Archive | May, 2011

DCI Features Historic Preservation Article to Celebrate Historic Preservation Month

23 May

Upstairs Opera Houses in Colorado
By Cathleen Norman

In this second article in a series celebrating May as National Historic Preservation Month, DCI invited guest author Cathleen Norman from The Donning Company Publishers to share stories of opera houses in Colorado communities.

Salida Opera House

At the turn of the last century, every self-respecting community – from small towns to large cities – aspired to have an “opera house.”  Often located above a storefront in a two-story building in the heart of the business district, the opera house proudly took its civic place on Main Street. It became a venue for respectable entertainment and thrived as a social focal point. More than 100 opera houses sprang up in Colorado from the 1870s into the 1910s.  The Central City Opera House and Denver’s Tabor Grande Opera House were celebrated as the state’s largest and most elaborate opera venues, but most Colorado opera houses were located upstairs from another business.

Some opera halls actually hosted operatic performances. In the late 1800s, opera flourished as esteemed entertainment for the cultured classes, but often offered contemporary themes of the time.  La Traviata, by Guiseppi Verde, one of the most influential composers of the nineteenth century, told the story of a fallen woman.  La Boheme, composed by Giocommo Puccini, depicted the lifestyle of young “bohemian” artists living in the Latin Quarter of Paris.  Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West romanticized the America’s western frontier.

However, most opera houses hosted everything but opera. Various events and entertainment unfolded in the upstairs spaces ─ gala balls and dancing parties, Shakespearean plays and vaudeville acts, high school graduations and lodge meetings.   Men crowded in for boxing matches and patriotic citizens sweated through bands playing marches for Fourth of July celebrations.

By the 1930s, film had eclipsed live performance.  Some opera houses became movie theaters, others slipped into decline and many were demolished.  Fortunately several old upstairs opera houses have been revived, some embracing new uses.  These are just a few…

Dickens Opera House, Longmont.  Town father William Dickens erected an impressive redbrick building at the town’s premier intersection to contain his Farmers National Bank, with opera hall above.  The gracious upstairs space opened in 1881 and hosted college classes, minstrel shows and traveling musicians, as well as town meetings, national guard training, spelling bees, political rallies and firemen’s fundraising balls.  Favorite theatrical performances included “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Ten Nights in a Bar-Room.” Local groups meeting in the upstairs space, included the ladies of the Longmont Christian Temperance Union and farmers from the local grange.

The Dickens Opera House served as the city’s cultural and social center through the 1920s, before falling into disuse.  Today, the dusty, cobwebbed opera hall has been revived as a venue for nationally touring music acts such as Tab Benoit, Tony Furtado, Trombone Shorty, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Reverend Horton Heat.

Lake City Armory-Opera Hall.  This red brick building opened with a Thanksgiving Eve Ball in 1883, pronounced by The Lake City Silver World newspaper as “the most brilliant assemblage that ever gathered in this city.”  A rather rare one-story opera house, it offered dramatic productions on a large stage in the hall’s west end, while the “Pitkin Guards” used the east end for their National Guard meetings and drills.  Three years after its completion, the roof had to be rebuilt after collapsing under heavy snows.  The Lake City Armory saw activity during an early 1890s labor incident in which striking miners broke into the armory and stole the weapons therein.  The Lake City Greens slapped the basketball up and down the wooden floor in the 1910s and 1920s, and the annual Washington’s Birthday Masquerade raised funds for the fire department.  Today, the public venue contains the Teen Center and practice space for the Lake City Hoofers clogging classes, as well as community events likes the annual October Hunters’ Ball.

Wright Opera House, Ouray. H. E. Wright arrived on skis from Silverton during Ouray’s first settlement.  He and his brother erected an elaborate building using profits from their Wheel of Fortune Mine.  Finished in 1888, the expansive structure with a double storefront had a wedding cake façade, a confection of cast iron manufactured by the Mesker Brothers of St. Louis and prized for its fire-proof qualities.  San Juan Hardware Company and the City Drugstore operated on the ground floor.  Upstairs, the performance hall seated a crowd of 500 with a stage stunningly embellished with a William H. Jackson photograph of Mount Sneffels. Townsfolk hiked up the narrow, steep staircase to watch performances by local thespians, music recitals, concerts by the Ouray Magnolia Band, elocution contests, school basketball games and birthday parties.  The Victorian beauty was acquired this year by the Friends of the Wright Opera House after their three-year capital fund campaign.

