During the last two decades, the city has clashed frequently with Douglas Bruce, both in his capacity as the author of statewide and local initiatives curbing the power of government and as a supposedly negligent property owner.
City officials, including several council members, have been particularly incensed about an aging duplex on West Kiowa Street, which Bruce acquired during 1993 after a fire partially gutted the property.
The duplex was boarded up and has remained vacant. There have been no visible efforts at renovation and neighbors have complained to the city that the property attracts vagrants and lowers the value of nearby houses.
But Bruce is not the only property owner with a vacant, deteriorating building in a historic neighborhood. The city itself has an indifferent record as the custodian of important historic properties, often tearing them down or simply failing to maintain them.
When Edna Rodebaugh died during 1995, she left her property on Cheyenne Road to the city, with the stipulation that it be used as a park. The property includes almost 4 acres bordering Cheyenne Creek, and two historic structures. It’s also home to one the Pikes Peak region’s most notable trees, a Crack Willow with a diameter of more than 72 inches, brought from Russia during the late 1800s.
Thirteen years after Rodebaugh’s death, the house is sealed shut and the park is still undeveloped. The city has given the property a name, the Harlan-Wolfe Park, honoring two pioneer homesteaders on Cheyenne Creek.
Paul Butcher, the city parks and recreation director, said that the park would not be developed until money was available and the cost of renovating the existing structures is determined.
“We’ve identified (the main house) as a structure of interest, but we haven’t even developed the area as a park,” he said. “We’re just stabilizing the building now, trying to keep it from getting rain damage. In our inventory of historic properties, it’s not at the top of the list — Rock Ledge Ranch and the City Auditorium are the most important.”
The park master plan calls for the main building, one of the first houses built along Cheyenne Creek during the 19th century, to be turned into an “environmental day camp/meeting center,” but specific plans and project budgets have yet to be created.
To date, the house has not met the fate of the 1920s Hidden Inn, torn down by the city at the insistence of philanthropist Lyda Hill, who was concerned that the city-owned structure, then used as a curio shop, would compete with her privately funded Garden of the Gods Visitor Center.
That’s the same fate suffered by a group of 1950s-era modernist buildings, including a bomb shelter erected on Red Rocks open space by then-owner John Bock.
“The historical culture value of the Bock Bomb Shelter is not inside,” said Shanti Toll in protest of the city’s decision. “Its value is that it is there. It will stimulate a discussion of values and the history of our time.”
And although the city has successfully applied for grants from the State Historical Fund for renovations to the Pioneers’ Museum and the auditorium, four years ago, City Council directed staff to refuse a grant it was awarded.
The grant, which would have helped pay for renovating and repairing the seats in the auditorium, came with conditions that council found unacceptable.
“The city would have been required to keep the auditorium in its present use for the next 20 years, and council wouldn’t accept that,” Butcher said. “And you know, the auditorium is always on the edge of the sales block — one of a group of assets, like the hospital, the golf courses and utilities, that every few years the idea of selling them comes up, so we can use the money for other needs.”