help the owners develop a plan to get rid of the houses, most of which are uninhabitable and would cost more to repair than they are worth.

    “These houses are dilapidated magnets for crime,” Olson said. “They are the worst of the worst. They need to be scraped so a new owner can start over.”

    Olson said he’s troubled that Colorado Springs’ strident property rights stance has allowed houses here to stay condemned for years, even decades in some cases. And he’s frustrated that an anti-blight ordinance enacted in 2006 has rarely resulted in the demolition of zombies.

    A condemation notice on an abandoned house on East Brookside Street where a cluster of condemned houses sit. Curtis Olson hopes his nonprofit organization Blight to Bright will help reduce the number of blighted properties in Colorado Springs by taking ownership and demolishing them or helping owners develop a plan to make the habitable. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A condemation notice on an abandoned house on East Brookside Street where a cluster of condemned houses sit. Curtis Olson hopes his nonprofit organization Blight to Bright will help reduce the number of blighted properties in Colorado Springs by taking ownership and demolishing them or helping owners develop a plan to make the habitable. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    In studying the city’s condemned house list, Olson has found several similarities among them: acute physical deterioration and financial distress often coupled with absentee owners.

    “Many are owned by people who live out of state,” Olson said. “They may have inherited the properties and don’t know what they own. Many think they are worth a lot more than they really are.”

    In fact, many condemned properties in Colorado Springs are upside-down financially. Thousands in tax liens, code enforcement fines and penalties, home-owners association fines and other debts have piled up against the properties.

    Or they are so badly damaged by neglect or abuse that it would never pay to repair them.

    “You can’t make any money off them,” Olson said. “So they sit and rot.”

    That’s where Blight To Bright can help, he said.

    It invites owners to donate their blighted properties to the agency in exchange for a tax deduction. Blight To Bright will tackle the legal and financial issues preventing its occupancy.

     Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Or, Olson said, Blight to Bright will buy the property after working with the El Paso County Assessor’s Office to get a realistic value of the condemned house. Such sales probably won’t net much cash, Olson conceded. But it would be an incentive for the owner to act.

    The agency also offers to help the owner develop a plan to reclaim the house from the condemned list with a list of repairs to be completed on a strict timeline.

    Olson said Colorado Springs risks losing its status as one of the most beautiful places to live if it continues to allow blight to creep in.

    “These houses are scattered all over our neighborhoods,” Olson said.

    He moved his family to the area from Austin, Texas, 13 years ago after a career with Dell Computers.

    He was shocked to learn that houses here can sit condemned for 40 years, as in the case of the Joseph O’Brien house at 715 N. 24th St., near Thorndale Park in the historic Ramona neighborhood on the city’s west side.

    “We’ve got a system that is absolutely broken if somebody is allowed to have a house condemned 40 years,” Olson said. “This house has had 70 code enforcement calls. We are pouring money down the drain by repeatedly sending officers, writing up reports, meeting with the owner.”

    The city, Olson said, would be saving money by being more aggressive, taking those types of houses to court and being done with them.

    This condemned house is among a string of similar abandoned houses on East Brookeside Street, as seen on March 12, 2014. Curtis Olson hopes his nonprofit organization Blight to Bright will help reduce the number of blighted properties in Colorado Springs by taking ownership and demolishing them or helping owners develop a plan to make the habitable. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    This condemned house is among a string of similar abandoned houses on East Brookeside Street, as seen on March 12, 2014. Curtis Olson hopes his nonprofit organization Blight to Bright will help reduce the number of blighted properties in Colorado Springs by taking ownership and demolishing them or helping owners develop a plan to make the habitable. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “Some cities can take these properties, auction them off for $1 on the courthouse steps with the condition they must be razed within three months,” he said.

    Olson rejects those who insist the owners of condemned houses have a sacred property right that allows them to neglect their houses as long as they want.

    “Why do the property rights of the owners of dilapidated houses trump the rights of somebody living next door?” Olson said. “In a neighborhood, you share your property rights with your neighbors. That’s what living in a community is all about.

    “But these people are stomping all over their neighbors’ property rights and getting away with it.”
    Olson has a couple of key supporters who hope he attracts donors, volunteers and condemned houses.

    “He’s really nailed what the problem is,” said Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors & Organization, the umbrella organization for the city’s neighborhoods.

