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Falling Starrs

Kempf sculptures removed



The only thing more dramatic than Starr Kempf's monumental kinetic sculptures last Friday morning was the scene surrounding their unceremonious removal.

Since Starr Kempf's death in 1995, his estate and sculpture garden have been the center of a major controversy over zoning rules in the otherwise quiet Cheyenne Cañon neighborhood. Specifically, Lottie Kempf (Starr's daughter) began giving commercial tours of the property in violation of city ordinances. Many of the neighbors were infuriated by the amount of traffic congestion and noise caused by the unregulated tours. But, citing grandfather clauses and unrecognized "land patent" laws, Kempf claimed the property was exempt from city zoning codes prohibiting commercial activity in residential neighborhoods.

Eventually, Kempf's unwillingness to compromise led the Kempf family to remove her from Starr Enterprises, the family trust, after she refused to make a deal with the city that would have allowed the sculptures to stay in place as long as she didn't offer any more commercial tours. She subsequently sued her nephew, Joshua Kempf, accusing him and the City of Colorado Springs of being "agents of principal Kofi Annan."

Last year, Judge David Gilbert finally ordered the sculptures closest to the property line be removed by June 15, 2002. After a year of struggling to find a way to relocate the gargantuan sculptures and comply with the city order, Joshua Kempf finally made arrangements to send three of the 40-feet-tall sculptures to Traditions, a wind festival in New Mexico between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, for several months.

After years of neighborhood disputes, family feuds and court cases, last Friday a crane finally rolled up Pine Grove Avenue in Cheyenne Cañon to begin removing three of the six sculptures, ordered by the City of Colorado Springs to be removed for zoning violations.

Just as the sun began to glint off the controversial metallic creations, Joshua Kempf -- grandson of sculptor Starr Kempf, and senior managing agent of Starr Enterprises -- along with two police officers and a small crew of workmen, gathered at the gates of the Kempf property for what Joshua Kempf expected to be a family showdown.

Within a matter of minutes, Lottie Kempf -- Starr's daughter who cares for her elderly mother Hedwig in the home -- came rushing out of the house to protest the removal order.

"We're about to put in an appeal to the United States Supreme Court," she insisted to the police officers over the wrought-iron fence around the property. "We have a land patent ... he is trespassing," she said pointing to her nephew and screaming at him to "get out of here." "Why wasn't there any notice?" she said.

When the officers showed her the warrant, she ran quickly back into the house.

By 8 a.m., a small crowd of interested neighbors and passersby had gathered across the street. Then, as the crane began to lift "Sunrise Serenade," a towering steel rooster, from its base, Lottie Kempf again came rushing out into the sculpture garden where she was apprehended and arrested.

"She was arrested for two traffic violations," said officer B.M. Babbit. "We were trying to make it easier."

As Lottie was taken away in a squad car, a frail and somewhat bewildered-looking Hedwig Kempf came out of the house to sit on the patio where Joshua Kempf explained to her what was happening.

"In the last several years, she hasn't had a proper explanation [of what's going on]." said Kempf of his grandmother. "She said she thinks if its good for Starr and good for the artwork, then it's OK."

"[Lottie] has not accepted the reality of this situation," he added. "She had six or seven chances to keep the sculptures where they are. We all hoped this day wouldn't come."

Joshua Kempf then turned his attention to removing a plaque marking the Starr Kempf Sculpture Garden that stood on a concrete pier in front of the main gate for which the trust was being fined $100 a day.

Across the street, neighbors -- some of them former neighbors who'd since moved away, and some who were still squabbling and pointing fingers -- expressed feelings of both relief and disappointment after years of conflicts with the Kempf family.

"We were all willing to work with Lottie," said Kathy King, a neighbor whose dog was run over and killed by a tourist using her driveway to turn around. "But for exposing the world to [Starr Kempf's] art, the front yard is not the place."

Joshua Kempf said that if he didn't move the sculptures immediately, the city would have moved them and placed a lien against the property. He has not found permanent homes for any of the six sculptures, but says he is in negotiations with many interested parties. The three sculptures that were removed Friday were "Sunrise Serenade," "Metronome" and "Space Needle." Three more will be removed at an undetermined future date.


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