It’s easy to walk down Main Avenue and get caught up in window shopping or restaurant menus. But many of those buildings in “Historic Downtown Durango” really are, well, historic, representing many changes in our town’s 130-plus years.
“Many buildings have gone through quite an evolution here,” historian Duane Smith said. “It’s how things change, for good or for bad. But these historic buildings certainly lend atmosphere and serve as a bridge to the past.”
But while the buildings may look much the same as when they were built, mostly in the late 1800s, what has gone on inside, the businesses they have housed, have run the gamut from dress shops and grocery stores to theaters and dance halls. And restaurants – lots and lots of restaurants.
Here’s a look at three buildings and their many incarnations:
What building has housed a livery stable, theater, skateboard shop and restaurants, including a favorite local watering hole?
Stand across the street from 1150 Main Ave., the current location of Lost Dog Bar & Lounge, and it’s possible to imagine the horses and buckboard wagons going in the big doors to graze on some hay where humans now down burgers and brews.
Its original incarnation as the Grand Central Livery, built of wood, was on the west side of Main, but after the fire of 1889 that took out seven city blocks, the livery, now the Durango Livery, was moved across the street and built of more-hardy bricks. In addition to serving as a place where people could rent horses or stable their own, it also was a carriageworks.
The idea was that people coming in from the north would stable their horses before entering downtown, improving both the smell and the walking conditions.
“It wasn’t only a bad smell, but a bad impression for visitors,” Smith said, “and even in the early days, the city fathers were worried about Durango’s reputation.”
Almost everyone built with brick or stone after the fire.
“It would be much more permanent,” Smith said, “and a much more permanent town to welcome visitors.”
Built in 1890, the building maintained its original use until the 1930s, becoming the Gifford & Henry Livery in 1910, the Wood & Morgan Livery in 1920 and the business of Charles Naeglin, a well-known blacksmith in the area, in the 1930s.
Just as transportation changed, so, too, did the building, becoming the longtime home of Andrew’s Auto Supply and auto service until 1989. That’s when Dennis Johnson and Anna Price remodeled it as the Carriageworks Theatre and home for their Durango Repertory Co. The carriage in the name was a nod to the building’s origins. Among the plays produced under its roof were “The Cherry Orchard,” “Woman in Mind” and that perennial holiday favorite, “A Christmas Carol.”
After five years as a theater, the building transitioned to the Shred Shed, a retailer of all-things skateboard related, before entering the 21st century as a restaurant.
Where could you buy a suit, pick up your groceries, get a cure for your addiction to alcohol or tobacco, cut a rug with your best girl and dine on a wide variety of cuisines?
No place else but at the corner of 10th Street and Main Avenue, 990 Main Ave., also known as the Schneider Block. The latest in a series of restaurants, the Himalayan Kitchen currently serves customers under its roof.
Built by R.C. Snyder in 1889, it was a men’s clothing store in the early days before becoming a grocery store. By 1900, Charles Snyder’s Palace Grocery and Meat had become a downtown mainstay.
Snyder ran the grocery for about 20 years before Walter Ambold and Thomas Mason “assumed proprietorship” as the documentation filed with the Colorado Preservation Office describes it, then Justin Lenville purchased it in the late 1930s and ran it for another decade.
Upstairs, the Keeley Institute, a chain franchise designed to wean people off alcohol, tobacco and opium, opened one of its four offices in Colorado.
“I don’t think they had an amazing level of achievement,” Smith said, “because their idea of getting someone off opium was to give them morphine.”
The institute space soon was turned into a dance hall, which it remained until the late 1920s, before becoming offices and apartment space.
It’s hard to tell how many restaurants have existed in the building. In the 1960s and ’70s, it was the Town House Restaurant, known for its salads and sandwiches. Once the Howley family sold out, three restaurants in four years tried to make a go of it. In rapid succession, Randolph’s, Hunters and Barney Ribbles (a rib joint) came and went in the building before the Golden Dragon managed to make a go of it in 1990. The Himalayan Kitchen opened its doors in 2006.
“Durango has an amazing track record of restaurant failures,” Smith said. “From the 1880s on, people would try to think of something to do so they could stay in Durango, and they’d get their wife or someone to do the cooking.”
What building had the only elevator between Denver and Phoenix when it opened, saw banks thrive and crash, was home to Durango’s only indoor movie theater for decades and was our first building listed on the National Historic Register?
The Newman Block, of course. At 801 Main Ave., it was built in 1892 by Charles Newman, who made his fortune first through pharmacies he owned with his brothers-in-law in Silverton, Alamosa, Animas City and Chama, New Mexico, and later by locating the Swansea Mine in Rico. His drugstore in Durango went on to become S.G. Wall Druggist, the current site of Olde Tymer’s Café. Newman also represented our region in the Colorado Senate.
“People actually came up to ride it,” Smith said of the newfangled elevator in the Newman Block. “It was like going to the big city.”
Original tenant Smelter National Bank opened, boomed and crashed in a five-year period. The bank closed its doors in 1897, never able to recover after the Silver Crash of 1893. The bank had specially constructed vaults extending through the second and third floors. Durango National Bank, which later crashed, also called the building home.
The sign for W.G. White Grocers, which was on the side of the building, still is visible on the back of the building after the Goodman Brothers painted it with leaded paint, which since has been outlawed for health reasons.
In 1928, the Newman Block was converted to the Kiva Theater along with a one-story building next door, and the theater was purchased by 20th Century Fox in the 1930s. Until well into the 1980s, it was the place to see hits ranging from “Gone with the Wind” to “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Actor Jimmy Stewart was named honorary mayor of the city at the Kiva while in town filming “Naked Spur” in 1952.
The building barely survived the fire of Aug. 24, 1974, which burned six buildings in the middle of the block.
Even after the silver screen had gone silent, the Kiva continued as a theater for several years until the late 1980s, when a large part of the first floor was converted into retail space with the upper floors as offices. Among the retail establishments have been a florist and several dress shops.
And in 1980, the Newman Block became the first building in Durango to be named to the National Historic Register, making it the most historic of them all.
The next time you take a stroll down Main, take a moment to look up and look around, imagine generations of Durangoans trying to make a living. Appreciate the legacy they have left us.
Cross the bridge to the past.