    “And he’s figured out he’s got to change the equation for something to happen,” Munger said. “Of all the solutions to blight that I’ve heard, his is the most likely to make it possible for people who have been hanging on to these properties because they can’t sell them to get rid of them and put them back into the marketplace.”

    Tom Wasinger, the city’s code enforcement administrator, echoed Munger’s assessment of Blight to Bright and welcomes anyone willing to join his effort in reducing the inventory of condemned houses.

    “I view his agency as another tool available to us,” Wasinger said. “We’d recommend him or any other agency willing to take on this problem to an owner at his wit’s end with a condemned house.”

    But Olson faces a huge challenge. He’s got to persuade property owners to turn over blighted houses. And he needs to persuade others in the community to donate cash and services to help him buy and scrape condemned houses. And convince them he’s not running a get-rich-quick scam.

    “He’s got to find the right help,” Munger said. “He’s not going to gain anything personally. That’s not his motivation. He’s just a guy who loves this community and sees this as a problem he can make an impact on.”

    A string of condemned houses sit abandoned on East Brookeside Street on March 12, 2014. Curtis Olson hopes his nonprofit organization Blight to Bright will help reduce the number of blighted properties in Colorado Springs by taking ownership and demolishing them or helping owners develop a plan to make the habitable. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A string of condemned houses sit abandoned on East Brookeside Street on March 12, 2014. Curtis Olson hopes his nonprofit organization Blight to Bright will help reduce the number of blighted properties in Colorado Springs by taking ownership and demolishing them or helping owners develop a plan to make the habitable. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Take a trip up historic Colorado Springs clock tower for unique Daylight Saving Time experience

    Wed, March 12, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

     

    The clock tower of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum seen on March 10, 2014. It opened in 1903 as the El Paso County Courthouse. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The clock tower of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum seen on March 10, 2014. It opened in 1903 as the El Paso County Courthouse. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    If you are like me — and for everyone’s sake let’s hope not — then you struggle to get all your clocks changed twice a year when Daylight Saving Time forces us to spring forward or fall back.

    In my case it’s a matter of holding the “time set” and “hour” buttons down together on my cheap, plastic wristwatch. But somehow it takes me several times to get the stove, microwave, car radios and bedroom alarm clocks all changed.

    Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, explains what all the gears, levers, pulleys and chains do on the clock in the tower of the building in this March 10, 2014 photo. Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

    Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, explains what all the gears, levers, pulleys and chains do on the clock in the tower of the building in this March 10, 2014 photo. Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

    Luckily I don’t have to worry about a clock as complicated as the unique antique that runs the huge four-sided clock in the 158½-foot-tall tower of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    It’s a confusing assortment of various size brass gears and pulleys and arms attached to wheels and cylinders and bicycle chains and cables.

    Unlike me, museum director Matt Mayberry, seems to understand how all the wheels and gears and pulleys and things work and agreed to take me behind the “No Admittance” sign and let me watch him change the time Monday after Daylight Saving Time struck once again.

    (Here’s a video of the behind-the-scenes tour.)

    It was quite an adventure, actually, as we exited the steel cage elevator and walked in the dark through the fourth-floor storage labyrinth of the museum.

    We stopped briefly to step out onto the museum roof to get a closer view of the exterior of the 10-foot-tall clock faces.

    This E. Brown & Co. clock has operated in the tower of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum tower since 1913 when it replaced the original clockworks. The building opened in 1903 as the El Paso County Courthouse. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    This E. Brown & Co. clock has operated in the tower of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum tower since 1913 when it replaced the original clockworks. The building opened in 1903 as the El Paso County Courthouse. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Then we resumed our climb. The whole place looked like the set of a Hitchcock movie as we climbed a steel staircase inside the red-brick tower to reach the level where the clock machinery stands.

    The heart of the clock, made by the famous E. Howard & Co. of Boston, looks like an ancient Singer sewing machine on steroids. It’s an impressive four-legged black steel beast with lots of places where you could do some serious damage to your fingers if you put them in the wrong place.

    (It’s actually the second clock to grace the tower. The first, installed when the building opened in 1903 as the El Paso County Courthouse, worked about as well as my plastic wristwatch and was replaced in 1913 with this Howard beauty.)

    A long steel rod stretches from each of the four clock faces in to a set of gears above the clock works. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A long steel rod stretches from each of the four clock faces in to a set of gears above the clock works. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A long steel rod stretches from each of the four faces, uniting at a central gear directly above the clockworks.

