Archive for August, 2009

1544 W. Oak, 2009

1544 W. Oak, 2009

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.

Fort Collins Campground 1925

Fort Collins Campground 1925

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

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“Colorado, America’s Uranium Basket,”  must have seemed like a fresh article idea in 1952 when Colorado Wonderland sent it to the presses. Wonderland was a tourism magazine that had long kept to trout fishing, hunting, and skiing. But they needed something special for the 1952 Vacation Issue.


The new twist was, I think, that you could add a tour of Colorado uranium country to your Rocky Mountain holiday. Or maybe try your own hand at it. The story included details about government subsidies available to miners and a general feeling that everybody profits from uranium mining.

You know, even schools and parks benefitted, briefly, as some mines gave away their tailings as  fill dirt.

Well, I don’t want to be a buzz kill. So, if you want to know how this all worked out,  go here.  Or here. But I think you should just stay on the Lost Fort Collins blog, and look at hopeful pictures from a budding industry.  It’s not too late for a weekend summer road trip (or a Silkwood shower).


Caption: “Beginning of this atomic mushroom cloud is” …uranium from Colorado!

uranium water

Caption: “Blair Burwell…dips his hand into a tank where uranium oxide is being removed from carnotite by acid.”

uranium egg

Caption: “This egg is extremely high in uranium content–and therefore extremely radioactive.”

See also

http://www.nunnglow.com for modern affairs in America’s Uranium Basket.

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Frontier Airlines was auctioned off this week to Republic Airways.

Coincidentally, I today picked up a stack of “Colorado Wonderland” magazines dated 1950 to 1955.  The magazine is all about promoting tourism in Colorado, promising a minimum of 6 natural color photos in each issue. Plus, there are ads for 3, that is, THREE! different passenger rail carriers for Colorado in almost every issue too. There’s a lot of excitement about the all-concrete Boulder to Denver turnpike. And the state engineer is hinting we’d make a great east/west route for the new transcontinental highway. But that’s all for later.

Today, let’s take a moment for Frontier:


This May 1950 map shows all the airlines operating out of Colorado:  Braniff, Challenger, Continental, Monarch, United, and Western Air.

The following month, June1950, Challenger and Monarch would merge with a third airline to become Frontier. Here are the ads of the day:






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Town father, Elias Whitcomb, was a cattleman who helped found the Agricultural Colony, which became Fort Collins. He came from the East with nothing, married an Indian woman, built an impressive house north of town, and got a street named for him.

He’s even in the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Here’s a photo of him (circled):


All those other guys? They’re  gunmen from Texas brought to snuff out small ranchers in Wyoming.

Whether those small ranchers needed snuffing out or not, is debatable.  The small ranchers, homesteaders mostly, were supplementing their holdings by swiping cattle from the big cattlemen–big cattlemen like E.W. Whitcomb. When the courts wouldn’t prosecute the rustlers to the cattlemen’s satisfaction, the cattlemen turned to vigilantism. Or is that mercenaries?  Some of both, I guess.

Whitcomb rode with the Texas gunmen and a list of targets, into Buffalo, Wyoming. People got killed. But despite his vigilante actions, the people of Fort Collins sympathized with him. “It would be extremely hard to convince the people of this county that [the vigilantes] were activated by unworthy motives,”  said the Fort Collins Courier. Most people called it simply an “unfortunate expedition.”

Historians had another name for it: the Johnson County War. They say powerful ranchers set out to wipe out rustlers and small cattle ranches.  And they were motivated by more than preserving herds. The small ranchers were starting to organize, and maybe threatened the big guys’ hold on the market and the land and the water.

Still, Whitcomb’s expedition worked out for him.  Nobody was prosecuted, and one account said the Johnson County Wars led to “cattle owners receiving a measure of justice at the hands of the courts not enjoyed hitherto.” Which I think means the courts got tougher on rustlers.

Maybe. But not tough enough, apparently. Because a few years later the big cattlemen were paying Tom Horn to pick off rustlers in this region. $600 per. There are several movies about Horn, and History Channel plans a documentary about him this Winter.

Horn had few connections to Fort Collins, but if you drive north an hour, to Cheyenne, you’ll see where he was hung. And if you drive south for an hour, you can visit his mortal remains in Boulder.  In fact, you are less than a day away from Tom Horn killings all over Colorado and Wyoming.

Here’s a picture of Tom Horn:

EW Tom Horn favorite horse

He’s on his favorite horse, named E.W., after Elias W. Whitcomb.


No matter what I searched for in this story, I ended up at Wyoming Tails and Trails. An awesome and exhaustive Wyoming history site. There’s so much more to the story of the Johnson County Wars and Tom Horn than I tell here. The picture of the “Regulators” with Whitcomb came from that site.

Tom Horn wrote an autobiography before he died. It’s appended with pictures (like the one of him on his horse here) and letters he received in jail (like one from a Mr. Ownbey in Loveland). The autobiography is available free online from  Google Books.

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Overgrown racetrack with glassed in grandstand

Overgrown racetrack with glassed in grandstand

Cloverleaf stopped racing dogs in 2007. Surrounded by the new hospital, Centerra Lifestyle Center, and even the failing outlet mall, the 50-year-old racetrack sold last year.

The Medical Center of the Rockies bought the lot. I know that because if you try to explore the ruins, a security guard from the hospital finds you in a couple minutes. She says they will tear it down. Recycle everything. Build a new hospital building all out of recycled material. And then she’ll run you off.

She also says, no you can’t take pictures. I had to photograph from the frontage road by I-25.

Lucky for us, Defunct Playgrounds got some good ones here: http://defunctplaygrounds.com/cloverleaf.php

Elemental Imaging got great ones too.


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