Columns » Outsider




Growing up in Colorado Springs in the '40s and '50s, there were only two easily available sources of information: print and radio. The latter was essentially useless, save for stations that catered to farmers and ranchers, providing weather forecasts, hog prices and the like. It was newspapers, for the most part locally owned, that illuminated and defined our world.

In those days before TV, most papers published their principal editions in the afternoon. And like hundreds of other kids, I had an after-school job as a paperboy, delivering both The Gazette and The Denver Post. I loved being part of that world, which seemed important, cool and knowing. And I loved the papers themselves, especially their local columnists, who seemed to have stepped right off "The Front Page": jaunty, irreverent, unafraid of the powerful. The Post's Red Fenwick and Pocky Marranzino of the Rocky Mountain News wrote three or four lively pieces every week for decades. They celebrated, criticized, defended and, in many ways, helped create the communities they served; it was a great gig while it lasted.

This legacy is about to end forever, as the last of these giants prepares to step off the stage. The Rocky's Gene Amole, a columnist since 1977, and a fixture in Denver media since the late '40s, is penning his last series of columns -- about his impending death, which he announced on the front page on Oct. 26.

Gene's 78, and the multiple indignities of old age will, according to the doctors, put him six feet under within a few months. So he's writing about it, with the same cranky, opinionated warmth that has so delighted a generation of readers.

A few days ago, he devoted a column to funerals and obituaries. He talked about eulogies he'd heard and eulogies he'd delivered. And although he acknowledged that funerals are for the living, not the dead, he refuses to have one -- no eulogy, no public event. It was a good column -- smooth, professional, well written and to the point. It's hard to be delighted by your impending demise, but Gene's well aware that he's living a columnist's dream; an ongoing exclusive story that no one can steal.

Anyway, pick up the Rocky and read these wonderful pieces; as Gene remarked in a recent interview with Denver's Westword, "This [has] been very helpful to me in dealing with my own sense of loss ... Because, you know, I'm going to lose my life here."

Meanwhile, back in Colorado's second city, the Fine Arts Center recently selected Gwathmey Siegel & Associates and Gensler Worldwide to design its proposed expansion. It's heartening that a demonstrably competent architectural team has been selected for the job, but it's arguable that the project itself doesn't meet the needs of our city.

Let's look at context. The FAC is, essentially, a small and magnificent historic structure plopped down in the middle of an historic neighborhood.

It's on an incredibly constricted site, with little room for expansion or for parking, and poor access. It was a splendid multi-purpose facility for a town of 30,000; it's wholly inadequate for a metropolitan area of 500,000.

Unfortunately, the proposed expansion, while helpful, won't do much in the long term. The FAC proposes to add a studio theater, administrative office space, and additional galleries, thereby increasing the total square footage of the FAC (now at 69,000 square feet) by 20,000 square feet. By comparison, the Denver Art Museum's Daniel Liebeskind--designed expansion will add 156,000 square feet to that already spacious 210,000 square-foot facility.

Leaving aside the question of architectural compatibility -- let's generously assume that the architects will come up with a boffo design -- any improvement will be marginal. Moreover, once this expansion's built, that'll be it; there's no more room on the site, and no prospect of acquiring adjacent property.

As a metro area, we're about the size of Denver, c. 1968, when the D.A.M.'s Gio Ponti building was erected. In the 33 years since then, the D.A.M. has metamorphosed from sleepy backwater to world-class museum. Imagine a new museum downtown, near Confluence Park, several times the size of the FAC, with plenty of room for parking, easy access, and unlimited potential for expansion ...

Go ahead and imagine, but it ain't gonna happen. We're not Denver, where citizens merrily fund libraries, art museums, convention centers, parks and sports stadiums. The FAC will remain what it has always been: small and wonderful, privately funded, catering to a tiny segment of the population.

And if you want a serious art museum ... well, that's why they're widening I-25.


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