(All photos in this slideshow are by Helen and James McCaffery, courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District. Best viewed in full screen mode by clicking on arrows in lower-right corner of slide show)

Warning: For those who imagine a quaint and walkable downtown Colorado Springs full of beautiful buildings, apartments and entertainment venues, this slide show may painful to watch (probably even more painful than our slide show of the destruction of The Burns/Chief Theater because the scope is so much larger). It’s a stark portrait of the destructive local history of urban renewal that took place across the United States after World War II when the country wanted to look toward the future more than the past (and make a bunch of money while doing so). We now live in different times, and many have come to value our history in different ways and would rather see renovation and restoration rather than wholesale destruction and rebuilding. Sadly, many of the great buildings we once had would be impossible to rebuild both because of lost building techniques and cost.

In any case, these photos, which were created as “retrophotography composites” by the PPLD’s Special Collections, are a rare color portrait of downtown’s past and past-future. The collection was just recently posted at the Pikes Peak Public Library’s lovely online archive and we highly recommend searching “McCaffery” to see their other photos.

Katie Rudolph, the Pikes Peak Public Library’s Photo Archivist, wrote:

James and Helen McCaffery took photos of the urban renewal that was taking place in Colorado Springs in the 1950-1970s. The photos were taken by amateur photographers, but most are in color (a bit unusual for 1950s, 1960s photos) and capture the destruction that was going on during that time period. Helen and James photographed buildings prior to demolition and after—such as the Antlers Hotel, the Chief Theater, Latonia Apartments, and Glockner Hospital. Though James passed away, Helen McCaffery has been working with one of our volunteers, Nita Peters, to identify many of the photos and match up some of the pre-demolition and post-demolition images. Helen still has the bug to photograph more of the sites around Colorado Springs.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments if you have any memories of the bygone buildings in these photos or the urban renewal process in Colorado Springs. Thanks!


25 Responses to Then & Now: Portraits of Urban Renewal

  1. KIM says:

    Honestly I’ve always HATED 1960’s architecture. It’s stale, creepy, cold and militaristic (in a sense). I also HATE the fact that so many beautiful historical buildings were torn down and replaced with such UGLY architecture! I know that some buildings such as hospitals, etc. have to be over hauled but it’s sad to see.
    Love the before and after pictures, really enjoyed looking at them.

  2. hiker gal says:

    Heartbreaking to see so many wonderful buildings demolished.

  3. Marty says:

    Sad, no wonder there are no great old buildings here.

  4. Kim Polomka says:

    Coming from an architectural background and involved in many historical preservations overseas, I was absolutely dumbfounded by the complete insensitivity by people towards their irreplacible structures. This town is saved only by it’s great natural backdrop, otherwise it is an aesthetic disaster. What Colorado Springs need are excellent town planners that can master-plan for the city in the long term, an appreciation of good design. Good design costs the same as bad design why is that people seem to prefer the latter. An Urban design panel comprised of architects, designers, city planners to advise the city on architecture that that will benefit the city. Can anyone tell me why the Plaza of the Rockies has a set forward and narrows Tejon street..Absolutely Unbelievable. The real beauty of this City is that everyone is an expert, and it shows.
    Thanks to KRCC for bringing this important issue to the forefront.

  5. tOkKa says:

    –>> .. wonder what people will say of the current architechturee within’ the next 50 years or so.


  6. Noel Black says:

    Makes me appreciate what we still have even more: City Auditorium, Phantom Canyon, The Mining Exchange Building that’s being renovated at the corner of Pikes Peak and Nevada. Yeah, it’s a heartbreaker, but we’ve got to preserve what remains, too.

  7. Louise C says:

    There are a few good designs happening and some “saves” (for example, the re-design of bank at Boulder and Tejon, the Conover Building, etc.). We should celebrate those after mourning the loss of such nice old buildings as shown in the slide show and their horrible replacements. We can only hope for the best with the City’s new Form-Based Code for downtown (including no height restrictions).

  8. Louise C says:

    Oh, and the “reason” given for the Plaza of the Rockies jutting into Tejon Street was the small ice rink on the ground floor which was removed a few years ago!

