In 1903, a stone warehouse was constructed behind a small, 1-story office building on Laporte Avenue between Mason and College. Nine years later, the little office building was hauled away and a new, wider, 2-story brick building took its place. The stout new structure was dubbed the Myron H. Akin Block.
The Dunham-Miller Mercantile Company had owned the stone warehouse, which was a separate building in its own right up until 1910/11 when the new front section was added. At the time of the new addition, both the Dunham-Miller Mercantile and the Poudre Valley Bottling Works were located in the stone structure. But by the 1913, the mercantile company had moved to a new location on N. College, and Myron Akin’s livestock company was making use of the space. There were several other new businesses in the expanded building as well.
The Johnston Creamery moved into 128 Laporte (the easternmost bay of the new building) and remained in that location for about thirty years. Myron Akin’s business was located at 130 Laporte (the middle bay and warehouse) along with C. C. Emigh and Herman Gross’s real estate ventures. In 132 Laporte (the westernmost bay) was the local branch office of the Adams Express Company (a package delivery service).
By 1917, the American Express Company shared an office with the Adams Express Company at 132 Laporte, and in 1919 both companies were replaced by the American Railroad Express Company. The McMillan Transfer and Storage Co. had moved into the center bay and warehouse where the real estate agents and livestock had been located.
In 1930, the Howard Investment Company, owned by Ross D. Howard, purchased the building from Myron Akin, though the businesses that were leasing space all remained in place. Six years later, Ross Howard turned around and sold the building to Union Security, Inc. which, in turn, sold the building to Colorado College in 1937.
A man by the name of Ted Carpenter worked for the McMillan Transfer Company in the 1920s. But when the Depression hit, Adam McMillan couldn’t afford to pay Carpenter in cash, so he paid him in coal. After work, Ted would go out and sell the coal so he had money to feed his family of five. It eventually came to the point where Adam didn’t have coal to pay him with. That’s when Roy Tolliver loaned Ted his truck and allowed him to use it at a rate of 75¢ an hour. Thus, the Ted Carpenter & Son transfer business was born. In 1932, the Carpenter’s moved into the building formerly used by the McMillan Company.
In 1947, Ted and Myrtle Carpenter purchased the entire building and expanded their business to include all three bays as well as the warehouse. Carpenter & Son’s remained in this location until 1975.
For a short while in the early 1960s, J. S. Cable used one bay of the building for a piano and organ store.
In 1975, there are a series of transactions that appear to have taken place. According to a title search that’s on file at the Archive at FCMoD, the building passed from Roy and Lucille Carpenter to Vernon and Barbara Bailey, who in turn sold it to Dale Eggleston and William Strebig. On March 11, 1976, Eggleston and Strebig sold the property to the Fort Collins Preservation Society.
I’ve talked to local historians Wayne Sundberg and Joan Day and they claim to have no knowledge of any such society. So this part of the story is a bit of a mystery. But the Fort Collins Preservation Society sold the building to the San Diego Land Investments company on August 3, 1976. What happened between March 11 and August 3 is one of the greatest preservation failures in Fort Collins history.
On May 10th, the Cultural Resources Board recommended that the City Council designate the Myron H. Akin building as a historic landmark. Their recommendation was prefaced with the following explanation, as recounted in the minutes from the meeting:
Mr. Dixon said that he would like to present to the Board the Myron H. Akin Building to be designated as an Historic Landmark. The Grand American Fair is in process of making the building a complex of retail stores along the front; offices on the 2nd floor; restaurant in the back of the street level and a bar in the basement. This is a restaurant chain that buys old buildings to fix up in the old style as restaurants. The people of the chain want to make this building an historic landmark and did most of the preparation work themselves.
The first reading of the item was heard by the Council on June 7th and on June 21st the building became one of Fort Collins’ earliest landmarked buildings. (Only the old fort site, the old water works, the Nelson milk house, the Linden Hotel, and the Avery house preceded it.)
One month later, the historic Akin building was demolished.
On July 27th, Joel Kassiday reported in the Triangle Review:
Fort Collins officials are embarrassed.
Some Cultural Resources Board members are angry.
Several residents are confused.
And the front half of the Myron Akin building, declared an historic landmark by the Fort Collins City Council on June 7, is now a pile of rubble.
“We obviously had a breakdown in communication,” says a chagrined Paul Lanspery, acting city manager.
