Dear Mayor Suthers,
I am a third generation native of Colorado Springs. My grandfather on my father’s side came here in 1908 to work for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. My great-grandparents on my father’s mother’s side settled in the Florence area as early as 1889. On my mother’s side, her great-grandmother was in Colorado Springs within just a few years of its founding. My mother’s father, came to live with his grandmother within a few years after his grandmother arrived, around 1893. Needless to say, my roots go deep in this community.
My father, William (Bill) French, was born in Glockner Hospital one hundred years ago on April 11, 1916. During his early childhood he lived on the west side of Colorado Springs. The neighborhood where he grew up in his earliest years was razed to build some of I25. When he was around ten years old, my grandparents bought a home at 823 E. Boulder, which was the family home until the 1980’s. My father grew up going to Columbia School, North Junior High School, and Colorado Springs High School. When he graduated from high school, he attended Colorado College and worked at Busy Corner Drugstore. During the war years, after he had married and started a family, he purchased a home at 924 E. Boulder. This was my childhood home. Just before I was born, and just before he left for World War II duty, he went to work for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad as a clerk. My grandfather, A.M. French, was a telegrapher for the D&RG RR and had been since 1908. So, not only do my roots go deep in Colorado Springs, but they also go deep when it comes to General Palmer’s railroad. I am a railroader’s daughter. For that I am extremely proud.
A lover of Colorado Springs, her beauty, and her history, my father would take us on long rides every weekend showing us the town, the land, and the area that he considered our heritage and our legacy. He was a storyteller, and oh how I wish I could remember those stories. I think we all could benefit from hearing the stories my father and his uncles could tell us about Colorado Springs.
During the time the Air Force Academy was built, my father was assigned as a loss inspector for the railroad and it was his task to inspect all the building supplies that were shipped to the Academy by rail. Since my father was able to have a bird’s eye view of watching the Academy be built from the ground up, he wanted to share that historical time with us by taking us on rides up to the area every few weeks so we could see the progress being made. Those are treasured memories.
During this same time, and after, my father was involved with the Colorado Springs Planning Committee. I am not sure of the exact dates when he served on this committee. I only know of how much he wanted to preserve what he thought made Colorado Springs the wonderful place that it was. He was against anything that took away from the natives having access to public lands that had been bequeathed to the city. He believed that we had a duty to honor General Palmer’s views of preserving the beauty of Colorado Springs. He did not want developers of any type to destroy the natural beauty of Colorado Springs. He believed we could have growth while also preserving our natural treasures and keeping them open for the general public. It was then the public’s duty to keep these treasures of land safe. Whenever we went for picnics in The Bluffs or in the Garden of the Gods, we had to form a human chain just before we left so that we picked up every piece of garbage, paper, cigarette butts, or bottle caps we might find in our path. We were taught to leave things and places better than we found them. We were taught to leave no or little footprint when we were in the places of nature that surrounded Colorado Springs or in other part of our beloved Colorado.
My father worked with and for Mr. Thayer Tutt, who was director of the D&RG RR. He would always tell of stories of when he had to go see Mr. Tutt at the Broadmoor. Mr, Tutt would ask, “Bill, how’s your railroad doing?” My father would answer with, “I believe it is your railroad, and it is doing well.” There was a close connection in those days with the holdings of the Broadmoor and the railroad, but I don’t think my father ever saw that as anything that would indicate that the Broadmoor was interested in a what many would call today a “land grab.” The Broadmoor was a local treasure and enjoyed by her citizens, just as so many other showplaces of Colorado Springs were.
It was in the 80’s, after my father retired, that the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad was changed forever. That was when Phil Anschutz, a man who owned "more land than any other private citizen in the United States” bought the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. It broke my father’s heart because he saw it as a way for the new owner of the railroad to access some of the most valuable land in Colorado. He knew the railroad was a good as dead when this deal for Anshutz to purchase the railroad was over. He was right.
Some of us are not fooled by the transaction called a land swap. I see this as one more way for Phil Anschutz to acquire another piece of Colorado for his empire. My father was not one to mince words; neither am I. I think the winner in this swap is not the people of Colorado Springs. The winner is the Broadmoor and Phil Anschutz. I urge you to stand on the side of the people of the town whom elected you by making sure this land swap never happens. I urge you to keep Strawberry Fields as an undeveloped area owned by the City of Colorado Springs to be treasured and loved by, and enjoyed by her citizens. I urge you to stand against corporate gain that may drive small businesses out of business. I urge you to stand with the “little guy” that doesn’t have power in city politics. I urge you to listen to the taxpayers of this town who do not wish to have a land swap of a piece of land that should remain in the City of Colorado Spring’s possession and under her protection.
Yesterday, as I parked my car near what was once know as Busy Corner, Tejon and Pikes Peak, and I crossed Pikes Peak heading south on Tejon, my eyes drifted to where the magnificent Chief Theater and Burn Building once stood. As I looked at that empty space that is covered with a parking lot, I was reminded of a conversation my father had with Mayor Larry Ochs back in the seventies. My father was in Colorado Springs visiting after he had been transferred to Grand Junction to serve as Superintendent of the Western Slope of the D&RG RR. As the two visited, Mayor Ochs asked my father what he thought of all the changes in Colorado Springs. My father’s reply was, “I think Colorado Springs is becoming a kleenex town.” Mayor Ochs asked for clarification, “A kleenex town. What do you mean?” My father’s reply was so indicative of his wit, his ability to use great metaphors, his love of Colorado Springs, and his disappointment over the loss of historic buildings and spaces, “Yes, a kleenex town. You use it once, then you throw it away.”
Mayor Suthers, I urge you not to throw away Strawberry Fields. Making a land swap with the Broadmoor Hotel for this property would bad for the citizens of Colorado Springs, for those whom may wish to visit our city in the future, and for wildlife. Again, I urge you to remember not to throw this property away by making a deal that is not in our best interests. Remember my father’s kleenex analogy when you ponder this decision. Vote against the swap.
Sally L. Wessely