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Then & Now: Block 93

in Downtown Fort Collins

 

The Urban Renewal Movement of the 1950s and 60s led to vast tracts of developed land in cities throughout the United States being bulldozed. Large new projects were built in place of the smaller buildings that once held that ground. Though Fort Collins was a small town in 1960 (with only 25,027 people), it still succumbed (in some small measure) to the Urban Renewal Movement that was sweeping the nation.  Though entire neighborhoods weren’t wiped out as happened in some bigger cities, there were still several entire blocks scraped clean. One such block was that bounded by Olive, Meldrum, Magnolia and Howes, where the downtown Post Office now stands — block 93.

 

Two aerial photographs of the area bounded by Oak, College, the far side of the Oval and Whitcomb.

The aerial photo at left was taken around 1948-1950. It’s from the Archive at the FCMoD, image #H25817. The photo at right is from Google Maps of roughly the same area today. (Click image to enlarge.)

300 S. Meldrum St.

306 S. Meldrum St.

310 S. Meldrum St.

312 S. Meldrum St.

316 S. Meldrum St.

316 S. Meldrum St. (rear)

320 S. Meldrum St.

324 S. Meldrum St.

330 S. Meldrum St.

317 W. Olive St., the commercial building, at right.

Before World War II, we tended to build in urban clusters. There would be a hub of commercial properties where storefronts lined the street and shopkeepers often lived in apartments behind or above their shops. Surrounding these commercial centers were neighborhoods with the larger, grander homes often closer to the city center and single family homes, duplexes, and a scattering of commercial properties surrounding the main commercial hub.

Block 93 is a good example of this type of development. It was only a few blocks from the commercial center and was made up largely of single family homes. But it also included a shop, a church, and at least one lot with two houses on it — not exactly a duplex, but along those lines.)

But after World War II the Urban Renewal Movement encouraged substantially larger buildings of geometric design made largely of poured concrete. This was called Brutalist Architecture — “brutal” came from béton brut, which is French for “raw concrete.” In order to make room for these new monoliths, swaths of older buildings were often razed. This is exactly what happened to Block 93 at the end of the 1960s and into the early 1970s.

There were eight lots along the 300 block of S. Howes and eight lots along the 300 block of S. Meldrum with at least one house on each lot. (The lot with two houses was located at 316 S. Meldrum.)

To the north, at 317 W. Olive St., was a shop that was originally built by C. J. Loveland, a local carpenter that built many houses throughout what is now Old Town. In 1925 the carpenter’s shop had become the Great Western Tea and Coffee Company. And by 1950, it was the Arthur White Garage.

And to the south, at 320 W. Magnolia, was a church that later became a residence, According to Ansel Watrous in his History of Larimer County, a frame chapel was purchased by the Plymouth Congregational Church and moved to the corner of Magnolia and Meldrum. (Based on both addresses and the overhead photo, It appears that 330 S. Meldrum was at the very corner with 320 W. Magnolia just behind it. In other words, 330 S. Meldrum was located where the odd little Post Office building is currently at the corner of Meldrum and Magnolia and the church would have been located just about where you drive in at an angle from Magnolia to drop letters off in the drive-by mailboxes.) By 1925, the City Directory lists the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints as using the building.  And by 1950, 320 W. Magnolia wasn’t listed, but 322 W. Magnolia was. It’s unclear whether 322 was still the church building or a new building. But Mrs. Mertie Mauser was living there by that point. (I wasn’t able to find any photos of the chapel.)

Every one of these buildings was removed by the end of the 1960s (most likely through demolition, though there is some speculation that a couple of buildings were relocated to Gregory Road, northeast of town). There’s also a rumor that the property owners were bought out through eminent domain. This was a government building being constructed after all, so it’s very likely that that’s the case. In their place the Federal Building was built, completed in 1972.

The Federal Building is one of only a few buildings in Fort Collins that were constructed in the Brutalist style. The post office was moved into the Federal Building from its former location at 201 S. College where the Museum of Art is currently located.

