Archive for September, 2009

“I moved here in ‘74. It seems we went to Everitt’s lumber that year (Prospect by the rr tracks). I remember part of that drive on a gravel road. Has memory failed me ?” John Reed.

Mr. Reed:

The lumber yard you describe is now Sutherland’s, and I don’t remember Everitts owning it previously. My thinking is perhaps that you visited “Cook Lumber” which would have been north of the location you describe and very possibly accessed by a gravel road. Cook Lumber was a native lumber mill that bought raw timber (logs) hauled from northwestern Larimer County, i.e., Red Feather Lakes, Deadman, Poudre Canyon and Gould (in Jackson County).


norm_profile[What happens when you ask the Lost Fort Collins blog a question? Typically, I just go ask Norm for the answer. Norm Cook has lived in Fort Collins since the mid 1940s, and he remembers EVERYTHING!

Now, you can cut out the middle man and ask Uncle Norm yourself. Just write [email protected].  Answers appear here on the Lost Fort Collins blog]

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West White Pine Lookout

Of the two dozen or so fire lookout towers in Colorado, West White Pine was closest to Fort Collins, almost directly to our west.

Built in 1939, the tower remained on its mountain top until sometime in the mid-1970s.

Then, a helicopter took the cabin and more or less plopped it into the middle of Lee Martinez Park, in the north part of Fort Collins. There it remained, uninterpreted and unrestored, for years. Later, with little fanfare, it moved to the Environmental Learning Center at Drake and Ziegler, where it remains today, uninterpreted and unrestored.

You’ve probably never seen it there, have you?

They didn’t make it easy to find. Perhaps because preservationists want to restore  it before much more tourist traffic visits.

Fire towers are disappearing everywhere, says Susan Epstein, volunteer for the Forest Fire Lookout Association and a former fire lookout. Only 6 active lookouts remain in Colorado.

West White Pine, 1952

West White Pine, 1952

Epstein and I recently hiked to the West White Pine “cab” at the Environmental Learning Center. Taking one wrong turn after another, our walk turned what should have been a 20-minute stroll  into a 3-hour tour. But it made finding the “damn tower,” as we fondly called it after Hour 1, that much more rewarding.

And that’s why I’m not going to tell you exactly where it is. Set aside some time. Take a hike; look for it.

Oh, you could probably just ask someone at the ELC, but keep in mind that they can sometimes mess up directions and send you to the wrong corner of the park. (So help us, we know.)

Here are a couple hints:  You start in the main parking lot, off CO Rd. 9 and Drake. Not the Prospect Ave. side.

Hike around to the southeast corner, taking every unintuitive right turn you see. Stay close to the river.

With luck, you’ll see a corner of the tower across the river. With even better luck, the river will be low  enough to cross, but do so at your own peril.

If  you do get across, you’ll see a road and wonder why you couldn’t just drive to it in the first place.  It’s a private road, only accessible by Authorized Personnel of the City of Fort Collins.

West White Pine, 2009

West White Pine, 2009

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Mural Beavers Day 1

Work began today on a new mural for Beavers’ market.

Artist Chris Bates, who’s painted transformer boxes (pdf) and other murals downtown, plans several panels along the west parking lot wall.

Mural Chris Bates

Bates says he wanted to paint the street-facing east side, but quickly realized that the snow plows on North Shields Street leave piles of snow and splash salts several feet up the side of that wall.

When this first panel is finished, it will look something like this:

Mural sketch

Bates says he hopes to finish the mural “before it starts snowing.”  For Fort Collins, that’s often around Halloween.

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Each month,  the Downtown Development Authority sets aside time to hear ideas from the public. The DDA web site suggests:

These ideas should embody innovative thinking, cool and exciting project concepts, creative solutions …. The idea [need not] have existing financial backing.

Here are ideas presented to the DDA board this year (also see more in Comments below):

  • “A global village museum.” This would reside in the Carnegie Library building, soon to be vacated by the History Museum. We’d fill it with artifacts collected by locals in their travels.
  • “Renovation for the old piano at the Elk’s club.” This is a beautiful instrument. Unfortunately, they found it could be preserved or restored. But not both. It’s going to the History Museum for preservation.
  • “A charter nature school.” Kids. Dirt. Bugs. This would sit next to the Raptor Center, on Vine.
  • “Downtown botanical gardens.” Adults. Dirt. Bugs.
  • “Recycling facilities.”
  • “National newspapers to fill our news racks downtown.” Perhaps in partnership with Al’s newstand.

Some neat ideas.

