Landmark Colorado Springs newspaper building is sold

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Today, the Gazette reported a mildly stunning fact: The century-old Union Printers Home is being sold to Heart Living Centers, marking, as Wayne Heilman writes, "the first time in 122 years that the facility has not been owned by the Communications Workers of America or its 
predecessors."

And it's the building owner's predecessors, and progenitors, that are the most interesting: the International Typographical Union, the oldest union in the country before it joined the CWA in 1986. By then, it was just a shell of its former glory, but before that the organization representing workers who set the newspaper type fought and won the 48-hour work week in 1897 before instituting a 40-hour work week during the Great Depression to better share hours. That, of course, later became the standard.

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While the ITU was headquartered in Colorado Springs at 225 S. Union Blvd. beginning in the early 1960s, the history of the Union Printers Home goes back much further to its opening in 1892. Studies show that typesetters are often victims of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, while workers in the 19th century often came down with tuberculosis, which that clean, clear Rocky Mountain air was thought to be so beneficial for. 

The Printers Home was meant to be a place for union members and their familes to recover, and was initially funded with a $10,000 gift from George W. Childs, publisher of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, and Anthony J. Drexel. Thus it was initially called the Childs-Drexel Home for Union Printers.

A wire story dated May 1892 gives you an idea of what some of the accommodations were like:

"The building is four stories in height, with basement built in renaissance style, and cost about $62,000," the story reads. "The San Francisco room was selected and furnished by Typographical Union, No. 21. It will be a monument of elegance, characteristic of the State from which it comes. The entire furniture, mantel, curtain-poles, brackets, etc. will be made of California redwood. In the center will be a round table, with a gold plate, oval in shape, inscribed: 'From San Francisco Typographical Union, No. 21, to the Childs-Drexel Home for Union Printers.'"

After waging titanic wage battles with likely every major newspaper of the last two centuries, the ITU itself bit the dust in 1987. Here's the Associated Press on Jan. 6 of that year: "The International Typographical Union has ceased to exist and laid off most of its staff at national headquarters here. ... The ITU was the nation's oldest union, chartered nationally in 1852. Its membership peaked in the 1960s at 100,000 printers. But since computerization of the business, membership has dropped to 40,000 working printers and 35,000 retirees."

Print is dead. Long live print.

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