Posts Tagged ‘fort collins’

If you live in a neighborhood you love, and you worry about monster houses taking over, you should know what’s happening over on Park Street.

Dee Amick has filed for Landmark District Designation on behalf of her entire block. And while the application goes through its process, nobody builds anything.

That’s darn inconvenient for the new owner of 223 Park Street,  who wants to scrape the tiny 1925 vernacular that’s there now and erect something a little more roomy.

223 Park St. Tree in foreground was brought to property from Rist Canyon by original owners.

223 Park St. Tree in foreground was brought to property from Rist Canyon by original owners.

223 Park in 1948 (From the Fort Collins Museum Archives)

223 Park in 1948 (From the Fort Collins Museum Archives)

Amick worries that means a 40-foot-tall 2 1/2 story new-old house, in a neighborhood where most houses stand 20 feet.

In her application, she says  “small practical houses” characterize the neighborhood and its working class roots.  So, historic district designation could mandate that new construction also follow compatible guidelines.

To date, no Old Town neighborhoods seem to have been assigned Landmark District Designation, and I’m not sure if any others have even applied. (I only did a quick search on that fact.)

There is still a lot left to do, starting with a plea she plans to make to City Council tonight.  Should be live on Channel 14 between 5:30 and 6:30pm. Watch on TV, or show up in person and let council know you care about this sort of thing.

Dee Amick in front of the old Charvat's Grocery, part of the proposed landmark district.

Dee Amick in front of the old Charvat's Grocery, part of the proposed landmark district.

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Former trailer park. Site of major 1997 flooding.  

Sweet peas bloom on site of old trailer park

Fort Collins recently found the area around College, just south of Prospect, blighted. It includes ChuckECheese, Dairy Queen, and early strip malls.

The area in the photo above is behind the strip malls. It was a trailer park, but it took the worst of the 1997 flood (several residents drowned trying to leave) and the trailers have since been hauled away. I hear we’ll have apartments there soon.

So, what makes blight? The city has several criteria. But my short answer is “anywhere that Latinos might be starting to open successful businesses.”

 This is one of maybe 3 areas in town with Latino businesses, and all would qualify as blighted by our standards. 

So, I have 3 wishes for the Prospect/College renewal plan:

1. That it finds a way to include the affordable little businesses that reside there now–Mexican markets, used books, used games, cheap exercise, ordinary ice cream.  

2. That it finds an architectural approach that transcends 21st century monster strip mall, er, Lifestyle Center.

3. That it finds a way to keep the trailer park trees.

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From a 1956 Chamber of Commerce brochure. 

(Of course, the “land area” argument was lost when Alaska was admitted to the union 3 years later. Let’s try not to be bitter when Sarah gets here on Monday, okay?)

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Fort Collins is kind of uncool. 

I don’t mean like bitter, mean, no fun uncool. I mean like we don’t have any cool googie architecture –that 50s/60s atomic boomerang look. We have a little bit, and we used to have a little bit more:


Butterfly roofline on old dairy building, LaPorte and Meldrum.

Butterfly roofline on old dairy building, LaPorte and Meldrum.

Michael's Drive through, with zig zag roof

But we don’t have any googie in all the places you would expect to find it–bowling alleys, old diners and motels.  Okay, you might consider the old Safeway with its Marina roof googie.

I’m going to keep looking.

Meanwhile, you know what mid-century architecture we do have a lot of? MANSARD!!!!! So, my next post is going to have to be about Mansard roofs in Fort Collins. You revile them now, we all do. But someday you’ll love them. Just wait.

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 In 1984, Fort Collins paid local artist, Richard Scorpio, $2000 to transform a dead tree in front of City Hall into a contemporary statue. Dance formation was here to “demonstrate the concept of art in public places.”  Ceremonies followed.

20 years later, however, the piece moved into a patch of weeds at Martinez Park. I don’t think there was a ceremony.

At first, I thought, this could be a great opportunity for Lost Fort Collins to make recommendations for other statues we might like to see relocated …

Relocated running man

Then, I changed my mind.

When I visited to take pictures, something happened. I decided that as it decays, Danceformation is the most moving piece of public art I have ever seen.

These doomed partners aren’t going to be with us for long, and it’s like they know it.

You can visit them between the bike trail and the playground at Martinez Park. I recommend you get up close. 

 Danceformation at Martinez Park 


TWO city departments mobilized so I could write this post. Local Archives dug through all their Fort Collins history materials looking for a younger picture of Danceformation. We never could find one.

The City Clerk retrieved all of the City’s official correspondence about the statue, made me copies, and never even asked why I wanted them!

Then there was a guy named Chris, sitting with the codgers in front of the Northern, who first suggested that Dancefomration was a carved cottonwood. That’s not the first time I’ve drawn from the collective memory of the Northern Hotel crowd.

Fort Collins rocks!

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 Lost Fort Collins just posted a new page (see the tabs above): “Tour de neighborhood markets.” It’s a suggested bike tour of >15 former grocery stores in old town that are now mostly just peoples’ funny-looking houses.