    Below, the assorted wheels and pulleys and gears transfer power from an electric motor up and out to the clock’s hands.

    Of course, we were watching the hands move from the inside, peering at shadows on the milky glass face of the clocks.

    Pretty cool!

    To change the time, Mayberry pulled a pin and rotated a gear and did a couple other things I didn’t quite understand and, voilá, the hands moved forward an hour causing an arm to lurch, a cable to jerk and the huge bell above us to ring eight times.

    The original pendulum and assorted other rods and gears sit in a corner, awaiting a hoped future restoration. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The original pendulum and assorted other rods and gears sit in a corner, awaiting a hoped future restoration. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    I noticed an assembly of old steel rods and some cranks and gears piled in the corner and under the clockworks and asked Mayberry about them. One was a long pendulum.

    “It used to hang from the clockwork and swing back and forth through a hole in the floor into the room below,” Mayberry said. “The clock ran on a water-pressure system. Weights stretched out on either side of the clock and hung down below, too.”

    He pointed to long, narrow wooden channels that stretched through the floor and to the ceiling above us.

    The operating instructions for the 1913 clock in the tower of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The operating instructions for the 1913 clock in the tower of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “Around the 1950s, the pendulum crashed to the floor below,” Mayberry said. “I guess they got tired of fixing it and converted to an electric system.”

    No longer did they have to worry about the pendulum crashing or having to crank the clock or worry about the weight hanging.

    Actually, Mayberry would like to restore the clock to its original power source and re-hang the pendulum.

    I hope it happens. I love the idea of a community clock, even if everyone has Greenwich Mean Time at their fingertips in their smart phones.

    I love the history behind the clock in the courthouse tower in the center of the town square.

    “This clock dates to a time when individual clocks were much less reliable and people needed a centralized way of keeping time,” Mayberry said. “Especially in a railroad town. In fact, railroads usually were the official timekeeper of a city.”

    American HistoryI read a great history of time in “American History Revised” by Seymour Morris Jr. In it, Morris recalled how confusing time was 150 years ago. Instead of four local time zones — Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific — there were hundreds of local times. In Michigan, for example, traveling east to west meant changing your watch 20 times, Morris wrote.

    That’s why the community clock, on a courthouse or church steeple or business, was so important.

    “Throughout cities and villages, the correct time was the time according to the clock on the church steeple,” Morris wrote. “People walked by daily and calibrated their watches to it.”

    In cities, it was common for a large ball on top of a tall building to drop at straight-up noon — as occurs each New Years Eve in Times Square.

    Before the clock was converted to an electric motor in the 1950s, it was wound weekly by a hand crank, seen here with spare gears and other parts. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Before the clock was converted to an electric motor in the 1950s, it was wound weekly by a hand crank, seen here with spare gears and other parts. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “In large cities like Chicago or Kansas City, the number of people watching every day was in the thousands,” Morris wrote.

    But local timekeeping didn’t allow railroads to run on time prompting them to simplify timekeeping by setting up their own timetables.

    Finally, the railroads held a “general time convention” and agreed to standardize time by dividing the nation into four zones. Railroads implemented the policy on Nov. 18, 1883, and all railroad clocks were synchronized. By 1918, Congress made it official by adopting the Standard Time Act, making railroad time mandatory everywhere, Morris wrote.

    Even though I have a clock on my phone, in my cars, computers and virtually everywhere, I still find myself glancing at the Pioneers Museum clocktower for the time.

    For me, it’s probably out of nostalgia.

    And because I broke my wristwatch trying to set the darn thing.

    The view from behind the west face of the clock in the tower of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The view from behind the west face of the clock in the tower of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Colorado Springs coalition determined to restore Tahama Springs

    Sun, March 9, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    This octaganol concrete pad and stone well in Monument Valley Park in downtown Colorado Springs once were part of Tahoma Spring, an alluvial spring that flows about two gallons per minute according to recent testing, as seen March 5, 2014. A coalition hopes to raise $250,000 and restore the Spanish-style pavilion with eight archways, benches and a steel hand pump. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    This octagonal concrete pad and stone well in Monument Valley Park in downtown Colorado Springs once were part of Tahama Spring, an alluvial spring that flows about two gallons per minute according to recent testing, as seen March 5, 2014. A coalition hopes to raise $250,000 and restore the Spanish-style pavilion with eight archways, benches and a steel hand pump. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    In Monument Valley Park along the west banks of Monument Creek in downtown Colorado Springs, sheltered by a grove of towering old trees just past the pedestrian bridge, sits an octagonal concrete pad with a stone well in the middle.

