1544 W. Oak wasn’t always a plain, uninteresting apartment complex. And if its owners have their way, it won’t be one much longer.
“We were talking about tearing the apartments down and building condos,” says owner Maureen Plotnicki.
But then she learned the property had a past. According to city documents, 1544 began as a “cottage camp.” That is, a place where tourists could “enjoy all the recreational opportunities Fort Collins had to offer, without having to ‘rough it’ in a tent or automobile.” It included a store and a gas station too.
So why don’t we just call the 1928 business a motel? For one thing, the word Motel didn’t even enter our dictionaries until after World War II. Also, cottage camps typically weren’t built along highways like motels. In the case of Paramount, it was built to complement the municipal campground just across the street at City Park.
Plotnicki says now that she knows that she’s sitting on a historic cottage camp, she doesn’t want to build condos there anymore. Instead, she wants to use the site to “explain some of the history to the community and restore some pride to the property.”
So, she’s nominated 1544 W. Oak for Landmark designation. Then she’ll seek a State Historical Society grant to reconstruct the original sign, flower boxes, roof, siding, and some of the garages.
Plotnicki’s Landmark application has already been approved by the Landmark Preservation Commission, and goes to City Council for a first reading on Tuesday, September 1.
And now I’m going to go all editorial on you: It is rare that historic property owners look beyond trendy magazine interpretations of “old house” (NeoCraftsman with a Tuscan kitchen anyone?) and really seek out a building’s true context.
In Fort Collins, especially, where most of the properties were never grand, it takes a certain understanding to see the beauty in the modest scale of most of our buildings and work to toward restoring that. Big thanks and regards to the owners of 1544 W. Oak. I think they’ll enrich the whole neighborhood and set a great example because of their vision.
To learn more about the history of the Paramount Cottage Camp (like how 1928 hotel owners petitioned to have it shut down for being too competitive), download the PDF application here.
Camp photo: University Historic Photograph Collection, http://lib.colostate.edu/archives/historic_photos.html, Colorado State University, Archives and Special Collections