Fort Collins has many businesses that are located inside of old houses – Canino’s, Encore Bridal, Wild Boar Café, Taco Bell, and many, many others. Though there are businesses on the inside, it’s very clear from the exterior of the building that at one time it used to be somebody’s home. But there are a few businesses in the city that are housed in what I call “Jack-in-the-Box Houses.” If you were driving past the business, you’d have no idea that someone used to live inside that building. But if you stopped and took a walk around the building, looking at it from the side or the alley behind it, suddenly you might realize that there’s a mostly intact house inside what otherwise looks like a standard commercial business. Today I’m going to introduce you to some of these Jack-in-the-Box houses and their histories.
Lee’s Cyclery Bike Shop – 202 W. Laurel
Lee’s is a classic example of a Jack-in-the-Box house. The white, wrap-around structure grabs your attention if you bike or drive past. But if you’re moving slow enough to notice, and you’re far enough back from the building, you might suddenly realize that there’s a house poking up out of the business. There are also hints of house from both the east and west sides where the original brick was left exposed.
It started out simply enough. The front of the house had a commercial make-over. Windows were enlarged and a modernistic screen was added on the second floor.
Eventually the business was ready to expand. The shop floor was extended forward into the yard. If you’ve ever been inside Lee’s, you might remember that there are stairs between the rows of bikes and the cash register. That would be the point at which you’re stepping up into the old house.
The house at 202 W. Laurel was built in 1902. Mrs. Anna Hess (a widow) lived there for several years. In 1922, a Mrs. A. R. Daggett replaced her. By the time of the Depression there was a rotating list of residents, often four at a time. The difficult times must have required the owner to take in boarders.
By 1963, the house was turned into a bike shop by Lee Cooper. Lee’s Cyclery is still in the same building today right at the corner of Laurel and Mason.
Pizza Casbah – 126 W. Laurel,
B&B Pickle Barrel Deli – 122 W. Laurel,
and Ras-Ka – 120 W. Laurel
There’s a whole row of Jack-in-the-Box houses just to the east of Lee’s Cyclery. They’re a bit harder to see because they were all one-story buildings to begin with. But their slanty roofs still poke up over the flat roofed commercial entrance ways. You just have to stand far enough back to see them.
Pizza Casbah – The house at 126 W. Laurel was built around 1909, at which point a woman by the name of Charlotte Baker lived there. She was only there one year, though, and the house appears to have been empty by the following year. In 1913, the building was listed in the city directory as the CAC Campus Shop. (CAC = Colorado Agricultural College) The building seems to have gone back and forth from being a shop (probably with the shop owner living in the rest of the house) to being only a residence.
In 1925, William and Bernice Shull moved in and William ran a barber shop in the front of the house. He’s listed as a barber in that location until 1940 when suddenly his occupation changed to being a professor at the Colorado State College. In 1950, the house is listed as the Aggie Barber Shop. It eventually became the Bach or Rock Record House and today you may know it as Pizza Casbah. (Yes, it’s a little confusing that the barber pole is showing up in the above photos one address over. I don’t get it either. Sometimes I wonder if the numbers have shifted back and forth a little. But we’re going to roll with what we’ve got unless we find good evidence that things changed. You’ll notice that there’s a second barber poll in the old photos of 120 W. Laurel also. Perhaps there were two barber shops here at one time?)
B&B Pickle Barrel Deli – Mrs. Elizabeth Cameron, a nurse, is the first person listed as having lived at 122 W. Laurel from 1908 – 1910. The house must have been a rental property because the residents changed almost yearly from that point on. In 1929, Martin and Eva Kubes were listed as living at 122 W. Laurel while Martin, a barber, worked next door at 126 W. Laurel.
A sport shop occupied the property by the 1960s. Today you’ll find the B&B Pickle Barrel Deli in this spot.
Ras-ka – The house at 120 W. Laurel was built in 1916, but it must have taken awhile to build because no one is listed as living there until 1919. Walter Sackett, a physician, and his wife Margaret, were the first residents. A series of owners and renters lived in the place. By 1952, the city directory lists Steve Shirley as owner of the building and indicates that Campus Jewelry was operating at this location. The county assessor’s records state that the store front was added in 1956. The Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurant, Ras-ka, has been in this location since 2005.
Los Tarascos – 622 S. College
I almost missed this Jack-in-the-Box house. I decided to walk down the alley to see the back of the Highlander Smoke Shop and Cafe Olé. I wondered if GoJo Sports was a former house (It turns out it was originally a church – First Congregation Church.) and then walked a little further north and my jaw dropped when I realized there was a house roof sticking up from behind the Los Tarascos facade.
In case you’re wondering if the Bann Thai building was ever a house, it wasn’t. At least, I don’t think so. It appears to have been an apartment building from the beginning and was pretty much the same size and shape when it was built then as it is today.