    But the well is abandoned and there are only hints to what stood there decades ago.

    Cement caps the stone well where a steel hand pump produced "health-giving" water from Tahama Spring in Monument Valley Park in downtown Colorado Springs, as seen March 5, 2014. A coalition hopes to raise $250,000 and restore the Spanish-style pavilion with eight archways, benches and a steel hand pump. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Cement caps the stone well where a steel hand pump produced “health-giving” water from Tahama Spring in Monument Valley Park in downtown Colorado Springs, as seen March 5, 2014. A coalition hopes to raise $250,000 and restore the Spanish-style pavilion with eight archways, benches and a steel hand pump. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Two holes in the well’s concrete cap reveal where a steel pipe once was attached to a hand pump and another to a drain.

    Along the perimeter of the large concrete pad, steel bolts protrude — evidence of benches now long gone.

    You have to really use your imagination to guess this was the site of a large, Spanish-style pavilion with ceramic roof tiles, stucco walls and eight arches surrounding one of the alluvial springs that gave the city its name.

    Tahama Spring in Monument Valley Park in downtown Colorado Springs is seen in this undated photo. Courtesy Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    Tahama Spring in Monument Valley Park in downtown Colorado Springs is seen in this undated photo. Courtesy Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    This was Tahama Springs and the elegant structure — gone nearly 50 years now — protected a steel hand pump used to draw water.

    It also sheltered three large, round bronze plaques, or medallions, honoring city founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, explorer and Army Lt. Zebulon Pike whose name graces our signature mountain, and Chief Tahama, the Sioux Indian from Winona, Minn., who befriended Pike and became famous as an Indian ally to the U.S. government who even fought for this country in the War of 1812.

    Sioux Indian Chief Tahama, also known as Chief Standing Moose. Tahama was born in 1776 near Winona, Minn. He lost an eye in a childhood accident, prompting his nickname “Tamaha” ir “One eye.” Tamaha became a friend of Army Lt. Zebulon M. Pike and fought in the War of 1812. For his loyalty to the U.S., Tamaha was presented a Peace Medal and Loyalty papers by William Clarke. Tamaha was a liaison between the U.S. and Indians and wore a stovepipe hat. Pike called him “my friend” and he called himself an American Sioux, according to the South Dakota Historical Collection.

    Sioux Indian Chief Tahama, also known as Chief Standing Moose. Tahama was born in 1776 near Winona, Minn. He lost an eye in a childhood accident, prompting his nickname “Tamaha” ir “One eye.” Tamaha became a friend of Army Lt. Zebulon M. Pike and fought in the War of 1812. For his loyalty to the U.S., Tamaha was presented a Peace Medal and Loyalty papers by William Clarke. Tamaha was a liaison between the U.S. and Indians and wore a stovepipe hat. Pike called him “my friend” and he called himself an American Sioux, according to the South Dakota Historical Collection.

    Tahama was known for his trademark stovepipe hat, as a powerful speaker, as a liaison between whites and Indians and as the “one-eyed Indian” after a childhood accident left him blind in one eye, according to the South Dakota Historical Collections.

    The Tahama Springs pavilion was built in 1926 and suffered heavy damage in the Memorial Day flood of 1935 that killed upwards of 18 people in the region, destroyed every bridge over Monument and Fountain creeks but the one at Bijou Street and did $1.7 million in damage.

    The Memorial Day flood of 1935 killed an estimated 18 people in the region, washed out every bridge across Fountain and Monument creeks except for one at Bijou Street and wreaked havoc in Monument Valley Park where it heavily damaged Tahama Spring. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District, Stewarts Commercial Photographers Collection.

    The Memorial Day flood of 1935 killed an estimated 18 people in the region, washed out every bridge across Fountain and Monument creeks except for one at Bijou Street and wreaked havoc in Monument Valley Park where it heavily damaged Tahama Spring. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District, Stewarts Commercial Photographers Collection.

