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West side heading downhill

City sage

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'New York, New York, a helluva town / The Bronx is up, but the Battery's down ..."

Change the lyrics slightly, make the reference economic rather than geographic, and you've got "The North End's up but the west side's down."

So it seemed to me when the Westside Pioneer reported last week that a landmark 1890 house at 122 Hill St. is scheduled for demolition to accommodate the latest iteration of the former Fish Market restaurant.

The story begins in 1980, when Colorado Springs City Council approved a feckless development plan for the Fish Market site. Never mind that the newly minted West Side Plan called for leaving the site residentially zoned. A restaurant would be just the thing, providing jobs to the area's raffish denizens, as well as exposing them to the good examples set by their betters, who could enjoy the site's sweeping panoramic views.

It was an ill-conceived deal from Day 1. The downtown lunch crowd wasn't interested in driving a mile to dine at a mediocre restaurant with a strange entrance. The facility closed 11 years ago, and the empty building became, in legal parlance, an attractive nuisance. Homeless folks camped inside, while scrappers stripped the building.

The present owners intend to expand the site, enlarge the building, and create a one-stop wedding and reception center. The same concept has fueled the successful, five-year-old Pinery at Black Forest, which they also own.

It's probably the best outcome for the property. Compared with what's there now, a junkyard or maximum-security prison would be an upgrade.

Yet, one wonders how the same scenario would have played out in a different neighborhood. In Manitou Springs, the North End, Shooks Run and Patty Jewett, residents are more protective of their neighborhoods. They've fiercely battled to save historic structures and neighborhood integrity.

Such perceived stability makes neighborhoods more desirable, igniting a virtuous cycle of renovation, investment and increasing property values.

That hasn't always happened on the west side. The brilliantly conceived 1970s revival of Old Colorado City, spearheaded by the irascible Dave Hughes, encouraged scores of residential renovations that continue now, aided by the Organization of Westside Neighbors, the Old Colorado City Historical Society, County Commissioner Sallie Clark and many others.

But the west side's in trouble, despite the efforts of hundreds of local residents, businesspeople and politicians. (Lisa Czelatdko, are you listening?)

Look at Colorado Avenue between Eighth and 21st streets. Half a dozen once-grand buildings are ready for the wrecker's ball. Look at West Kiowa, where Douglas Bruce owns a decrepit structure that's been boarded up for 20 years. Look at the once-vibrant schools, now closed and/or repurposed, as families with children live elsewhere. And look at the blighted neighborhood surrounding the old Fish Market, which ought to be one of the city's gems.

Loosely ringing the base of "Fish Market Hill" are six substantial houses built of cut stone. Two have salmon-colored sandstone from the Red Rock Canyon quarry, while the other four seem to be constructed of locally quarried rhyolite. All were built during the 1880s and 1890s.

Stone houses are rare in Colorado Springs. As far as I know, this is the Springs' only such grouping. In another city, neighborhood advocates and old-house aficionados would have realized they had what salespeople everywhere dream of: a unique selling point.

Brand the neighborhood! What old-timers still call "Poverty Gulch" could have become the Stone House Neighborhood with signs, historic plaques and a walking tour. The city wouldn't have rezoned the hill, cool new houses would have been built to take advantage of the views, and the 3,000-square-foot hilltop Queen Anne, with its majestic turret, wouldn't be slated for demolition.

If, if, if ... but we live in the real world on the west side. We have ill-paying jobs, lousy credit, and little equity in our decaying Victorian houses, so that's why we neither sell nor renovate.

But at least we'll have a wedding center ...

hazlehurst@csindy.com

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