“We were never told the building was designated as an historic landmark,” says a disconcerted Bill Waldo, the city’s chief building inspector, whose department issued a demolition permit for the Akins building located at 132 Laporte Ave., on July 1.
The city code provides “an owner of an historic landmark cannot alter, demolish or add to the exterior without the consent of the Cultural Resources Board.”
The Cultural Resources Board never got a chance to add its two cents worth. In fact, when the Akins Building came down in a cloud of dust and debris last Wednesday, city officials were hard pressed to explain why.
There was a huge outcry from local residents. Many felt that the Grand American Fare company had pulled an underhanded bait and switch operation, lulling residents into think that the building would be preserved only to sneak in under cover of darkness to pull the building down. (There is no evidence in the written record that the demolition took place at night, despite the number of local residents who believe it to be true. It’s possible the crews arrived early in the morning and significant damage had already been done before word got out.)
Why the company proceeded through the designation process only to demolish half of the building is unknown. But later communication between the City and a board member of Great American Fare gives one perspective on what happened.
Part of the landmarking program included getting building owners to sign a document wherein they agreed that any additions or modifications to the landmarked property had to get approval from the Cultural Resources Board before work could proceed. (Robert J. Levy, president of Grand American Fare at the time, signed just such a document on April 1st, 1977, April Fools Day.) Despite the demolition that took place in July of 1977, the building was still on the books as being a historic landmark, which meant that the Cultural Resources Board was still required by law to review any plans for alterations to the building. Many members of the Board felt like it was a waste of time to continue having to review changes to the building when the entire historic facade had already been ripped off. By rescinding the landmark designation, alterations would no longer come before them for review.
The Board tried several times between 1980 – 1984 to get in touch with the owners of the property and request that they begin the delisting process. In a letter dated September 12, 1984, Albert T. Ehringer, Chairman of the Board of Grand American (the word “Fare” having been dropped from the company name at this point) finally replied in order to protest the proposed “recission” of the landmark designation. He explained his reasoning for maintaining the landmark designation, which is both enlightening and horrifying at the same time. He stated in his letter that,
The additions which we demolished were merely recent date additions (1930’s) that obscured the truly historic building located at the rear of the lot. A review of the site by your Board will reveal that the original building, built in the early 1800’s was retained in its entirety.
Ehringer lived and worked in Southern California. He said that the addition was built in the 1930s (It was built in 1910/11.) and that the historic part of the building was from the early 1800s (five or six decades before Fort Collins even existed). He clearly had no idea what he was talking about and very likely had never seen the building in person.
There’s no mention in the file folder at the Historic Preservation office of whether anyone called and spoke with Ehringer, but at the October 3, 1984 Cultural Resources Board meeting, a vote was taken and the landmarked property was delisted. This is probably the only nonconsensual historic landmark delisting in Fort Collins history. Mayor Gerry Horak signed the official document rescinding the designation on December 4, 1984.
In 1978, a new facade was added to the front of the stone warehouse and the building became Washington’s Bar & Grill. The interior was filled with an assortment of artifacts from all over the U.S. and an old canon was set out front. A series of old wagon wheels formed an edge between the property and the sidewalk with the wheels often being used as a bike rack. A patio was added at some point and the canon had to be moved to make room.
In the spring of 2016, it was announced that the sports bar was to be closed. Despite the fact that the creation of Washington’s had resulted in the destruction of a grand historic property, by the time of its closing, the modified building had become a nostalgic part of Fort Collins’ history in its own right.
Sources for this article:
The photo of a portion of Myron Akin’s diary is one that I took while visiting with Joan Day, Myron’s great niece, who owns the diaries.
I’m especially thankful to Mac McNeill for allowing me to use his image of the Johnston Creamery which is the clearest image of the Akin building I’ve found. See more of Mac’s great photo collection on his website at Fort Collins Images.
I gathered most of the information for this story from two main locations — through the title search document and the City Directories at the Archive in the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery and through articles and documents on file in the Fort Collins Historic Preservation Department office at 281 N. College. The Preservation office was a particular gold mine in that their file folder contained letters and copies of Cultural Resource Board minutes which included entire conversations between the board and representatives of Grand American Fare.
Information on which properties were designated before the Akin building received a determination is from the City of Fort Collins Historic Preservation Department’s website as well as from talking with Wayne Sundberg. The old fort site was the first designated landmark in the city. It is no longer a local landmark, but that is a story for another time.