    A second major flood in 1965 killed two children, washed out roads and bridges, and caused millions of dollars in damage, including destroying the Tahama Springs pavilion. The exact location of the shale formation which produced the mineral water also was lost.

    Ever since, various groups have tried to generate interest in rebuilding the spring. But none has gotten very far until now.

    A new coalition including the Historical Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Community Foundation, Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation, Colorado Springs Utilities and even a couple young professionals who don’t even work in the city any longer, among others, are making a strong push toward restoration.

    Experts recently lifted the cement cap of the stone well in Monument Valley Park to test flow rates and collect samples from the Tahama Spring. Water flowed at two gallons per minute from the alluvial spring. Analysis of the water has not revealed whether it is safe for drinking. Courtesy Historic Preservation Alliance.

    Experts recently lifted the cement cap of the stone well in Monument Valley Park to test flow rates and collect samples from the Tahama Spring. Water flowed at two gallons per minute from the alluvial spring. Analysis of the water has not revealed whether it is safe for drinking. Courtesy Historic Preservation Alliance.

    They have hired experts to conduct civil engineering of the site, scope out the spring with an underground cam and take water samples for testing.

    In addition, an architect has produced drawings to guide reconstruction of a pavilion.

    And a Mitchell High School freshman even created a small model of the proposed pavilion.
    Soon they will try to raise $250,000 to finance restoration and reconstruction of the pavilion and provide a trust for future maintenance.

    It’s an exciting time for Jeff Long and Tim Boddington, preservation alliance members, who have hoped for this project to take flight for years. They were thrilled when a pumping company drilled and located the spring.

    “After all these years we did find the spring,” Long said. “It’s still there. We’re really excited about it. The HPA has been wanting to do this for years.”

    Tahama Springs is one of three that once attracted visitors with jugs and bottles eager to fill them with the “health-giving drink,” according to a Nov. 2, 1941 story in the Gazette and Telegraph.

    Its waters were valued for their high levels of calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, sodium chloride and a handful of other minerals. They were not dissuaded by the “negligible amounts” of lithium revealed by a “spectrascope.”

    Three bronze medalions were hung inside Tahama Spring in Monument Valley Park, as seen in this March 6, 1927, story in the Gazette and Telegraph. They honored Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, explorer and Army Lt. Zebulon Pike and Sioux Indian Chief Tahama, an ally of the U.S. and friend of Pike and other explorers. Courtesy the Pikes Peak Library District.

    Three bronze medalions were hung inside Tahama Spring in Monument Valley Park, as seen in this March 6, 1927, story in the Gazette and Telegraph. They honored Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, explorer and Army Lt. Zebulon Pike and Sioux Indian Chief Tahama, an ally of the U.S. and friend of Pike and other explorers. Courtesy the Pikes Peak Library District.

    A key feature the coalition hopes to reproduce is the bronze artwork of Palmer, Pike and Tahama.

    After the 1965 flood, the medallions disappeared. Efforts to find them have failed.

    “The Gazette even wrote a story about the missing medallions in 1998 or so but no one came forward,” Boddington said. “We’d sure like to find them.”

    One of the most interesting aspects of the restoration push is that two key players — LeeAnn Westfall and Nick Kittle — no longer work in Colorado Springs. Kittle even moved away when his job with the city was eliminated.

    Westfall is the sustainability coordinator for the Douglas County School District and Kittle works for Adams County and lives in Parker. But both are committed to the Tahama Springs project. Westfall is focusing on fundraising while Kittle is leveraging his relationships from his days at City Hall to push the technical aspects of the project forward.

    “We had several questions to answer including: Is the spring still there,” Kittle said. “Then we had to find out if the water is drinkable.

    This story in the May 16, 1926, Gazette and Telegraph reported the new Tahama Spring pavilion in Monument Valley Park in downtown Colorado Springs.  Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District.

    This story in the May 16, 1926, Gazette and Telegraph reported the new Tahama Spring pavilion in Monument Valley Park in downtown Colorado Springs. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District.

    “When we tested it, we found a flow rate of two gallons of water per minute.”

     The question of its drinkability will determine how the project proceeds. Will they try to install a filter system to purify the water coming out of the new pump or will they simply tap into a nearby CSU water main and turn it into a glorified drinking fountain, as Kittle described it?

    “We want to restore it to the most historically accurate structure possible,” Kittle said. “That’s our goal.”

    Either way, all involved seem determined to see the structure built, one way or another.