Then,  there’s this idea from Geoff Robinson, a Lost Fort Collins reader. Thinking about the abandoned Steele’s Market, which replaced the Franklin school,  downtown:

  • Found school. “Wouldn’t it be interesting if the building that replaces the Steeles could have elements of the old [Franklin] School?” Geoff writes.
Franklin School

Franklin School

Yes I think so. As for me, I’d like to see an

  • Outdoor Organ Pavilion. Like this one in San Diego. We’ve got some awesome players in this town. And think of Halloween!

[Photo:  University Historic Photograph Collection, http://lib.colostate.edu/archives/historic_photos.html, Colorado State University, Archives and Special Collections]

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In 1915, Lewis Wickes Hine came to Fort Collins for a day as part of  a project to document child labor in America. He photographed the Rommel house at 430 N. Loomis. It was boarded up in this October photo because the family was away harvesting beets. They would return to Fort Collins in the Winter to work at the sugar factory. This photo is now in the Library of Congress:


More recently, Joe Manning, of Massachusetts began looking for descendants of Hine’s subjects. He found and interviewed the grandchild of Jacob Rommel. From Massachusetts, he couldn’t get a good 2009 photo of the house. So I took these for him. It hasn’t changed much.



In this one, I'm trying for the same angle as Hine used in 1915.

But this is all just teaser. To meet the Rommels, go see Mr. Manning’s interview plus additional family and Hine photos: www.morningsonmaplestreet.com/jacobrommel1.html


Special thanks to Lesley Drayton at the Museum archives for passing this one to me.

By the way, you DO know about the museum’s blog, don’t you? It combines history and the Discovery Center. It’s here and will keep you up to date on Museum doings and other interesting stories: http://fcmdsc.wordpress.com/

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Beet Street, an enterprise formed to bring tourist dollars to downtown Fort Collins, recently announced a “Homegrown Fort Collins” event for late September.  It has something to do with eating local. And by that they mean eating at local restaurants, or eating from local farms, or drinking local beer.  But among its partners for the event it lists  a Greeley public radio station and a Texas organic grocery chain.

Why not KRFC, the Fort Collins community radio station? And why not the Fort Collins Food Co-op–our first natural foods market and now one of downtown’s oldest businesses?

I’m sure Beet Street has its reasons. KRFC and the Co-op are community-run outfits that probably can’t manage the scale of commitment or contribution that the NPR affliliate and Whole Foods can. And let me add that I applaud Beet Street for these efforts at doing more to celebrate who we are rather than who someone thinks we ought to be. To say nothing of its generous underwriting at KRFC. Cheers Beet Street.

But at the same time, I worry that “local” will soon become as meaningless as “green” as national corporations get on the bandwagon and somehow co-opt another grassroots movement. Especially the local food movement.

In this new landscape, will there even be a place anymore for the Fort Collins Food Co-op?

To answer that, you have to know where the Co-op came from, and why it ever mattered. It’s a story that starts with one of our earliest grassroots organizations, the Point.

The Point

In 1970, Bear Gebhardt started The Point in Fort Collins because he didn’t want to go to Vietnam. It was a choice the Federal judge gave him when he blew off his draft notice–2-5 years in jail or community service.

The Point, says Gebhardt, was his community service. And he stayed with it for 9 years.

It started as a nonprofit to provide drug counseling for teens. “Heroin was getting popular on the coasts, and everyone was worried about it coming to Fort Collins,” he says. Working loosely from early Dr. Andrew Weil writings, The Point encouraged kids to be more reflective. “We would say, ‘look, you’re obviously searching for something…” he says, and then trails off. “We did it all rather clumsily.”

But that didn’t stop him from trying. Over time, the Point housed several community efforts from its old brick mansion at Mulberry and Remington:

A small legal service opened, because drug use is a legal issue.

And a medical clinic, because drug use is a also health issue. The clinic offered prenatal and well-baby care as well.

It was all rather open, from what I can tell.

“I don’t recall that financial need had to be demonstrated as a condition of receiving services,” says John Gascoyne, now host of KRFC’s Imagine Action. “I had some minor medical service performed one night and swept the upper floor of The Point offices as payment. ”

Ya, and it just got more and more hippie from there.

They collected newspapers and hauled them to Denver for recycling–because no recycling existed in Fort Collins.  And they got the City to put up these thumb signs,  along College Avenue,  where you could solicit a shared ride during the first gas crisis. Hitchhiking with the City’s blessing.

Some of these programs fell flat (hitchhiking signs) and others blossomed (legal and medical services were picked up by bigger nonprofits and governments).

Begatting the Food Co-op

Activists were naturally drawn to The Point, forming what Gebhardt calls a tribe. A brown rice-loving tribe, apparently. Because they soon noticed that while  weed and alcohol were abundant in Fort Collins, you couldn’t buy a sack of unmilled rice anywhere.