Salida Opera House.  When it opened with a New Year’s Eve ball in 1889, the Salida Opera House was praised as “in every way superior to any in Colorado except the Tabor Grande.”  Its first theatrical production was “Alone in London” for a standing-room-only audience on January 16.  It replaced the original 1881 Salida Opera House, one of 30 structures destroyed in a downtown fire. The statuesque opera building with its bracketed cornice and centered pediment hosted performances of touring troupes on The Silver Circuit served by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.  Its classic brick façade of was unmasked recently by the removal of stucco that had been hiding it for 50 years.  However, structural damage has landed the Salida Opera House on Colorado’s 2011 Most Endangered Places List.

Butte Opera House, Cripple Creek.  The Butte Concert and Beer Hall opened its doors in 1896 on the west end of Bennett Avenue. The second story became the Butte Dancing Academy, an armory and then a skating rink.  As the mining district withered, the Butte became one of many empty buildings on Bennett Avenue.  Once almost in shambles, the Butte since acquired and restored by the City of Cripple Creek, is now home to the Thin Air Theater Company that performs melodrama, like “Calamity Jane” and “Vampire or Cripple Creek.”

This is just a round-up of historic opera houses that survive around Colorado. Other upstairs opera houses languish in Canon City, Golden, Idaho Springs, Windsor, Brush and Loveland.  Meanwhile, the 1882 Smith Opera House in Gunnison, 1881 Opera House in Aspen, and 1913 Sheridan Opera House in Telluride have been restored to their original glory.

Cathleen Norman writes about history and preservation for several Colorado publications.  A preservation consultant from 1991 through 2008, she now works for Donning Company, a heritage publishing firm. This article has been reprinted with permission from the author.

Click here to view more articles from Cathleen Norman.


DCI Features Historic Preservation Project to Celebrate Historic Preservation Month

13 May

Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) is celebrating 2011 National Historic Preservation Month with Celebrating Excellence in Historic Preservation Architecture. Throughout May, DCI will highlight projects and historic preservation best practices that contribute to downtown revitalization across the state. The first project that DCI will feature is the Avery Block rehabilitation project.

Historic photo of the Avery Block

The Avery Block is located on the northeast corner of North College Avenue and East Mountain Avenue in Fort Collins, Colorado and is part of Fort Collins’ Old Town. Designed by the town’s first architect, Montezuma W. Fuller in 1897, the building originally housed Franklin Avery’s First National Bank. The Avery Block is a two-story brick and sandstone building and is made up of three distinct irregular structures. The Avery Block is in the existing Old Town historic district. In late 2009, SLATERPAULL Architects completed several conceptual 3-D designs for the Avery Block storefront rehabilitation. In trying to be respectful of the historic nature of Old Town, several options were considered based on historic photos, rehabilitated precedents in the area as well as modern themes which still maintained the horizontal lines and other design guidelines. Palmer Properties, the Fort Collins Downtown Business Association and the City of Fort Collins partnered together and with funding provided in part by History Colorado, State Historical Fund, design for the storefront restoration and building rehabilitation continued.

Avery Block conceptual rendering

SLATERPAULL Architects is currently completing construction documents with construction anticipated to start in summer of 2011. The project includes stone and brick rehabilitation, door and window rehabilitation, pressed tin cornice rehabilitation, and the reconstruction of stone finials and the storefront cornice based on historic photographs. With the reconstruction of the storefront cornice, the original configuration of transom windows will be re-introduced. Awnings will be replaced by Palmer Properties independent of this project, but sympathetic to the historic character of the building, and with consultation from SLATERPAULL Architects.

