As stolid and unimaginative as our little city sometimes seems, it has had its share of dreamers and schemers, folks who weren’t afraid to reach for the brass ring.
Some of their dreams came true — but many others didn’t.
Colorado Springs didn’t host the Winter Olympics in 1956 or 1960. No railroad tunnel was ever carved out under Pikes Peak. Martin List didn’t build a $4 billion space research center east of Schriever Air Force Base. But Irving Howbert’s Leadville mining deal somehow worked out.
Tunnel under Pikes Peak
On Feb. 14, 1897, The New York Times breathlessly reported a “New York Mining Scheme.” Here’s an excerpt from “Boring Through Pikes Peak; Construction of the Longest Tunnel in the World at Cripple Creek, Colorado”:
A great mining enterprise has just been started at the foot of Pike’s Peak, on the eastern slope, near Colorado Springs. The work is under the supervision of L.S. Nye of 10 Wall Street, New York, and it is known as the Pike’s Peak Tunnel, Mining and Transportation Company, with a capitalization of $50,000,000 — 500,000 shares of a par value of $100 each.”
Stock in this dubious enterprise was first floated in 1896. Created by a surprisingly illustrious group of American and English entrepreneurs, the company claimed that it would build a tunnel from Manitou to Cripple Creek, a linear distance of approximately 16 miles. The new road not only would radically shorten the distance from Cripple Creek mines to Colorado City mills, but also avoid the heavy winter snows that could close competitors for days at a time. And who knew what the miners might find as they tunneled beneath the mighty mountain: gold, silver, precious gems, even diamonds?
In a prospectus dated Dec. 14, 1897, the company’s promoters radiated optimism.
“In no other known enterprise, where mining enters into the calculations, has the speculative feature been so largely eliminated,” the prospectus states, “and the directors confidently believe that this undertaking will speedily become one of the most important dividend paying concerns in the world.”
The money would roll in! The company estimated that constructing the railroad tunnel would cost a mere $7.6 million, and that annual earnings from the venture would amount to at least $5.4 million — not including revenue from “blind reefs” of ore.
Water from the tunnel would be captured as it rushed down the mountain and used to generate electricity, which would power the trains. The water would then be sold to Colorado Springs, as would any surplus power.
Who were these bold entrepreneurs? Wall Street promoter George Proctor put the deal together, aided by fellow Wall Streeters George Plimpton [grandfather of the famous author George] and William Moore. English directors included the Earl of Dunmore and Charles Waite. The prospectus also lists bankers, solicitors, a “European Executive Committee,” consulting engineers, brokers, auditors and an engineering staff. It’s a fancy and elaborate presentation of a scheme that was apparently stillborn.
Nothing ever happened. Despite tales to the contrary, the Oil Creek Tunnel on the northeast slope of Pikes Peak was just another failed mining speculation, not the eastern terminus of the proposed railway.
The only tangible traces of the company are its elaborately engraved stock certificates, prized by collectors of such securities. The stock has no underlying value.
Bids for the Winter Olympics
“Broadmoor on Olympics Trail” read the front-page headline of the Colorado Springs Free Press on April 23, 1949.
“Colorado Springs and the Broadmoor Ice Palace, aiming well-loaded publicity guns at the biggest game ever sighted in the Pikes Peak Region, yesterday joined Colorado and Aspen in bidding for the 1956 Olympic Games,” wrote Free Press reporter Bob Beier.
According to Beier’s account, it was closely coordinated with co-applicant Aspen.
The plan called for The Broadmoor to host all “ice skating events,” with Aspen to be “the scene of skiing and bobsled races.”
“We’re leveling all our guns on this one,” Broadmoor executive Thayer Tutt was reported as saying. “We feel confident we can stage the Games with the help of the wonderful skiing facilities offered by Aspen. We have been conferring with [U.S. Olympic Committee Chair] Avery Brundage and have all the plans set up for staging the games.”
Colorado Gov. Lee Knous sent a telegram to the International Olympic Committee in support of the bid, “assuring the IOC that the skating facilities at the swank Broadmoor Hotel were among the finest in the world, and pointed out that the hotel has been the scene of every national skating championship the U.S. offers.”
Had the bid been accepted, The Broadmoor planned to convert the infield of Penrose Stadium, an outdoor rodeo arena then located 300 yards west of Broadmoor Lake, into an ice rink. Asked about anticipated costs and who would foot them, “Tutt was mum.”
Yet he told the reporter that Colorado lobbyists had already lined up international support on the IOC, including (for sure!) Great Britain, Norway and Italy.
