They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, but here in Denver, they could be bright again on Colfax.
Twelve midcentury neon signs on Colfax Avenue have been included on Colorado Preservation Inc.'s 2014 list of endangered places, at risk of being dimmed forever. The signs were placed on the annual list with the hope that they — and four other historic sites in Colorado — might be restored.
"The signs represent an era that we haven't focused on in our endangered-places list and are a resource that people don't think of as inherently historic," endangered-places director Rachel Parris said. "These are a valuable resource that should be preserved."
The organization, which aims to save and restore all the signs that glimmer throughout town, narrowed the first wave of restoration to the Timberline Motel, Carriage Motor Inn, Riviera Motel, Driftwood Motel, R&R Lounge, Royal Palace Motel, Pete's Kitchen, Satire Lounge, Eddie Bohn Pig'N Whistle restaurant and motel, Aristocrat Motor Inn, Scatterday's Lumber Yard, and Big Bunny Motel.
The signs are in various states of disrepair — some with bulbs out, others with broken neon tubes and covered in rust. They were chosen as a reminder of Colfax Avenue's historic role as "Gateway to the Rockies."
"Long before I-70 took people to the mountains, Colfax did," Colorado Preservation executive director Jane Daniels said. "It was the longest Main Street in the U.S., and we want to honor that."
Making the list doesn't include funding for restoration. Nor does it guarantee the signs will be preserved. However, their place on the list helps to attract financial partners and other support. Colorado Preservation also will help with grant writing, project management and teams of volunteers to help paint, clean up and assist in the restorations.
"I'm ecstatic," said Save the Signs founder Corky Scholl, who nominated the dozen signs. "To me, they are works of art and historic artifacts that tell a story."
Scholl began his grassroots campaign in November 2012. He gathered support for the idea and quickly organized fundraisers for the dilapidated fixtures. The work pushed him to nominate the stretch along Colfax Avenue.
The R&R Lounge has been a staple on East Colfax. It began as the Coral Lounge in the 1950s before becoming the R&R Lounge in the 1970s, said Rich Illgen, who has owned the bar since 2008. The last time he repaired the sign, he spent $7,000. Currently, the orange and yellow sign, anchored by a glowing martini glass, has "a few letters out," he said.
"I'm thrilled to be on the list," he said. "That sign is the crowning jewel of the building."
Saving some of the signs will require an extra battle because the establishments for which they once glittered no longer exist. Colorado Preservation hopes those signs will be spared demolition to be displayed as public art installations or reincorporated into the businesses that take over the buildings. The idea of a signs district is a possibility, too.
The 2014 endangered-places list was announced Thursday afternoon, coinciding with the organization's 30th anniversary — a day that Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed Colorado Preservation Day.
Colorado Preservation has issued an endangered-places list for 17 consecutive years.
Of the 101 sites on the list, restoration has been completed on 33. Six sites have been demolished. Work continues on the others, spokeswoman Danielle Dascalos said Thursday.
The signs are joined on the 2014 list by 4 Bar 4 Ranch in Grand County, Hahn's Peak Lookout in Routt County, the Midcentury Resources of Littleton Boulevard in Arapahoe County, and Montoya Ranch in Huerfano County.
Kate Gibbons: 303-954-1016, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/ ByKateGibbons
2014 Most Endangered Places
4 Bar 4 Ranch (Grand County)
The 320-acre 4 Bar 4 Ranch was homesteaded in 1895 by Dick McQueary to provide a stop for the Georgetown Stage Line as well as a roadhouse for other travelers. The Georgetown Stage Line traveled on the road through the 4 Bar 4 Ranch from Idaho Springs to Hot Sulphur Springs over Berthoud Pass. In 1895 a roadhouse and stage stop were constructed on the ranch. The hotel and barn were constructed using trees from the ranch property. The hotel remained open for travelers coming over Berthoud Pass by horseback and wagon. With the advent of the automobile, the roadway over Berthoud Pass and through the 4 Bar 4 was considered an integral part of the Trans-Continental "Midland Trail" highway. After the closing of the stage line, the ranch continued to host travelers until 1912 or 1913, when it was purchased and converted into a Ford Motor Company. Ford vehicles were sold here until 1917, when Harry Larkin purchased the ranch site. The buildings have now been vacant for more than 20 years without any known maintenance and are in danger of collapsing.
Hahn's Peak Lookout (Routt County)
Constructed at the top of Hahn's Peak at 10,839 feet in 1912, the Hahn's Peak Lookout is located on the historic Hahn's Peak mine. The site was initially constructed by the Forest Service as a part of the early Forest Service fire-management strategy. One of the first officially funded lookouts constructed in Colorado, it was rebuilt during the Great Depression and updated shortly after World War II. The lookout is representative of the early conservation movement, a symbol for fire-management strategies in the early years of the Forest Service, and role of the Forest Service during World War II. The site's gradual decommissioning during the late 1940s and early 1950s are indicative of changing perceptions of the role of manned lookout towers versus the use of airplanes and other aerial technology to spot forest fires. The site has experienced severe deterioration.
Midcentury Resources of Littleton Boulevard (Arapahoe County)
Midcentury Resources of Littleton Boulevard consists of number of commercial buildings and complexes along the Littleton Boulevard corridor, south of Denver. While many building owners have embraced their midcentury buildings, a number have become vacant and received little maintenance over the past few years. These buildings are integral to interpreting the automobile movement of the 1950s in Littleton. While the town of Littleton started as early as the 1850s because of gold mining, the area exploded in the 1950s as Denver residents made the move south to live the American Dream.
Montoya Ranch (Huerfano County)
The ranch is an excellent example of Spanish Colonial and Territorial Adobe architecture. Potentially the only adobe-basement building in the United States, it housed different functions beginning in 1860 as a farmhouse. Between 1910 and 1930, an addition was added to accommodate a general store. A jacal addition came in the 1930s when the building was used as the local post office. In addition to the farmhouse, there are several dilapidated structures, including a wooden sheep-herder cabin, wooden corral, concrete cistern, concrete ice box, wood-framed shack, two storage containers and an original wood outhouse that has collapsed. The ranch was used for sheep ranching, a rare industry for this part of Colorado.
Neon Signs on Colfax (Denver County)
The midcentury neon signs on Colfax Avenue are a reminder of the corridor's past life as the "Gateway to the Rockies." Elaborately designed and brightly lit signs lined Colfax Avenue as motels, restaurants and roadside attractions competed for the business of travelers. The signs now are in various states of disrepair.