  9. Dave Hughes says:

    Well why do you suppose I, a native of Colorado Springs, got so mad in 1972 after I retired from a 27 year military career to see the cultural destruction that had been done to the downtown I grew up with, using not only Urban Renewal but Eminent Domain.

    When the city was about to repeat that stupidity among the run down and vacant (50 of them) Victorian buildings along west Colorado Avenue, I jumped in, sold my eastside house and moved right into the heart of the then declining Westside, and have spent the last 35 years bringing back ‘Old Colorado City’ from the dead – historically, architecurally, culturally, economically. Even to the extent of creating a completely separate (from the Pioneer’s Museum) Old Colorado City Historical Society and History Center – housed in the totally refurbished 1889 First Baptist Church of Colorado City.

    Which project has succeeded to the point Old Colorado City is now a National Historic District.

    This slide show about the destruction of downtown Colorado Springs which will never come back is only missing one classic place – even ‘The Cotton Club’ was destroyed. Sure, since it catered especially to blacks, it was FAR more significant culturally than the white bread springs residents ever realized – for all of the great black musical artists played there, from Louis Armstrong on.

    If you want to see a before and after picture of ‘Old Colorado City’ that was NOT destoryed, just log onto http://history.oldcolo.com and select the recently created web story ‘Story of the Rebirth Since 1976 of Old Colorado City and the Westside”

  10. Ed Duffy says:

    I wouldn’t call the changes hideous or tragic, but one can certainly argue that they are little if any improvement and that it illustrates that government should, to the largest extent possible, stay out of the development business.

  11. Hey Noel, very nice pictorial. How grand the city could have been without all the updating. The newer buildings don’t have the charm of the older ones. And I’ve always felt the Penrose Library was wedged into that spot…it doesn’t sit gracefully where it’s at.

  12. Sandra says:

    80-90% of the changes, UGLY, dull, all about efficiency and making the most $ possible, very little about the art of living. The decisions then reflect on where we are today.

  13. Gina Dellinger says:

    Ah, progress! What were our community leaders thinking? The unused (mostly) parking lots on Pikes Peak Avenue are a grim reminder that the so-called future growth of downtown never materialized.

    The Burns Opera House, Woolworth’s, Walgreen’s, Lerner’s, JC Penney’s, Hibbard’s, Levine’s, Michele’s … the list goes on and on. The very things that help make a downtown vibrant are no longer available. Some are gone through foolishness, and others through corporate greed.

    I have lived here my entire life, but I can honestly say that I am no longer as proud of my city as I was as a youth. Vision, or lack thereof, certainly makes for a plain-jane bedfellow. We have reaped what we have sown … maybe future generations will be more visionary, or lucky.

  14. Lenore Fleck says:

    It’s obviously not just here in the Springs. There was something weird going on with architecture starting in the middle of the 20th century. My college was set in a beautiful forest, but the science building was gray concrete with skinny windows. What were they thinking? At the time, maybe it seemed trendy to be straight-lined, unadorned, and “modern”-looking. My son attended CSU — compare the original brick buildings by the treed oval to the newer additions by the stark student center, surrounded by a sea of cement. May the pendulum swing back again!

  15. Noel Black says:

    No, Lenore, it wasn’t just here. And while there’s no reason not to be sad that we’ve lost a lot of these beautiful and irreplaceable buildings, there was a very different cultural mindset at the time. Colorado Springs had cast its lot with the burgeoning aerospace industry and the military. We were a town that, at the time, wanted to cast ourselves into the future and cast off the past (not to mention all the government money available for condemning and leveling perfectly wonderful buildings). To look back, now, in hindsight, we see the sad results of that gamble. But the same thing happened in New York City. Whole neighborhoods were destroyed by Robert Moses and replaced with projects that turned into slums. Highways were given right of way through historic neighborhoods, the incredible Penn Station was laid flat and replaced with the monstrous modern dump that still stands. So we’re not alone. It’s my understanding that the same processes of condemnation and urban renewal are still alive and well. Take a look at the NE corner of Nevada and Pikes Peak, for example. That was all recently condemned and leveled. I believe some sort of “green” office tower was supposed to go in there, but it seems that parking lots are often what we get. I’ve invited Matt Mayberry from the Pioneers Museum to come in and speak about the history of urban renewal so stay tuned for that in a little over a week.

