Few signs of aging
Spruced-up business-backed boards on Hwy 24 at 26th St. still tell motorists where to go
Call it a sign not of the times.
Going back to the 1970s, a pair of low-key boards has greeted motorists on Highway 24, telling them that Old Colorado City is a historic district (established in 1859), has shops and restaurants and that a turn on 26th Street will take them there.
At first glance, it's hardly the big, glittery type of attractor that might be expected in a city of a half a million people. It's at street level, and the size facing either direction is only about 6 feet high by 16 feet wide, with a group of sawed-off telephone poles supporting it at either end.
Still, it's clear and colorful - lit up at night - and definitely appreciated by Old Town merchants and property owners, who generally see 26th Street as the key highway access to their shopping district. One of the first things local leaders asked the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), after hearing about future highway widening plans that would include 26th, was what would happen to the sign. (The answer is it's not certain, and no widening is foreseen for years, although CDOT has discussed replacing it with the Prospector statue, which also announces Old Colorado City's existence and which would be forced by the widening from its knoll at 21st Street.)
A tangible show of caring has been viewable in the past year. After the structure suffered wind damage (one of the aluminum plates had come loose) and a dent from something heavy (possibly a truck tire that flew loose), the Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District hired area sign-maker Jeff Cahill to fix it up.
“I saw a guy from California photographing it,” he said, recalling how it looked then. “What a landmark. One of the faces was flapping.”
It's not surprising that Cahill would take a special interest in the sign. After all, he created it. Now situated in Woodland Park, Cahill owned a sign shop on the Westside when the Maintenance District hired him in 1986. At the time, an older sign in the same location of 26th and 24 offered the same Old Colorado City turn-here message, but it consisted only of cut-out block letters over plywood sheathing. What Cahill did was to remove the cut-outs, paint a new design onto sections of aluminum and cover the sheathing with it. He described the look as a “Western motif.” The district also added sawed-off poles at the south end to balance the appearance.
The original plywood sign dates back to the late 1970s when long-time Westside civic leader Dave Hughes -who was then just getting started - worked with the Old Colorado City business community on the plan. As he recalls it, the group basically just put the sign up, then dealt with state transportation officials (CDOT itself didn't exist yet) who wanted explanations. “We didn't know the right of way rules,” Hughes said. “But we got our legislators to go to the state and fight them.”
In the end, the sign had to be moved a few feet north (away from the travelled road), but at least it got to stay.
Working in its favor, at least from a precedent standpoint, was the existence of an even earlier local sign facing westbound highway traffic a few hundred feet east of the intersection (near 25th and Naegele). It had been erected by Clarion Chambon for his Surplus City store. By the late '70s, it was deteriorated and masked by trees near the road, Hughes said, and the Chambons eventually took it down. But for a little while, both signs were in place, he said, pointing highway traffic toward Old Town.
Cahill has served on city sign committees over the years, and public regulations of signage seem to get more and more restrictive of the private sector. “They take away and they take away,” he said. So he has no doubt that the current 24&26th Street sign, pretty as he might try to make it, does not meet modern standards for a state-maintained U.S. highway. Still, as long as it doesn't move, it can be “grandfathered” in place. That's why, during the past year, the sign's structure stayed put while Cahill worked on it, he explained.
His work was accomplished in concert with the volunteer leaders of the Maintenance District, which is supported by property taxes in a geographically defined portion of Old Colorado City. Bill Grimes, a former ice cream shop owner and board member most of the years since the district started in 1979, summed up the general Old Town opinion: “It [the sign] gives us more visibility off the highway. It has always been thought necessary by the merchants and the board.”
Westside Pioneer article