Stuff happens, as the old saying goes (bowdlerized for this family friendly publication).
We in the media tend to concentrate on the bad stuff, because that’s news. As a veteran reporter once put it, “If I go to a neighborhood, and 40 houses aren’t burning to the ground, my editor doesn’t care. Show me the one engulfed in flames!”
But good things do happen.
And here in Colorado Springs, we’ve had many successes during the 138 years since the town’s first stake was driven into the ground at what is now the southwest corner of Pikes Peak and Cascade avenues.
So, here’s my list: the Colorado Springs top nine. The sole criterion: lasting, beneficial impact upon our community. Why nine? So you can add the 10th.
1. Gen. William Palmer founds the city.
No Palmer, no Colorado Springs. Absent our first and greatest developer, we’d be a very different place.
We’d be Washington without Pierre L’Enfant, New York City without Fiorello LaGuardia, Hamlet without Shakespeare, Old Colorado City without Dave Hughes.
2. Colorado Springs voters authorize the creation and funding of a municipally owned water system during 1878.
The system replaced a haphazard network of irrigation ditches and private wells. But don’t give the voters too much credit — they had turned down a proposed bond issue a few years earlier and were only persuaded to change their minds after a fire consumed a couple of downtown blocks.
Colorado College was founded during 1874, followed 80 years later by the Air Force Academy during 1954. The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was established on the former site of Cragmor sanitarium during 1965, followed four years later by Pikes Peak Community College.
All four institutions make outsized contributions to the life of the city — and if you happened to see this year’s best Indie flick, “500 days of Summer,” note that it was created by a recent CC graduate.
4. During the early 1950s, the irresponsible spendthrifts on City Council authorized the Blue River Project which brought water from the Western Slope to Colorado Springs — the city’s first transmountain diversion.
The cost, especially for a pokey little town of 50,000 souls, was astronomical — but council members knew that the Pikes Peak Watershed could no longer meet the needs of a growing city.
Their prescience has served us well. Thoughtful foresight and willingness to buck the tides of public opinion are not characteristics normally associated with small-town politicians. These guys had it, and then some.
5. Going back a little farther in time, let’s hear it for the “unusual subducting slab” which gave rise to the Laramide Orogeny 70 million years ago, without which Pikes Peak would not exist.
And yet another shout-out for the successive ice ages during more recent times, which sculpted the mountain into its present satisfyingly dramatic form. Pikes Peak as a round mound of granite? So bad for the visitor industry!
6. Every speck of gold on the planet was produced by the unimaginable temperatures and pressures at the heart of an exploding star, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.
Somehow, much of the glittering galactic dust so created ended up a few miles west of Pikes Peak for Bob Womack to discover.
No Cripple Creek gold rush, no Spencer Penrose, no W.S. Stratton, no stately mansions on Cascade Avenue — just a snooty, pretentious little town with a sign at the city limits reading “Entrepreneurs need not apply!”
Cripple Creek not only made a lot of folks rich but rearranged power and class in the city in ways that still resonate.
7. Spencer Penrose made a ton of money.
Investing $83,333 of his Cripple Creek gains into Charlie MacNeill’s far-fetched scheme for mining the low-grade copper deposits in Utah’s Bingham Canyon during 1903, Penrose realized annual dividends of more than $1 million from 1909 until his death 30 years later. He used the money to build the Broadmoor Hotel, the Will Rogers Shrine and the Pikes Peak Highway.
More significantly, most of his fortune went to endow …
8. The El Pomar Foundation. Many of our city’s iconic institutions and structures would not exist, or would only exist in sadly diminished states, without El Pomar’s beneficence.
No World Arena, no Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts, no Colorado College, no Fine Arts Center, no Penrose Hospital, no Olympic Training Center/U.S. Olympic Committee … it’s a very long list.
Considering the city’s size, location and supposedly philistine character, we’ve been blessed by the artists who have chosen to illuminate our community.
Walter Paris, Harvey Young, Charles Craig, Robert Reid and Ernest Lawson worked and lived here. The city has always attracted great photographers, including William Henry Jackson, Laura Gilpin, Harry Standley, Myron Wood and Andrea Modica.
Today’s lively arts scene supports filmmakers, and visual, and performing artists in such abundance that, as Yogi Berra would say, “Nobody goes there anymore — it’s too crowded.”
More? Add another, and we’ll have 10.
Next week: The nine worst things …
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.