  16. Good job doing this great work for the community. Will anyone listen this time? As a UK citizen -longtime resident of London -and fairly recent resident in this community, I am deeply concerned about the new plans for urban renewal ‘ Dream City’. I see another Denver-cars, glass and concrete with some big fancy features to make a statement to people on the highway. Please, please, please let’s start a group to propose alternative ideas, some sort of local design committee, at the least try generate more interest and comment ( gazette pics etc are not enough ). People on the project are no doubt trying hard but there should be public forum – meetings- and debate on the issue. With a masters in Fine Art Sculpture I am passionate about not only beautiful and interesting old architecture, but human and eco-friendly, urban spaces for people.

    PS. One question I have not found a satisfactory answer to is – why is the waterway running through our city completely neglected as a feature? -Water is a beautiful, soothing natural element that every other city I have lived in cherishes… what happened?

  17. Sharkitect says:

    I agree that it is tragic that so much of our great urban fabric has been demolished and replaced with regionally, socially, and environmentally irresponsible architecture. But what is most shocking to me about these pictures (both before and after) is the unsustainable and incredible amount of pavement! My hope for the future of downtown is infill, density, and transit. Until we fill in the emptiness our hopes for a vibrant walkable downtown will not come to fruition.

  18. Jeremy Van Hoy says:

    Streetcars, classic architecture, beautify the waterway (hello Pueblo), pedestrians only (hello Denver), live music, live sporting events, music festivals, art festivals, dance festivals. Stir and enjoy.

  19. Louise C says:

    I believe the NE corner of Nevada and Pikes Peak is owned by Norwood Development. The parking lot is temporary for a few years until the economy recovers and funds for a very tall high-rise building can be borrowed. Plans call for condos up high (picture helicopter rides to show prospective buyers the views from their floor) and retail or offices at ground level and above. Remember, there are no height limits, only a form-based code in effect for new buildings downtown. The building’s aesthetics are pretty much up to the developer and their architects–and you can forget classic architecture. The new downtown Denver is very much the “ideal” for downtown CS developers. Almost totally lost to Colorado Springs has been the residential neighborhoods “downtown” south of Colorado Avenue (only a small area remaining around Shuga’s), replaced by a total mish-mash of small business buildings.

  20. i’ve always enjoyed the Mining Exchange Building, both the building next to the bus terminal and the building being gutted next to Kimballs. they are both very under-used spaces and pleasing to look at.

  21. […] Best viewed in full screen mode by clicking on arrows in lower-right corner of slide show) (Click HERE to see the original post, “Then and Now: Portraits of Urban […]

  22. karen lakes says:

    This was indeed the route Major McAllister’s home was slated for-a parking lot! Thank goodness for the foresight of those who saved it.

  23. Mike - LV says:

    I never knew what I was missing when I pass through Colorado Springs until I found some old color slides of a family vacation (by others) in Colorado in the 1950’s. the one of the Antlers Hotel and Downtown is here – http://www.flickr.com/photos/46064258@N08/

    We (my parents that is) should have bought property in Manitou or Colorado City 40 years ago as we always loved the area. I am even more sad when I see and understand what is gone. We as a society can do a lot better. The destruction of Colorado Springs downtown is a lesson for me.

  24. Mike - LV says:

    Ooops – link wrong –

    Antlers Hotel is actully here:



  25. Nita Peters says:

    I am the person who helped helped Helen McCaffery to complete the post-demolition photos. There are many more buildings other than those typically focused on: the Antlers, the Chief Theater, etc. We also lost the Elks Club, the Alta Vista Hotel, the old El Paso County jail, a good half of the Alamo Hotel, and countless wonderful old downtown private homes and boarding houses. If you’d like to see the whole realm of losses, look on http://www.ppld.org and click on the digital photo archives. The McCaffery photos are among the collection.


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