The original inhabitant of 622 S. College was Reverend William Gillis, pastor of the United Presbyterian Church. (He’s mistakenly listed as Willis Gillis in the 1908 directory… although perhaps that was his nickname?) The reverend and his wife, Carrie, lived here from 1908 to 1917 at which point George Charky and wife Meana (also listed as Mary) moved in. From that point there were a series of residents until probably 1965 when the assessor’s records list an addition that was added to the house. A music store and sporting goods store both occupied the building at one point. Los Tarascos is the current tenant in this building. And if you want to see the house popping up from behind the facade, head to the Mad Greens parking lot which is the best place to catch a glimpse of the old roofline.
Highlander Smoke Shop and Cafe Olé – 646 S. College
The location of Cafe Olé is a great example of the economic advantage to wrapping a commercial business around a former house. By building in the side yard, the commercial value of the original house space is maintained, while the commercial value of the side yard has been increased, and it was cheaper to add that space with an addition than by scraping the property and rebuilding. (I think there’s a good argument for not wrapping a historic house with a commercial envelope, though, as I’ll explain at the end of the post.)
Mrs. Luella Sewell lived at 646 S. College from 1908-09. William and Julia Preston moved into the house in 1910. William was a smith. There were a few more folks that lived in the house until 1922 when Nelson and Edith Hansen moved in. Nelson was a rancher, although he eventually turned to furniture sales. The Nelsons lived in the house until 1938 or ’39. There were a few more residents before the house was turned into the Tannis Shop. There are two businesses in this location today, the Highlander Smoke Shop and Cafe Olé.
Mac’s Frame Shop – 1634
Between Old Town and Mac’s Frame Shop there are several houses turned commercial. But most involve adaptive reuse of the original building with its original exterior form kept intact (even though the insides might have been changed around a bit). When a house wasn’t reused, then it was often scraped and a new building put in it’s place. So it’s interesting to find a Jack-in-the-House this far south on College.
Mac’s Frame Shop now occupies this building on South College. If you enjoy being a Google Maps voyeur, it’s kind of fun to look at this part of College in Streetview. The Google camera car passed down one side of College in 2012 and up the other in 2014 which enables a Streetview user to switch back and forth between the time when The Summit (student housing just across College and down a ways from Mac’s Frame Shop) was just a hole in the ground to it’s several stories tall size today.
LeRoy’s LockSafe Systems – 326 Walnut
You might expect to see more Jack-in-the-Box houses in the heart of Old Town, but back in the “Olden Days” people moved houses to the fringe of town and built new commercial buildings in their place. This was environmentally and economically a sound procedure as it retained the resources embodied in the older building while still enabling the city to grow.
Built in 1906 along one of Fort Collin’s main drags back in the day, you’d expect to find this house in several old photos. But I haven’t managed to locate any. If you have an older photo of 326 Walnut (either as a residence or commercial property), I’d love to see a copy.
Bohlender Funeral Chapel – 121 W. Olive
The house popping up over the top of this commercial property was built in 1890 and was originally the home of Jacob and Anna Welch. Jacob died soon after they moved in and by 1908 Anna is listed as a widow. She remained in the house until at least 1910. In 1913 the T K S Sorority used the building, and from 1919 through the mid 1920s this was the Kappa Delta house. It looks like the house was a rental property for a bit before becoming Day’s Funeral Home, and the residence of Charles Day) in 1931.
There’s all sorts of history embodied both in this building and in the funeral businesses that have used this space. But I’m going to save all that for a future post.
The Bohlender Funeral Chapel has recently undergone a remodel, so it looks a bit different today than what is shown in the Google Maps photo above. But the Jack-in-the-Box house at its center is still visible.
Thoughts on Jack-in-the-Box houses.
From a historic preservation stand point, Jack-in-the-Box houses are a fright. The exterior of these buildings are changed to the point where you have little to no sense of what the original house looked like. (Part of the point of historic preservation is enabling people today to get a sense of what it looked and felt like to walk past the building around the time it was built. Landmarked buildings are a wonderful way to experience history by standing in its presence.) But, from an environmental and economic stand point, there’s a whole lotta value from creating a Jack-in-the-Box house.
As I explained in my post a month ago on the benefits of historic preservation, reusing an older building reduces the amount of waste going into landfills and reduces the amount of natural resources that would have been needed if the building was built from scratch. Economically, the value of the current building is retained, and with the added space (such as when a place like Cafe Olé takes up what previously had been side yard), it is even added on to. Though I think there’s more value to restoring an old building to its original look and maintaining that cultural value (which has been found in studies to, in turn, create increased economic value), it’s easy to see how creating a Jack-in-the-Box house also has its own special benefits.
If you know of a Jack-in-the-Box house in Fort Collins that I missed, I’d love to hear about it.
|I am heading over to the Bee Family Farm this afternoon and I am looking forward to telling you all about my visit, and the history of the farm, in next week’s post.|
Sources for this article:
The history of Lee’s Cycle Shop can be found on the store’s website.
All of the recent photos of these properties were taken by Google Maps and used here as a means of better seeing the houses that are hidden behind commercial facades.
Most of the older photos are from assessor’s records cards which where made available to me through the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery Archive. The only older photos that were not from assessor files was one of the Los Tarascos building that was taken from a historic survey project (which I accessed through the Archive) and one photo of the Warren Funeral Chapel taken from a newspaper advertisement celebrating the 50th anniversary of the business (which I also accessed through the Archive).