One of the residents of this block whose name jumped out at me was Frank Miller. Though he didn’t turn out to be the Frank I was thinking of, he still merited an entry in Ansel Watrous’s 1911 history book… as did his house.

Frank E. Miller –
…From 1901 to 1905, Mr. Miller served as deputy county treasurer under Clark Smith, and was a popular and very efficient assistant in that office.  Soon after retiring from public office he purchased what was known as the Killgore book store, which he has since conducted with a satisfactory degree of success.  Mr. and Mrs. Miller have a charming home on S. Meldrum street and are hospitable and genial entertainers.

 

 

 

 

 

303 S. Howes St.

307 S. Howes St.

311 S Howes St.

313 S Howes St.

319 S. Howes St.

323 S. Howes St.

325 S. Howes St.

331 S. Howes St.

320 W. Magnolia St. 

Block 93 in the 1950s (Closeup of the image shown above.)

In order to construct the new building, nineteen buildings, plus garages, sheds, and other outbuildings, trees, bushes, fences, etc. all had to be scraped from the land. This appears to have begun around 1968 or ’69. According to an embedded plaque in the Federal Building, the building was completed in 1972. 

Plaque on the east side of the building.

The building fronts both Howes Street and Olive Street, though it’s set far enough back to have room for landscaping, seating areas, and a flagpole. 

The Federal Building, 301 S. Howes Street.

The back side of the building has a large loading dock so mail trucks can easily load and unload packages and letters. There is also a drive-thru row of mailboxes for customers. 

The “back”side of the Federal Building.

 

Additional Memories Captured via Facebook

After asking about memories of this block in the Facebook group “You know you grew up in Fort Collins if you remember…” several people added recollections.

Becky Judson: I remember the Peterson house at the nw corner of Howes and Magnolia was still standing when I was rear ended March 29, 1970 at that corner. The Bates house, which was on Meldrum St, was moved to Richards Rd off Highway 1. At that time it was sort of modern looking. It was very dark brown wood.

Darlene Mueller Morse: I remember the demolition process and the whole block was cordoned off. But what sticks in my memory the most is that they used old doors, presumably from the houses they tore down, as the fence. They were lined up horizontally along the sidewalk. I would love to see a photo of that.

Pennie Warren: I’m not sure what year but the houses were torn down to build the post office the government did something that they didn’t have a choice but to sell my grandparents friend lived in a house.

Jim Burrill: One of those houses which was demolished belonged to the Mosman family. Eloise Collamer was very unhappy that her childhood home was destroyed.

 

Sources for this article

The photos along either side of the article came from the county assessor files that are available through the Archive at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. The ID numbers for each image follow a pattern. The pictures were all taken in 1948. So each ID number has the number of the house, an S for South, the first two letters of the street name, then 48 for the year the photo was taken. In other words, the ID for the photo of 303 S Howes is 303SHo48 and so on.

The photos of the Arthur T. White Garage are also from the Archive at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, ID #s 317WOl48 and H09376.

The “No Photo Available” drawing was by yours truly.

Information from Ansel Watrous’s History of Larimer County was accessed through the online version of his book.

Research on the residents of this block were accomplished through three City Directories, all of which are available at the Archive at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, and through the Fort Collins History Connection website, but I chose to access them through Ancestry.com, mostly because I find their system somewhat easier to use — once I’ve managed to find the directory that I want… which I find hard on both websites. I looked up the 1917, 1925, and 1950 directories. And I didn’t share much of what I found other than the folks that used the shop on Olive and the church on Magnolia and that little snippet about Frank E. Miller. Maybe some day I’ll dig deeper into some of the other folks’ stories.

The “rumors” that were mentioned above came thanks to the “You Know You Grew Up in Fort Collins if you Remember…” page on Facebook. I generally try to substantiate information like that through newspaper articles or other documents before considering them to be factual. But the sources seem credible, so I included the information with caveats. Perhaps some day I’ll dig through the newspapers for a more in-depth article.

Another photo of the Arthur T. White garage from the 1950s. (From the Archive at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, H09376.)