Some people say that neighborhood markets faded when big supermarkets came to town. But that’s not entirely true. In the 1940s and 50s, Fort Collins had Safeway and one or two others. A more viable theory (thanks John in ND) might be that they waned with the 1-car family.

You’re husband has the car at work, and you’ve got to get one or two ingredients for supper–you’ll walk to the corner market before you’ll go downtown.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy Tour.

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There used to be one exactly like this in City Park, in the 50s, says my friend Norm. He would know–he grew up right across the street.

Playground at Ayers' Bridge, Wyoming

Playground at Ayers

Today, you have to look hard to find retro playground equipment.  I’ve already seen City Park replace its heavy plastic sets 3 times in the past 12 years.

But before the plastics, before 1970s wood ladders and swinging rope bridges, before the heavy iron monkey bars of my childhood–kids played on frail metal with splintery wood. Like this merry-go-round/roundabout at a remote park 20 miles outside of Douglas, Wyoming.

That’s a couple hundred miles from here, but I know where there are some closer: Poudre Park Community Center still has one (and I hear the church there is about to get another). A few years ago I saw one decaying in the back of what’s left of the Buckeye Community Center, too.

You could go ride these, I suppose. But please, not without first reviewing with your child these 51 safety warnings for an accident-free outdoor romp.

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This town is awash in Quonset huts.

Funny thing: You can live here for decades and not even notice. Like, most of us can remember a Q-hut on Riverside Avenue as you drive into town. But in fact, it’s a row of FOUR Q-huts (technically on Jefferson).  See:

4 Quonset huts on Jefferson Ave

(Okay, maybe you don’t see. Q1 is distant, but it’s Black’s Glass. And Q3 doesn’t look Quonset at all. That’s because somebody has hidden it behind an elaborate store front. But it’s unmistakedly Quonset behind the facade.)

After you start thinking about these 1940s artifacts, you start to see them everywhere.

They came here after the war, when building materials were scarce. The University ordered 100+ from Montgomery Ward to house the swarm of GIs that doubled enrollment during the last of the 1940s. The half- and quarter-round homes came on the train and formed Veterans Village on the north boundary of the school.

Always too hot or too cold, the Quonset huts endured as married student housing only until the 1960s. Once obsolete, the tin dorms found their way into backyards, fields, and farms everywhere. There are two at the Swetsville Zoo. And one at Frank’s Trout Farm.

But there were others. A local store sold tiny 12×20 kit Quonset hut houses, and two remain:


Both built in 1947. They remind me of Gypsy wagons. It’s only when I mistakenly thought we had lost one that I began to think about them at all. I took a wild stab and Googled Quonset+hut+fort+collins, and found the most amazing and exhaustive report:  Read this (PDF)!!!!


For more local Quonset huts, see the “Beyond the blog” link at right.

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To be honest, when we had basement houses, they used to make me look away.

As a girl coming from a part of the country that had no basements, I thought these roof-on-a-foundation homes reminded me too much of those legless men on skateboards in Tijuana. Interesting, really interesting. But you don’t want to gawk.

So I didn’t look close. And I didn’t take pictures. And I so far haven’t found anybody else who did. And now the bad news for the curious is this: They are all now history in Fort Collins. The last 3 fulfilled their destinies and became regular houses in the past 5 years.

Here’s the only local picture I could find. I’m making it big because it’s hard to see:

Don’t let the grainy photo deceive you. This isn’t a quaint pre-70s A frame or some elaborate farm outbuilding. Rather, it’s really a regular roof capping a concrete cellar where people live. Note the steps leading to the attic door under the eaves. The full-size door appears to send you to the right, and then down.

Built in 1926, this model appraised for $1300 by 1977. And that was AFTER they added plumbing in 1960s.

That’s how it was. People built basement homes because they didn’t have money to build the whole thing at once. Called “Hope Houses,” these ultimate starter homes were meant to go full size, but only after YOU COULD AFFORD IT.

(See in the 1920s, interest-only mortgages, which worked, then as now, only so long as home values go up, were both available and popular. The resulting, and by now predictable, foreclosures then fueled the depression. But maybe the basement-house owner couldn’t get one. Maybe in the 20s banks required credit, reputation, or income. Or maybe the basement homeowner was old-fashioned and thought that kind of usury imprudent.)

A final bit of trivia about this house: When the owners built the first story in 2003, the city required them to remove the original kitchen. I suppose in order to prevent an illegal student duplex–a more enduring form of budget Fort Collins’ housing.


Update. Since I wrote this post, I feel compelled to look for basement houses in small towns when I travel. Here’s a great example of one I found ….

Basement house in Lusk, Wyoming. August 2008

Note: It took a lot of digging to find out only a little about these houses. So, I’m going to link you to what I could find on the web so far in case you want to see more:

Also, big thanks to Pat and Lesley at the local archives for helping with my dig! We have an incredible resource both in materials and in staff there.

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