SLATERPAULL Architects is a third-generation architecture practice established by founding partners Seymour (Sim) M. Slater and James (Jim) F. Paull in 1972. The firm’s roots trace back to Raymond Harry Ervin (1900-1969), one of Denver’s prominent architects. Ervin was renowned for his work on the Shangri-la, Denver Club Building, J.C. Penny Building, George Washington High School, and the First National Bank Building at 631 17th Street, which stood as Denver’s tallest building at the time. Today, SLATERPAULL Architects is led by this team of five principals with approximately 40 dedicated employees.

Spotlight on…Westcliffe and Silver Cliff

12 May

A Tale of Two Towns with One Common Goal

In May 2010, DCI conducted a joint technical assistance visit for the neighboring communities of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff. The communities have done a dynamic job of working together to implement the action steps to work toward downtown revitalization. We asked them to share their experiences

Walking out of an economic development conference in Pueblo in the fall of 2009, Westcliffe mayor Christy Veltrie knew she had found just what the small community she called home, and its neighboring sister community of Silver Cliff needed.

The downtown is the heart of the community and a healthy downtown helps the whole community grow, said Veltrie to all who would listen. The trustees, business leaders and other stakeholders in the two towns, did listen and decided to invite the Downtown Colorado Inc. team to complete a technical assistance assessment.

Before the team of 10 experts could arrive, the communities needed to do their homework, which included ensuring that representatives from various local organizations, residents, and businesses were willing to sit down with the DCI team for focus groups.

This was not an easy feat, but dedicated volunteers stepped up to the plate and went door-to-door to reach out to the community. 
Nestled side by side in Custer County’s Wet Mountain Valley, Westcliffe and Silver Cliff had a history of rivalry. Many could not believe the two towns were willing to work together, but the trustees and mayors were committed to the project.

In May 2010, scores gathered at various focus group meetings with the DCI experts over a two-day period to share their thoughts.
On day three, the DCI team combined all they had heard into an assessment of the communities and action steps to create a vibrant commercial district that would be beneficial for both communities.
The fact that the DCI team could present the findings and plan so quickly was impressive. Many long-time residents commented the community had been involved in a number of assessments over the years; however, this one seemed to be better than most because of the quick turn-around.

Once the detailed, hard copy of the report was received, a workshop to discuss the details was held in September 2010 with attendees agreeing it was imperative to follow the report recommendations.

Committees were formed, and a vision and mission statement was written. We are now known as CART (‘Cliffs Action Revitalization Team) also known as ‘Cliffs Commercial District.

In October 2010, a  ribbon-tying ceremony was held on Highway 96 where the two towns intersect to show solidarity, followed by an inauguration ceremony where  resolutions in support of CCD were signed by the Board of Trustees for the Town of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe, the Board of Custer County Commissioners, Custer County C-1 School District, Wet Mountain Fire Protection District, Custer County Medical Clinic, Custer County Tourism Board, Custer County Merchants and Chamber of Commerce and the Custer County Library. The Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District signed a letter of support, and many community stakeholders signed a board of support.

Organization, Economic Restructuring and Promotions committees are in place, and the Design committee is progress of gathering committee members. 

A wide range of people serve on the CART board– Mayor of Westcliffe, Trustee from Silver Cliff,  local newspaper reporter, Westcliffe Town Clerk, Custer County Commissioner; a Custer County Tourism Board member, Custer County Merchants and Chamber of Commerce member, Wet Mountain Fire District member, Custer County Medical Clinic personnel, and several retail business people and contractors.

In March 2011, ‘Cliffs Commercial District partnered with the local tourism board and chamber of commerce to host a booth at the 54th annual Colorado RV, Sports & Travel Show in Denver.

And, we are just getting started. CCD is partnering with a local business to provide rewards cards to encourage locals and tourists to shop locally. Other shop local campaigns are also in the works. By the end of May, a map of the ‘Cliffs Commercial District will be printed and distributed.

CCD is also holding its first fundraiser, a hoosegow. We are working on attaining 501© 3 status. Additionally, CCD is listed as a goal on the local economic development plan as part of the governor’s “bottom up” economic plan.

The town of Silver Cliff is also taking the lead to develop a park at the entrance to  the town, and they are working on a sidewalk to connect the two towns.

Someone recently asked, “How are you getting all of this done?” Our response is, “Just like you eat an elephant, one bite at a time.” Remember, it’s an ongoing process, but it’s definitely worth the effort. That’s the best advice we can give to all small towns in Colorado.