    This is architect J. Mark Nelson's drawing of the proposed new Tahama Spring pavilion. It would be an open-air facility, with no roof, to discourage homeless from camping inside. A new steel hand pump would be installed with a gravel drain. It would contain benches and medalions honoring Gen. William Jackson Palmer, Zebulon Pike and Sioux Indian Chief Tahama. Courtesy the Historical Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs.

    This is architect J. Mark Nelson’s drawing of the proposed new Tahama Spring pavilion. It would be an open-air facility, with no roof, to discourage homeless from camping inside. A new steel hand pump would be installed with a gravel drain. It would contain benches and medalions honoring Gen. William Jackson Palmer, Zebulon Pike and Sioux Indian Chief Tahama. Courtesy the Historical Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs.

    I wondered why Westfall and Kittle would be deeply involved since both have had to go out of town to find jobs.

    “We are just so committed to the community,” Westfall said. “It’s important for the city to know young professionals care.”

    For Kittle, the issue is personal.

    “For me, this project is a passion,” he said. “When I tell people about this project, they get really excited. Just because you leave doesn’t mean you don’t care. This is a labor of love for me and for all of us. It means a lot to be able to say I helped preserve something that is a big part of our history.”

    I have no doubt this group will live up to their rallying cry: “We’re going to put the springs back in Colorado Springs.”

    Tim Boddington, left, and Jeff Long are members of the Historical Alliance of Colorado Springs and have worked for years to restore Tahama Spring in Monument Valley Park downtown. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Tim Boddington, left, and Jeff Long are members of the Historical Alliance of Colorado Springs and have worked for years to restore Tahama Spring in Monument Valley Park downtown. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Colorado Springs losing valuable public service in skate shop closing

    Fri, March 7, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The $1 million, 40,000-square-foot Memorial Park skate park shortly after it opened in Dec. 2008. Gazette file photo.

    The $1 million, 40,000-square-foot Memorial Park skate park shortly after it opened in Dec. 2008. Gazette file photo.

    Tim Burke wandered around Ethan’s Room Skate Shop on Thursday and just shook his head.

    The shop was dark and shelves mostly empty. No backpacks or gear hung in the lockers. No tools rattled in the equipment room. The board room, its walls colorfully tagged in graffiti, was quiet.

    A few boards, shoes, shirts, sunglasses and Hacky Sacks remained. But soon they’ll all be gone.

    030714 Side Streets 3Tim and his wife Rita may be gone, too, and some say it will be a huge loss to the kids who populate the Memorial Park skate park and to the neighborhood around Pikes Peak Avenue and Union Boulevard east of downtown Colorado Springs.

    After five years of selling a few boards and gear, splinting broken bones, offering kids shelter from bad weather, a place to hang out and do homework, Burke gave up on Ethan’s Room.

    “We can’t afford to operate the skate shop anymore,” Tim said. “It’s really sad because we really enjoyed working with the kids.”

    Located across Pikes Peak Avenue from the Memorial Park skate park, Ethan's Room Skate Shop was convenient to skateboards. Tim and Rita Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, opened the shop in 2010 and recently closed it due to poor sales. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Ethan’s Room Skate Shop was convenient to skateboards located in the basement of the Burke Promotions advertising agency. But the skate shop recently closed it due to poor sales.  Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Shortly after the $1 million, 40,000-square-foot skate park opened in December 2008, Burke opened Ethan’s Room, named for their son who was an avid skater. To make room for skaters, Tim converted the basement of the family’s Burke Promotions advertising agency building at 1618 E. Pikes Peak Ave., across the street from the park.

    Soon, Ethan was urging his dad to sponsor a skating team to promote the shop at competitions.
    “I’d give them free stuff in exchange for five hours of community service,” Tim said, describing how team members picked up cigarette butts or pulled weeds or collected trash from the park.

    “They were required to do it to be part of the team,” he said. “They had to be in school and a good citizen.”

    Over time, the skater kids came to trust Tim and come to him for more than just boards and wheels and repairs.

    Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, stands in the board room of Ethan's Room Skate Shop on March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita,  recently closed the shop, named for their son, after four years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, stands in the board room of Ethan’s Room Skate Shop on March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita, recently closed the shop, named for their son, after four years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “We started it as a retail shop and ended up as a community service,” Rita said. “Kids came here to get out of the weather or to get help when they were hurt and they came to view Tim as a mentor.”