So, in the Winter of 1971, 30 of them each kicked in a dollar and sent a driver to Erie to buy the first bag. Within a year, an active buying club took up more and more floor space at the Point. It soon outgrew its closet. Then one room and then two. Gebhardt says they thought about moving operations into the garage behind The Point, but the Health Department thought otherwise. The tribe would need to start a proper store.

And so it did. In 1974, the club incorporated and opened a shop at the old West Side Market at 700 W. Mountain. It proved a good location and the business made money. In fact, it soon outgrew the building.

Next, the Food Co-op moved to the current building on 250 E. Mountain in 1978. But things didn’t go so well there. Honestly, the Food Co-op seems to have mostly struggled ever since.


Do we still need the Food Co-op?

Over the years, the Food Co-op tried to draw in more customers, more seniors, more students. It struggled to address its inadequate parking.  Even keeping track of money proved challenging. And most recently, it’s had to compete with bigger and better organized organic commercial markets, like Whole Foods, Sunflower, Vitamin Cottage.

To make matters worse, it built a reputation as being unconcerned with shoppers. Members couldn’t agree on a management structure; staff with unwashed hair hardly looked up from their magazines as you shopped; food rotted in the produce bins. Maybe that didn’t used to matter. But with the Seattle coffee house lights, generous parking, and perky helpers of Whole Foods just down the street, the Co-op came to symbolize everything outdated and stuck about hippies.

So why not just shut it down?

Here’s why.  Here’s my 5 reasons why the Food Co-op still matters:

1. The Co-op is doing its damnedest to turn around right now. It’s cleaned up nicely. With an impressive new manager, the produce, layout, and the help is now pleasant and fresh.

2. It’s focused on buying local in a way no organic supermarket can. “We can buy from a farm that’s only an acre large,” says Chad Chriestenson, Co-op outreach and education. “The bigger markets can’t.”

3. It’s flexible enough to partner with other downtown businesses. While I was in the back room, management talked about splitting a shipment of apple cider with another small store. Soon after, Co-op manager, Lynn Chriestenson, held up a pile of checks she’d written and said, “I’ll only mail about a fourth of these.” Another fourth she’ll walk around town, paying downtown businesses with whom the Co-op has established partnerships. “The rest I’ll pay out at the Farmer’s Market this weekend.”

4. It’s ours, it’s local, and we have a history.

5. Meanwhile, Whole Foods is having a Wal-Mart effect on small towns all over America, says Every Kitchen Table. Once vibrant community-supported agriculture and food co-ops are buckling  everywhere, and the smallest farmers are losing out.

And maybe we’re losing out too.  I’m not sure. But I think it’s time to try the Food Co-op again and see if we can make it work–before “local” in Fort Collins is little more than a loosly defined label at a just-like-the-next-town-over strip mall organo-market.


Credits and post script

The idea for this story came from Allison Fink last February. Thanks Allison!

Bear Gebhardt still lives in Fort Collins. After he left The Point, he became a stock broker. He’s author of the book Enlightened Smokers Guide to Quitting and lists his current profession as “Monk” on his Facebook page.


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  • The Strang Grain Elevator
  • The Hottel House
  • The First National Bank @ Mountain & College
  • Unity Church at College & Mulberry
  • The Episcopalian Church @ Oak & College
  • The downtown war memorial
  • Franklin school
  • 1st Methodist Church on College

Anyone who’s lived in Fort Collins for a lifetime can tell you what these buildings have in common. They are among a long list of largely beloved structures that were torn down, replaced with not so lovable structures.

In large part, they’re why the city now funds historic preservation planning, in the form of two paid staff positions.

Historic preservation planners oversee regulations, to help prevent destruction of landmark buildings for short-term profit.

But they also provide incentives, like grant writing and interest-free loans,  to those who want to invest in restoration. Most recently, the Paramount Cottage Camp. But here’s a sample of buildings that are restored today because work from our planners:

  • Linden Hotel
  • Armstrong Hotel
  • Northern Hotel
  • Silver Grill building
  • Avery House
  • Street car barn
  • First Baptist Church
  • Countless private residences.

The city now is talking about cutting one of the preservation positions. People who know about such things tell me that it means we’ll still have plenty of regulation, but no time for incentives.

They say the “carrot” piece of the program, which will be lost, actually pays for itself in the form of grants from state and other outside organizations.

This could be a big blow to Fort Collins historic preservation. You can only regulate demolition for so long, before buildings become too run down to save.

Some  preservationists showed up tonight at City Council to ask for reconsideration. There are also opportunities for community input into the budget planning over the next few weeks.

If you care about such things,  show up. Speak, or just be present. It will mean a lot to those who oversee the historic integrity of Fort Collins.

(Photo http://history.fcgov.com)

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