Archive for August, 2008

 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:

  • Photo of basement house in Kansas
  • Photo of basement house with Realtor’s pitch (incredibly energy efficient and cheaper than condos!) Scroll down if you don’t see it at first.
  • Photo and definition from architecture newsletter. Scroll WAY down. Looks a LOT like the basement house we used to have at 147 N. Roosevelt (on Laporte Ave).
  • Photo of lost Utah basement house.

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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Ghost sign revealed!

The demolition of the buildings on the Farmers Insurance (see previous post) lot has revealed a Pepsi ghost sign on the side of the Food Coop.

I wonder if that’s going to be a problem for them.

It’s only half there, but the half that’s there looks fresh compared to our other faded signs (note Champion sign 2 doors down).

Don’t know if the new Bohemian building will cover the sign again–so go on down to Mountain and Walnut and see it while you still can.


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The milk man took the corner too fast and a crate of full bottles flew off his truck–right onto my street.

Some neighbors came out to help clean up. Some just came out to take pictures for their blog.

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