    Tim tried to get kids to memorize the Declaration of Independence, for example, offering them store credits as rewards. And he became a guidance counselor who listened to their troubles and offered them advice.

    “It was so rewarding being connected to the community like we were,” Tim said. “We were building relationships with these kids that were really special.”

    For example, he tried to teach them how to deal with bullying and handle other issues they faced. And he rewarded good behavior, giving any kid interested 50 cents in store credits for every 200 cigarette butts they collected. Over the years, he figures skaters picked up 40,000 cigarette butts and hauled 20 tons of weeds and trash out of the park.

    Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, holds a jersey he provided members of the Ethan's Room Skate Shop competitive team in a photo taken March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita,  recently closed the shop, named for their son, after five years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, holds a jersey he provided members of the Ethan’s Room Skate Shop competitive team in a photo taken March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita, recently closed the shop after five years operations.  Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “They would tell me things they couldn’t tell their parents,” he said. “I’d give them straightforward answers and advice.”

    I asked about a general perception among many in the public of skater kids as dropouts and vandals and juvenile delinquents.

    I confess there was a time I would see kids with skateboards and sneer.

    Then as I was riding my bicycle past the skate park in Goose Gossage Park one day I stopped to watch them in action. I quickly recognized their athleticism and skill and determination.

    Over and over they would glide down the walls, jump, spin, grind and fall.

    They had courage and toughness and reflexes and I came to admire them.

    Tim and Rita agree skater kids generally are misjudged by folks who don’t take the time to understand them.

    Most were really good kids from tough family backgrounds, they said.

    “They are great kids,” Rita said, her voice rising. “You have to look at their circumstances. They are learning to survive and problem-solve in some really tough situations. They are growing up fast.”

    Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, stands in Ethan's Room Skate Shop on March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita,  recently closed the shop, named for their son, after five years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Tim Burke, of Burke Promotions advertising agency, stands in Ethan’s Room Skate Shop on March 6, 2014. He and his wife, Rita, recently closed the shop, named for their son, after five years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    As we visited, in walked Debra Buenting a business woman and resident of the nearby Hillside neighborhood. She was disappointed to learn Ethan’s Room was closed.

    “Where are these kids going to go?” she said. “This was much more than a skate shop. Tim was a counselor to kids.”

    Tim Rowan, a health care consultant who met Tim Burke in a business group years ago, echoed Debra’s disappointment and concern.

    “This is a disaster in our community,” Rowan said. “This is a tragedy to see it disappear. He had an incredibly positive influence in the lives of these young boys. He’s a surrogate parent to many.”

    He described how Burke helped drive drug dealers out of the skate park, for example, or identify burglars caught on security video breaking into the skate shop.

    “Who knows where they would hang out if Tim wasn’t there, listening to their woes — and there were many — offering his judgment-free advice?” Rowan said. “Hundreds of our kids will lose a mentor, role mode, a safe place to go.”

    They are even losing a first-responder in Tim Burke.

    Tim faced many teens with broken bones over the years.

    “The worst was when I splinted six broken wrists in one week in July 2012,” Tim said. “We bandaged a lot of kids, literally and figuratively.”

    The entrance to the closed Ethan's Room Skate Shop in the basement of the Burke Promotions advertising agency at 1618 E. Pikes Peak Ave. on March 6, 2014. Tim and Rita Burke recently closed the shop, named for their son, after four years operations. Some say the Burkes provided much more than a retail shop by mentoring kids who use the Memorial Park skate park and providing them shelter in bad weather, first aid when they got hurt and guidance counseling. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The entrance to the closed Ethan’s Room Skate Shop in the basement of the Burke Promotions advertising agency at 1618 E. Pikes Peak Ave. on March 6, 2014. Tim and Rita Burke recently closed the shop, named for their son, after five years operations. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Unfortunately, the Burkes said, they just didn’t sell enough skateboards and things over the years to remain in business.

    “We closed last week,” Tim said. “We just didn’t sell enough stuff to make it work. I’m 54 and I need to start making some money for us. It’s just so sad.”

    Rowan hopes folks in the community will step forward to help.

    “I can’t think of a way to stop it,” Rowan said. “I wish there was some way the community could somehow change his mind.

    “It was much more than a skate shop. It’s a real tragedy to see it disappear.”