Bock house stays, others don’t in city RRC plans
Changes dramatize end of 80-year saga
About a half a mile south of Highway 24, tucked in beside a graceful rock formation and a one-acre man-made lake, is the
Frank Lloyd Wright-style house that John S. Bock and his brother Richard designed and erected in the 1960s. For a time
together, the two engineers wove dreams of palatial developments for the vast Red Rock Canyon property that they had
inherited from their father.
Although not considered architecturally significant by Wright granddaughter/ Colorado Springs architect Elizabeth Wright Ingraham (see story below), the house is arguably the most impressive of several structures on the property, some of which are scheduled to be demolished soon.
By the 1980s, Richard had moved to Arizona and the house had become the personal domain of John and his wife, Joan. It's also where John died in March 2002. The golf courses, “world cultural center” and high-rise hotel/apartment complexes that he and his brother had envisioned never came to pass. By the end of 2003, the property was sold to the City of Colorado Springs for open space.
The sale ended an 80-year family saga that began when World War I veteran John G. Bock fell in love with the canyon and started buying it up, piece by piece.
In his lifetime, the senior Bock did not live in the canyon itself. But his home was nearby, roughly where the Red Rock Safeway is now, and he led regular horse rides through it, reclaimed the once-quarried areas and built dams - holding to this day - to control the steep canyon drainages .
A crystal-clear record does not exist for all the structures on the property - who built them or even when. The Richard-John house, apparently the most recent, has a puzzling issue with its date. According to the county assessor (as reported by Stephen Snyder in a document for Colorado Springs Parks), it was built in 1967. However, an aerial photo, found in a nearby, Bock- built bomb shelter, has a date of 1965 and clearly shows the L-shaped house by the lake.
The oldest structure, down the dirt road that leads to the house, is dated 1909, the Snyder report states. It's the remains of a ranch/barn. Similar to the ramshackle house (built in 1924) farther down the same road, it sits well below the ground around it. The house even has the nickname, “the house in the hole.”
According to Greg Jensen, a parks employee who has been living in the house as its caretaker in recent months, the two structures took on that sunken look in the mid-'60s. The state was planning to extend a freeway-style Highway 24 up the pass from its then-ending point at 31st Street. The area at the mouth of the canyon (around Ridge Road and High Street, just south of the present highway) was at a much lower grade than now. Not wanting it to be lower than the new highway, the Bocks had large quantities of fill dirt brought in. This left the older houses in “holes.”
But that bit of lore is not going to have tangible form much longer. Both these old structures are slated for demolition starting this week, according to Terry Putman and Chris Lieber of the Parks Department. Also slated to come down are an old block building with a soft-drink sign at the base of Sand Canyon, two of the three pole barns located up the road from the house and a house on a ridge near the road that has steep steps up to it.
It's in “poor condition,” Lieber said of the ridge house, noting that safety issues are involved in all the planned removals. He added that the ridge house, because it still has a tenant, will be torn down at a later date than the others.
Close to 30 mobile homes were in Red Rock Canyon when the city purchase went through. These are being separately removed as the city works to relocate the residents, who used to rent from Bock.
The overall idea is to “get the property open to the public as soon as possible,” Lieber said.
Putman said the two barns are being retained for now, along with the Bock house and a detached building containing a garage and bomb shelter. They are to be given a more complete “historical structure assessment” in the months ahead, Putman said.
Each of these retained buildings has quarried rock on one or more walls and was built into the earth on at least one side.
According to Jensen, the house had apparently not been well maintained in the Bocks' final days there, and the roof leaked when he moved in.
He said the bomb shelter, consisting of several rooms, may not have been entered from the 1970s until the city took over the property. One indication is two 1970s calendars on the wall.
The bomb shelter also holds the large model of the Bock brothers' planned Red Rock Canyon Project, probably their hugest of reportedly several development brainstorms they had. According to the October 2001 issue of the Red Rock Rag, the 1975 plan called for 804 hotel rooms, 3,600 residential units in towers as high as 36 stories, a 1.1 million square-foot regional shopping center, a convention center and sports arena, a world cultural center, a community center, fine arts theater, a museum, and a night club center to be housed under four domes, Additionally, there was to be an underground parking facility of 60,000 square feet., a medical research center, a communication tower, a technology center and industrial park, a service and supply depot, and 13 lakes to accommodate water sports, reported the Rag, a monthly publication by the Red Rock Canyon Committee (which disbanded after the city open space purchase) when it was leading the advocacy effort to save the canyon as open space.
By 1975, wrote Don Ellis, Rag editor, in a March 2004 piece for West Word (the Old Colorado City Historical Society publication), “John S. Bock had already opened a landfill in Gypsum Canyon (within the Red Rock Canyon property) in 1970, stating that he was filling the 'ravine' so it could become a golf course.”
The Red Rock Canyon Project idea eventually died. If implemented (considering the engineering complications with the property's steep canyons), the Bock name likely would have become synonymous worldwide for structural innovation. Instead, their construction legacy consists of a few aging buildings.
Westside Pioneer Article