Redevelopment goals sparked first Territory Days
by David Hughes
Here is the story of the real, first Territory Days. Not the one in 1977, but the one in 1976, Colorado's 100th anniversary, which
launched the annual spring public celebrations of “Old Town.”|
It started with the West Colorado Springs Commercial Club trying to get owners of the 98 Old Colorado City buildings, which were 45 percent vacant at the time, to fix them up historically like the new buyer-owners were beginning to do. But success was far from being assured because investors were cautious.
As the director of the Commercial Club at the time, I approached Bill Henderson, who owned the old Fox Photo building at 2506 West Colorado Ave., and said, “Bill, will you fix up your old building?” Bill said, “If I fix up that old building, my taxes will go up!” I said, “Well, if I make it so your taxes won't go up, will you do it?” And Bill, who had once been the mayor of Colorado Springs, said, “I don't think you can do it! That's tax law!”
So the Commercial Club cooked up a plan. Out against the east wall of the old Bancroft Park Cabin, we put on an act. Gene Brent, the gun store owner, stood out there as an early cowboy and raised his Colt into the air and fired it. A cluster of men and women dressed in old-time clothes gathered round. They made sure the members of the press were there with their cameras. Standing by on a big horse was Michael Garman, owner of Garman Galleries in Old Colorado City today.
Gene began to read: “The hard workin', vote castin' citizens of this here Colorado City, which once was the Capital - instead of that overgrown cow town called Denver City - want you legislators to come back down here and set up, if only for one day, the gummit of Colorado.”
He handed the invitation to Michael Garman, who clattered down Colorado Avenue on his horse in the direction of Denver and the cameras were rolling.
Next day, Garman rode up the steps of the Capitol in Denver, and called out for the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate to come out. He handed them the invitation, and they agreed to come!
The Pikes Peak or Bust by '76 Centennial Committee paid for the buses to bring the lawmakers down and, on an early, chilly, April day, a whole bunch of lawmakers showed up!
Now politicians love a parade, so down Colorado Avenue marched the first parade on the Westside in perhaps 100 years. All the lawmakers were in it, beaming and waving to the crowd! West-siders were agog!
Everyone gathered in Bancroft Park, and sat down to watch a hilarious melodrama, “Doubtful Denver Days,” in which Westside actors portrayed the first meeting of Colorado's first legislature in Colorado City - the first capital, with the first lawmakers. Jokes were played on all the current hot political topics in Denver. Everybody roared! There were Indian dancers, corny music and whoop de do.
The entire power structure of Colorado and Colorado Springs was crowded into that small park! There were President of the Senate Fred Anderson, Broadmoor Hotel owner and El Pomar head Thayer Tutt, El Paso County commissioners, Colorado Springs City Council members and many state legislators from southern Colorado and across the state.
It was such a stellar collection that it made the next morning's national TV news!
When the play was over, we Commercial Club officers escorted the lawmakers up and down Colorado Avenue, showing them struggling Colorado City. We stopped them in front of a pool hall and said, “We need a law stating if the owner of a commercial building anywhere in Colorado which is over 30 years old fixes it up, he doesn't have to pay increased property taxes for a period of at least 5 years!”
Till Bishop, House member from the Western Slope said, “That would work in Grand Junction!” And Senate President Anderson said, “Yep, that would help Loveland, too!” And so it went. The lawmakers all but talked themselves into passing the law right then, on the avenue, because it would help towns all over Colorado.
Colorado Springs Democrat Bill Comer introduced the bill in the Senate. Colorado Springs Repub-lican Steve Durham carried it in the House of Represen-tatives, and soon it was law.
I went back to Bill Henderson and said, “Well, Bill?” Bill smiled, and soon sold his building to a man who fixed it up pretty as you please. The law worked.
The old pool hall became the Territory Restaurant, then Bambinos, and now houses Cafe Latte.
Thus the annual Territory Days was born. The parade evolved into the three-day street festival of today, and the tax law became a key legal tool in the successful effort to restore Old Colorado City.
Dave Hughes is a long-time Westside leader. This article originally appeared in the June 2000 issue of West Word, the publication of the Old Colorado City Historical Society, and is reprinted with permission of the author.
Westside Pioneer article