History Abounds In Colorado Springs’ Buildings

*Note: This audio essay first aired on KRCC (Colorado Springs’ NPR affiliate, 91.5 FM) on April 8, 2021. The link to the program is here; the audio file and the text from the essay are below.

Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us.”

I keep coming back to that quote recently as I watched the Rocky Mountain PBS show, “Lost & Preserved in Colorado Springs,” directed and written by Kate Perdoni. 

We look to the mountains and forget our buildings. We take them for granted, like gravity or air, but they’re still important. 

Right from our beginnings, still seen in the Native American place names on our street signs or our city’s original reputation as a tourist town. 

To the 1890s, when Cripple Creek gold and money flowed into building some of our most impressive structures — The Mining Exchange, built in 1902; Colorado Springs City Hall, built in 1904; The Van Briggle Pottery Building, built in 1907. And my kids’ favorite, the El Paso County Courthouse, built in 1903, today known as the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. 

For a time, our fair-weather city was a health resort for Tuberculosis patients, until the Second World War brought other treatments. 

The post-war period also brought on a military construction boom. Fort Carson, the Air Force Academy, Cheyenne Mountain and NORAD, Peterson and Schriever Air Force Bases.

What was once a small town, Colorado Springs has grown to roughly one-fifth the size of Rhode Island. 

Sometimes construction follows demolition. Landmarks like the Cotton Club and the Burns Opera House were lost forever. 

But some greats survived, like the Pioneers Museum. I take my kids there to board the hundred-year-old birdcage elevator, where you can step into the past for a moment. And when you step back out, you feel like you’ve gone a lot farther than just one floor. 

Until our next mountainside chat — be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on.

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