“We’re leveling all our guns on this one. We feel confident we can stage the Games with the help of the wonderful skiing facilities offered by Aspen.”
– Thayer Tutt
Undeterred, The Broadmoor and Aspen teamed again in 1954 to bid for the 1960 Olympics. They were undone by Alex Cushing, a smooth-talking con man who owned undeveloped property in Northern California at a location called Squaw Valley. There was no there there: no town, no ski hotel, no roads, just a broken-down wooden “lodge.” Cushing persuaded the California Legislature to appropriate $1 million to jump-start the bid, and the IOC bit, by a 33-32 vote.
In a last Olympic gasp, El Pomar Foundation made a $3 million grant to the University of Denver, contingent upon Colorado being awarded the 1998 Winter Olympics. No Olympics, no grant … and there the story ends.
List’s Aerospace Center
In the early 1980s, Martin List made quite a splash in Colorado Springs. Characterized in a 1986 Gazette piece as a “Holocaust survivor and cancer specialist turned developer,” List lived in a magnificent house in Cedar Heights, drove a Rolls-Royce and didn’t lack ambition.
List had acquired nearly 8,000 acres in the region, including 3,800 acres east of the Consolidated Space Operations Center (now Schriever AFB) where he planned to build his “Aerospace Center.” It would include a $140 million research center, the List Institute for the Strategic Exploration of Space (LISE).
List anticipated a 20-year build-out for the center, which would then include “15 major research facilities, a conference center, space research information center and academic laboratories.” Subjects to be studied included “lunar mining and processing and utilization of lunar materials, solar energy and pharmaceutical space production.”
What about jobs? At completion, the center would employ 40,000 people, List said modestly.
List even sponsored an international architectural contest to design the signature building, offering a prize of $40,000 to the winner. His hand-picked jury rejected all designs for “responding traditionally with traditional buildings to a non-traditional design problem.” List then upped the prize to $100,000 and gave each of the three finalists a $10,000 consolation prize.
That was the end. Plummeting land values and skittish lenders sunk List. A few months later, he left Colorado Springs and moved to Los Angeles, where he declared bankruptcy and returned to medicine.
List lived quietly in L.A., passing away in 2010. His visions may have been grandiose, but he saw the future clearly in one respect. Criticizing a study that said CSOC would have a “minimal” economic impact in Colorado Springs, List predicted that it would become the centerpiece of American space efforts.
Today, 8,100 people work at Schriever Air Force Base.
Howbert strikes it rich
Irving Howbert’s purchase of a mine in Leadville should have been a disaster. In 1879 he bought an option in a half-developed claim for $7,500 sight unseen, believing the promoter who told him that it was a mere 1,000 feet away from Leadville’s richest mine.
“It occurred to me that $7,500 was a very small price for a property so near the big bonanzas of the district,” he wrote in his lively autobiography, “and that there must be some drawback of which I had not been informed.”
The cautious Howbert brought two of his friends into the deal, dividing the risk.
A few weeks later, he made the trip to Leadville by team.
“Upon reaching Leadville,” he wrote, “friends familiar with the district twitted me with being a tenderfoot and an easy mark, as I had bought what they called a water hole, in a region entirely outside the mineral belt.”
The stubborn Howbert refused to give up, although he felt he had “possibly been buncoed.” He authorized some further development work, without immediate result.
Two weeks before the option expired, they struck a small vein “of chloride ore, rich in horn silver.” The seam opened, leading to some “large and marvelously rich ore bodies.” But discovering the ore was one thing, transporting it to the mill and refinery quite another.
“Leadville then had the reputation of being one of the toughest mining camps in America,” Howbert continued. “Robberies and murders were of nightly occurrence.”
Howbert and his partners built a rough fort around the mine, “with arms and ammunition close at hand.” When the time came to move the ore, it was a quasi-military operation — with good reason.
“In October of 1879 we took out $125,000 in ten days … when the time came [to move] all of the owners were present. One wagonload of this ore contained silver to the value of $40,000.”
Howbert and his partners sold their interests in the mine in 1881 and returned to Colorado Springs.
After Leadville, Howbert had a long, illustrious career in finance and mining, serving for many years as president of First National Bank and El Paso County clerk.
When gold was discovered in Cripple Creek, Howbert made yet another bet. The 1900 official manual of the Cripple Creek District lists him as vice president of the Portland Gold Mining Company, a venture headed by Jimmie Burns and W.S. Stratton.
It was one of the richest mines in Cripple Creek. Fortune favors the bold … sometimes.