Interested in DCI’s technical assistance program? Visit for details or contact us at 303.282.0625.

Historic Preservation: Fostering Downtown Revitalization

2 May

In this first article in a series celebrating May as National Historic Preservation Month, DCI invited guest author Kathleen Lenihan, AIA, to share stories of successful marriages of historic preservation and downtown revitalization in Colorado communities.

The Toltec Building in Trinidad

Historic preservation facilitates economic development   and downtown revitalization through the retention and reuse of historic structures and districts. People have rediscovered the value, craftsmanship and history found in historic downtown districts bypassed or neglected by the “big box” utopia of 20th-century commercial development. Historic preservation efforts in downtown areas have resulted in economic and communal investments, fostering an urban renaissance and revived community identity in many American towns.

Recognizing historic preservation’s potential for positive economic impact on communities and revitalization, the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC) was created in 2000 as a for-profit subsidiary of the National Trust. The purpose of the NTCIC is to finance large historic preservation and rehabilitation projects that qualify for Historic Tax Credits.

The NTCIC partnered with Rutgers University Center for Urban Policy and the Historic Tax Credit Coalition to produce The First Annual Report on the Economic Impact of the Federal Historic Tax Credit. The report shows that 58,000 new jobs were created in 2008 as a result of historic preservation projects utilizing the Historic Tax Credit. Since its inception in 1978, the Historic Tax Credit has resulted in $85 billion invested in historic preservation projects, and created 1,800,000 new jobs. This statistic is even more compelling because it only accounts for jobs created and investment dollars spent for projects that utilized the Historic Tax Credit.

Locally, historic preservation has promoted economic development and revitalization in many downtown communities. The City of Loveland, Colorado, is a Certified Local Government by the National Parks Service and the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office, a designation which entitles them to technical assistance and funding for historic preservation projects. The result is a more vibrant downtown that benefits building owners and retailers.

Jim Guggenhime, who owns three buildings in downtown Loveland, can speak to the benefit to the city. “As people come in and work on historic buildings and storefronts, it has a positive impact on the public perception of the downtown area and generates interest in it as a destination.”

Longmont, Colorado, another Certified Local Government, created the Longmont Downtown Development Authority to promote development and revitalization in the Downtown Longmont District. In March 2011 the LDDA Board passed an Arts and Entertainment District Plan that includes historic preservation planning as a means of facilitating interest and economic growth in its historic downtown.

Brien Schumacher, Principal Planner for the City of Longmont, has observed the positive impact on Longmont. “Historic preservation creates community identity and a focal point to bring people downtown,” he notes.

The LDDA offers façade improvement grants and loans to assist building owners in their street-front preservation efforts. And, the efforts are paying off: the Longmont Downtown District was recently voted the Best Shopping District for North Metro and Boulder County by Yellow Scene Magazine.

The City of Trinidad has also experienced the economic benefits that historic preservation creates.  A shining example is the Toltec Building in downtown Trinidad, the first building to receive the designation “Most Endangered Historic Building in Colorado.” The city acquired the building and worked with the state to restore the exterior, then sold it to a private developer who completed its rehabilitation into lofts and office space. The once-abandoned building is now an anchor for the city’s downtown revitalization efforts.

As Louis Finberg, Planning Director for the City of Trinidad, succinctly states, “Historic preservation makes downtowns more attractive.”

The fact that historic preservation stimulates downtown revitalization and economic development is irrefutable. Historic preservation projects have continued to create jobs and financial investments in downtown communities despite the stagnant economy. It promotes interest and investment in historic downtown districts as destinations, resulting in the development of restaurants, art galleries, specialty good shops, living spaces and civic centers. Historic preservation is a catalyst for downtown revitalization, economic development and redefining a community’s identity. It is a critical component in any downtown revitalization and economic development effort.

Kathleen Lenihan is a licensed architect and qualified architectural historian with international experience working on award winning projects. She holds graduate degrees in Architecture and Preservation. Her work with property owners, developers, institutions and government authorities has facilitated the preservation, restoration and rehabilitation of a diverse range of historic structures.