Garman’s big weekend
Parapet collapses day before sculptor’s last scheduled signing
It was a big weekend for the Michael Garman Gallery, 2418 W. Colorado Ave. … in more ways than one.
Garman, the business founder and world-famous sculptor, was back in Old Colorado City for a signing Nov. 22-23 that would eventually attract about 1,000 people, some of them waiting as long as three hours to meet the man, said daughter and store manager Vanessa Garman.
But no one could have anticipated what would happen at 1:22 p.m. the day before when, without warning, about a ton of ornamental brick masonry broke loose from the parapet more than 30 feet above Colorado Avenue. The bricks slammed to the sidewalk, some of them ripping at awnings on the way down. A cloud of dust rose in the air and did not settle for two or three minutes, according to reports.
Since then, relieved that no one was hurt in the accident, Garman's has fenced off the front of its building and is starting work on a temporary roofed "tunnel," so people can walk safely down the sidewalk while façade repairs are arranged, Vanessa Garman said. In the meantime, the sidewalk in front of Garman's, as well as the Santa Fe Springs shop next door, is fenced off.
The 102-year-old, three-story structure itself has been deemed safe, said Curtis Martinell of the Regional Building Department. The way the Garman's shoppers got inside over the weekend was under a temporary wooden, roofed structure that extended out across the Colbrunn Court sidewalk.
The cause of the fall remains unknown. Crews had been working on the building's roof in recent weeks, but Vanessa Garman described the cause only as "undetermined." An insurance adjustor would probably have to make the final decision, Martinell commented, although he added that it "certainly seems coincidental."
Regional Building will be interested in the construction integrity of the temporary tunnel as well as of the future parapet fixes, to ensure the protection of pedestrians, he said. A building permit will be necessary to restore for the parapet work.
Although no one was hurt, there were close calls. U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Thomas DeKalb, walking his route through Old Colorado City, estimated afterward he had walked in front of Garman's only about 20 seconds before the collapse. "I've been thinking about it since it happened," he said. "If anything in my day had changed that 20 seconds, it could have been a lot different. I'm very fortunate, I really am."
An eyewitness, Joy Hearten-Johnson, a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory employee who saw it from the shop entrance across the street, said a couple had been walking near the Garman's building a moment before. "I saw them running," she said.
Charlie Irwin, owner of the Attic shop across the street, looked up right after it happened and observed the same scene. It was his impression that the couple had just turned the corner in front of Garman's. "Three more seconds and they'd have been dead," he intoned.
Johnson saw the masonry coming apart. She said the bricks initially came loose in the center, then "started to pull everything else with it."
In the ensuing dust, Westside architect/artist Curt Layman, another eyewitness, said, "The whole front of the building was a white cloud."
DeKalb ran into the cloud to see if anybody was hurt. "The dust was choking, heavy and thick," he said. "I had to wait for it to clear." About the time he had satisfied himself that nobody was in the wreckage, he heard somebody yell out, "Go back, go back," and he followed that advice.
Later, he said, after reflecting on what had happened, "I called my wife and said I loved her."
Fire and police vehicles arrived a few minutes later. They closed off the 2400 block for several hours while investigators scrutinized the building's stability and fire crews went up to the parapet to pull down any bricks that were still loose.
The final inventory of what fell, according to fire officials, was a row of bricks three to four feet high and 30 to 40 ft long. It is not known if the parapet has always had that brick facade, but in a photo going back nearly 50 years, when the Immanuel Missionary church was there at the northwest corner of the avenue and Court Street (now Colbrunn Court), the same masonry appears to be in place.
Garman moved his then-budding sculpting operation into the building in the mid-1970s and has worked and lived there until only recently.
Old Colorado City was abuzz after the incident, with many people feeling grateful that it had not happened when the sidewalk was full of people, such as the Oct. 31 Halloween Safe Treats event, when thousands of costumed children were shoulder to shoulder on the avenue, or even the Garman's signing event, during which lines of people waiting to see him might have been standing outside.
Garman himself was in the building when the bricks fell. Johnson said she saw him stick his head out, then go back inside.
Garman has been forced to move away from Colorado because the altitude is bad for his heart- a congestive condition for which doctors have given him less than two years to live - and he had flown in for the previously scheduled signing. However, the situation did not upset him, according to his daughter. "My father always takes everything in stride," Vanessa Garman said. "Very calm. Never panics."
Westside Pioneer article