As we celebrate the architecture of the region, we can’t help looking back on the iconic and beautiful buildings that have been lost to Colorado Springs — some through disaster, some in the never-ending quest for “urban renewal.” Many historic edifices were torn down and replaced in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s as the city aimed to combat blight. The idea: New buildings will bring new people to the downtown core. That idea left us with many big concrete boxes in exchange for the stunning brick and stone structures we can now only enjoy through photographs.
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But as time marches forward, the Pikes Peak region is coming to value its history more, and with luck we’ll see fewer monuments to our past torn down for the sake of modernization.
Here are some of our favorite buildings lost to history, and some that thankfully remain standing. Photos have been graciously provided by the Pikes Peak Library District’s Special Collections.
Gone, but not forgotten
Torn down: Between 1985-1992
Now: Tile Traders, Tap Traders and various other businesses
Alexander Film Company was once one of the biggest names in movie theater advertisements, and one of the biggest employers in Colorado Springs. Its massive complex on North Nevada Avenue reflected that prestige. With film sets, recording studios, animation studios and more, Alexander Film Company’s 26 acres attracted talent from all over the country. While the company lasted in some capacity until 2012, the creatively designed buildings that once housed its major operations have long since been destroyed, or altered irrevocably.
Torn down: 1964
Current use: The Antlers Hotel (III)
Downtown’s iconic hotel, founded originally by city father William Jackson Palmer, has had three — yes, three — iterations. The original building burned down tragically in 1898, and was rebuilt in 1901. Then, in the great rush for modernization in 1964, this gorgeous, London-style accommodation was demolished and replaced with The Antlers hotel we know today. Along with the old Antlers’ towers and sturdy stonework, we mourn its sprawling gardens, a sight straight out of Downton Abbey, now covered in pavement, concrete and office buildings.
Torn down: 1973
Now: A parking lot
This gorgeous opera house at 23 E. Pikes Peak Ave. was once the crown jewel of Colorado Springs, able to seat 1,500 people with a stage so sturdy it accommodated live elephants for a production of Queen of Sheba. It was converted into a movie theater (the Chief) in 1927 and operated for 40 years in that capacity. Though it was demolished due to so-called structural damage, it took weeks to raze, and its destruction cost twice as much as its erection. The loss still stings regional historians.
Torn down: 1938
Now: William Jackson Palmer High School
Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum archivist Stephanie Prochaska, when looking through records about what was once Colorado Springs’ only school, found evidence that in 1939 when the building was being demolished, citizens came forward to try to save the historic stone structure. Such protests feel more suited to contemporary issues of historic preservation, but the passion to save the Springs’ legacy has always been there. Sadly, even that vocal defense couldn’t stop the wrecking ball. Everything from the clocktower to the classrooms where generations of Springs citizens received their education was razed. Eventually, Palmer High School rose in its place.
Torn down: Between 1974-1976
Now: Pikes Peak Center and County Building
You might not think of jails as particularly beautiful buildings, but the old photos of the first El Paso County Jail show dramatic iron fences, elegant brickwork and a kind of class you aren’t likely to find in the boxy makeup of most modern prisons. And though we love the Pikes Peak Center and the convenience of having a DMV downtown, we wonder what the downtown landscape might look like if this old jail — the building, if not the purpose — had been allowed to survive.
Current use: First Presbyterian Church
Originally founded by missionary Rev. Sheldon Jackson — essentially a Presbyterian Johnny Appleseed who left prosperous churches in his wake as he traveled across the U.S. — this building has housed the First Presbyterian congregation for nearly 150 years. Wow, right? While the church’s purpose has carried through, its building now shows elements of modern and contemporary architecture that have overwhelmed the once classic construction of its sanctuary.
Torn down: 1950
Current use: Empty
Colorado Springs’ very first hospital, the St. Francis Medical Center, used to provide the most comprehensive medical care in the city, housing a tuberculosis sanatorium, the Penrose Tumor Institute and countless other services over the last century-plus. Thanks to a 1950 demolition and rebuilding, then many rounds of renovations (in ’66 ’75 and ’83), this building has gone from a Gothic masterpiece to a — well, whatever that windowless, cube thing is. And, it turns out renovation wasn’t quite enough to save it. Though the Penrose-St. Francis system of hospitals remains, this building shuttered in 2010.
Still with us
Current use: All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church
Wow, 126 years of All Souls. It’s incredible to think that since this beautiful old church was built, it has consistently provided a home for those practicing the same faith. With a focus on social activism, the Unitarian Universalists have made a mark on this community, and continue to host concerts, events and more in the soft light of the original stained glass windows in their sanctuary.
Current use: Event venue
Co-designed by renowned architect Thomas MacLaren — also responsible for the Ivywild School, the headquarters of our own Colorado Publishing House and many more local buildings — the City Auditorium’s function has never changed. It still presents entertainment to the community with live bands, trade shows, roller derby bouts and plenty more. With incredible architectural features like a horsehair ceiling, ideal for acoustics, the auditorium embodies building traditions that are lost to us nowadays.
10. The Mining Exchange
Current use: The Mining Exchange, A Wyndham Grand Hotel
Originally established to encourage the trading of mining stock — the Springs is a city built on mining money, after all — the Mining Exchange building was the first in our downtown to rise above four stories. While it ceased serving its intended purpose decades ago, it found new life when Perry Sanders acquired it in 2012, turning it into a luxury hotel.
Current use: Headquarters of Colorado Publishing House
As I write this, I’m sitting inside the former United Brethren Church, where Colorado Publishing House, the Independent’s parent company, keeps its offices. This building, another by architect Thomas MacLaren, was commissioned in 1911 by what was then the Tourist Memorial church. They dug the basement right away, but construction soon halted, and worshippers held service in the unfinished building for about four years. It was known as “The-Hole-in-the-Ground Church.” Since the church’s various denominations vacated by 1973, it has housed a police training academy and the Smokebrush Center for the Arts. We hope we maintain the mission of those who occupied this building before us: to be a force for the public good.
12. Ivywild School
Current use: Brewery, restaurant, bar and event space
What was once an elementary school, closed in 2009, has become a hot spot in the Ivywild area since it was acquired by restaurateur Joe Coleman and Mike Bristol, founder of Bristol Brewing Co. Now housing Bristol’s production and taphouse, a restaurant, cocktail bar and more, the Ivywild School has maintained its historic presence with a fresh, modern concept. Interestingly enough, it’s not the only schoolhouse-turned-restaurant in the Ivywild neighborhood. Edelweiss restaurant on Ramona street occupies one of Ivywild’s first schoolhouses.13. El Paso County Courthouse
Current use: Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum
Until 1973, the iconic granite structure of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum housed the El Paso County Courthouse, but when the courthouse was relocated, the building found itself in imminent danger. It was slated to be torn down, but public outcry after the demolition of the Burns Theater saved it. In 1979, the Pioneers Museum moved in, finding a permanent home for its collection of regional artifacts. The museum made sure to preserve one of the courthouse’s courtrooms, which you can still see when you visit.