(“Demolition of the Alta Vista Hotel on 118 North Cascade Avenue”, 1963. Photograph by by Helen and James McCaffery. Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District. Image number 266-10006.)

If you follow The Big Something, then you know that we like to practice a form of process journalism that involves lots of digging around in forgotten corners of our regional history, posting what we find, then taking your thoughts and feedback and digging some more.

Today we bring you an interview with Matt Mayberry, local historian and Director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, that arose from the overwhelming response to a variety of posts we’ve done about urban renewal and the many beautiful downtown buildings that were demolished in the 1960s and ’70s.

As you’ll learn in this 17 minute interview, urban renewal was not unique to Colorado Springs by any means, nor was it necessarily more devastating here than in other cities our size. Many people at the time were more than happy to say goodbye to old buildings and make way for the new as the city reinvented itself after WWII. Here Matt Mayberry describes the local and national circumstances that led the community to reinvent itself in ways that many now mourn. (Right-click/option-click to download, or just click on the green play button to stream)

KRCC Interview with Matt Mayberry about Urban Renewal

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Look at the urban renewal slide shows we’ve posted while you listen.

(Click HEREto see the original post, “Beautufiul Photos of a Terrible Thing” and HERE to read an amazing history of the building.)

(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)
(Click HERE to see the original post, “Then and Now: Portraits of Urban Renewal”).

Watch “Time to Live” (original post HERE), the 1964 promotional video to which we refer in the interview, and which captures the zeitgeist of the urban renewal period in our history:


6 Responses to Why Downtown Disappeared: An Interview With Matt Mayberry

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by KRCC. KRCC said: Why Downtown Disappeared: An Interview With Matt Mayberry: (“Demolition of the Alta Vista Hotel on 118 North Casca… http://bit.ly/bi7Ts7 […]

  2. Dave says:

    At last somebody who feels the same way I do about gutting the historical jewels of the Springs. I always thought what incredible lack of vision and aesthetic people with power had to tear down a marble opera house and erect in it’s place a bank drive through. Whoever you are stay away from Venice. You don’t deserve to go there. Instead go to Detroit. Immerse yourselves in it’s deterioration and decay. Soullessness is what you understand. In case you didn’t get it, I’m still pissed after all these years.

  3. Amy Hillman says:

    I am very saddened by this ‘Urban Renewal’ mentality that was adopted by the powers that be in the Springs. It’s a shame that all we know how to do is destroy our history. When you destroy historical buildings, you lose the sense of community that binds a city together. That is what has happened here. It is a real shame. Now it feels like a concrete jungle downtown, with little connection to the past. It is our great loss. I agree with the above comment by Dave.

  4. Nancy Atherton says:

    Thank you so much, Matt Mayberry, for putting CS’s past into a larger historical context. You gave me much to ponder. If, as Americans, we’re programmed to constantly reinvent ourselves and our environments, isn’t it possible that the next phase of our reinvention could result in a livable, walkable, know-your-neighbors Colorado Springs instead of the confused and isolating semi-suburban sprawl that exists now? I’m not holding my breath, mind you, but it sure is nice to think of the possibilities.

  5. Dave Hughes says:

    Noel: I listened carefully to your interview with Matt Mayberry today, about his views of Why Downtown Disappeared. It was ok as far as it went. But it did not go either deep enough or wide enough (into other factors) that Matt mentioned.

    I noted he avoided claiming much knowledge of the economics factors.

    I am a Colorado Springs native, who grew up on Millionaires Row (Wood Avenue where my wealthy uncle and aunt owned E.W.Hughes Investment Company downtown in the Exchange Bank Building and knew the power structure as well as anyone). After my 27 years Military Service starting from West Point in 1946 and ending as Chief of Staff 1973 of Fort Carson before diving into and heading up the historical renovation of Old Colorado City after 1976 – triggered by my disgust of the city fathers and their short-sightedness – and especially the downtown businessmen – in tearing down Downtown. The city Administration was prepared to repeat the mistakes of downtown by tearing down the Westside and its 92 commercial buildings (which were historically good enough to become the first National Historic District in the city – 1982) when I intervened.

    Here are several basic reasons the ‘Downtown’ was destroyed that Mayberry did not touch on, partly I think, because he does not want to offend the ‘establishment’

    1. Colorado Springs, after Palmer, never valued Historic Preservation unless it was funded by the private sector itself – with no public role. (Broadmoor, Colorado College, the Old North End private homes)
    2. Downtown was targeted by both Urban Renewal and Eminent Domain to help bail out large-property owners whose downtown investments were losing value as the first serious retail competition in the form of the Citadel (shopping malls rising). Because HUD doled out over $2.8 million a year in Bloc Grant Money, no downtown building owner lost money when he was bought out. The destruction was as much from the influence of the powerful as by any considered urban planning by the Administration.
    3. The business leadership of the City was dominated by Real Estate interests in the 50s and 60s whose only answer to economic development was – and largely still is – physical growth, with new construction spreading eastward fueled by attracting both Defense Department dollars and large corporations. Small business was, and still is, ignored.
    4. None of the business brains in the city could see EITHER the coming wave of small business wanna-be’s coming to Colorado on John Denver’s swan songs, OR the potential in growing interest in Historic Preservation even in the face of the looming (1976) Colorado Centennial and Nation’s Bicentennial Year – which the City and its power structure was on the verge of just blowing off totally before I – in my anger at both the stupidity of the so-called business leadership and already destruction of key buildings. stepped up to make it happen, entirely pro-bono.
    5. Even the saving of the Pioneer’s Museum building was a fluke – a combination of weird legal obligations of the County who owned the building on city property, and the public outcry over the already destruction of other key buildings.

    So while Matt gave generalized reasons springing from national trends for the destruction, he also pointedly did not mention the success of the Westside saving the same era buildings (which after all, since 1917 was an integral part of the City of Colorado Springs, just as downtown was) And we did it using the same Federal Block Grant money (to finance over 68 small business/buildings) that was used downtown, and we becoming a National Historic District too boot. Perhaps you may note why we have a totally independent (of city money and the Pioneer’s Museum) Old Colorado City Historical Society with our own half million value 1889 restored original Baptist Church, done from private donations and state gambling taxes.

    You might learn about the stark contrast the westside used versus downtown to ‘bring back’ historically and not just economically, the entire westside AND Old Colorado City commercial district by paging through the Rebirth of Old Colorado City on our web site

    There are as many municipal lessons to be learned about local historical preservation in the contrast between the power structure’s downtown as the westsides done by volunteers an not the moneyed.

  6. I am dismayed with the look of Colorado Springs today.
    It used to be one of the most beautiful small cities in the world. There were beautiful buildings and wonderful stores downtown;and people actually enjoyed going to the “Springs”.
    Why was all of this torn down. ???? Can’t we lean from the Europeans. That is one reason everyone visits there to se the
    history and the architechture. Any buildings we have left, we must fight to save ;so thaqt future generations can enjoy them and know why we loved Colorado Springs and wanted to live here.
    I don’t even want to go out to Powers! Gail Carpenter


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