Codes vs. creativity
By Peter Dunn
At the most recent Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) meeting, attendees were graced by the presence of two
Colorado Springs Police Department Code Enforcement officers, who gave an informative discussion about their work and the
goals of the Code Enforcement Department. At one point, the discussion turned to a Westside resident found with a collection of
24 toilets in his backyard; and while the officer recoiled in horror over this unsanitary/unsightly display, my imagination began to
soar. Just what kind of person would be drawn to collect 24 toilets? My first reaction was to think that such a person must
indeed be interesting. Probably no green spot of grass in his back or front yard, more likely some vehicular hulk that elicits fond
memories, perhaps a collection of pipes and cut-off elbows. But for conversation, just the kind of guy I could enjoy for more
than a few minutes over the garden fence. So, I was left somewhat bereft by the calloused pleasure the officers displayed as they
recounted some of their prized trophies.
I really can't think of anything more disgusting than the picture-perfect house with not a single day's newspaper out of date, not a single dish outside the cupboard, not a single trinket displayed with a dash of dust. To my way of thinking, people who live in such pristine abodes are generally devoid of imagination and display none of the inventiveness and creativity that made America great.
The early history of the Westside was a community that began to flourish as an industrial center, a center of gold ore milling and refining, a center of one of the nation's largest ever railroad complexes, a center of barbed wire and wrought iron fence manufacture, a center of stone quarrying, a center of lumber milling, pottery design, movie production and airplane manufacture, among others. Going back through Polk Directories at the Carnegie Library, I found at one time nearly everyone on the corner of my block worked for a different railroad.
I remember seeing a photo of Eli Whitney's very first cotton gin. It wasn't even as large as a suitcase or a soapbox; but obviously, it was not an easy thing to build and probably he had to scrape around to find the materials. Some of us find the presence of a few materials around the yard to be an inspiration. Who knows when lightning might strike in that jumble of toilets?
If my foremost concern was property values, I certainly would not have bought my Westside residence in April 1984 next door to a running-down 5-unit 3-story apartment house (years ago the residence of the editor of the Gazette Telegraph, with its earliest resident having been the bookkeeper for the Isaac Kahn Lumbar Company.) It was not in conformance with zoning, then or now, but nobody complained. It subsequently foreclosed twice through two owners and back to the bank. It wouldn't bother me if it was still a running-down apartment building, behind which one of the tenants used to run a used appliance business in the backyard. As a matter of fact, I don't recall the Constitution requiring anybody to be responsible for their neighbors' property values.
But, if there is going to be a place in Colorado Springs for inventors, tinkerers, dreamers, artists, mad scientists, ham radio operators, eccentrics, deadbeats, or just plain pigs, I say, let it be the Westside. Because we have been here, we moved here when the weeds were neck high, when there were more skunks and raccoons than people, when there was more prairie than highway, when the buffalo outnumbered the cops, and when there was more work than jobs.
Several years ago, my wealthy brother-in-law invited me to Florida for Christmas. I got to tour the Edison-Ford Winter Estates in Ft. Meyers. If you have never been there, it is an eye-opening, amazing piece of American history right on the waterfront of the Gulf. Traveling the world over, Edison collected thousands of plant specimens, with which he populated the acres around his Florida lodge. From these specimens, he ground up every kind of compound imaginable in the search for a new domestic source for rubber to manufacture tires, among other things. The branches of the single Banyan tree on the estate today spread 400 feet in diameter.
As we toured the grounds, the guide admonished everyone in the group not to touch any of the plants because some of them are deadly poisonous. Likewise, in the laboratory where huge sanding belts line the aisles and Edison's napping cot is hidden on the porch, the guide warned not to touch the equipment. Thank the eternal truths, they didn't have Code Enforcement in those days, or we would all still be living in the dark.
Peter Dunn is a Westside resident.