Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday Fun

I can't believe 2010 is almost over. I don't know about you, but the holidays flew by for me. I think tonight might be the last night to enjoy the lights at The Gardens on Spring Creek. It will look even prettier in the snow.







Mystery Photo
Last week's photo was of the frozen fountain in Old Town Square.























Where in Fort Collins was this picture taken?



Have a very safe and happy New Year's Eve!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Week 20: The Armstrong Hotel


We all have a job in our employment history that we’d rather forget. It’s the one we took to earn gas money, or beer-and-textbook money, or to prove to the adults in our lives that we were indeed quasi-responsible people. I worked at the now-defunct W.C. Frank hotdog joint. My husband washed boats—for a week and a half, but still. In college, a very brave friend of mine worked the night shift at the front desk of the Mountain Empire Hotel at the corner of Olive and College.

Fast-forward more years than I want to admit. That former flophouse, where a visit from the police was a near-nightly occurrence, is once again a downtown jewel of a historic hotel.



According to its website, The Armstrong Hotel has a “long and curious history.” The original hotel opened in 1923, built where the home of the eponymous Andrew Armstrong once stood. It was the last hotel of the era to open and is now the only one still operating. For years, the hotel adapted fairly well to the changing times. The building housed the first chapter of the American Automobile Association and served as an Army barracks during World War II.




But I-25 made it easier for travelers to bypass downtown Fort Collins, and the 1970s and 80s pushed the Armstrong into a long downward slide. The ownership changed, and the name changed, but to no avail. To borrow a line from the movie Elf, the former Mountain Empire Hotel smelled like mushrooms and everyone there looked like they wanted to hurt me. In 2000, the hotel closed its doors.

Thankfully, that was not the last chapter in the hotel’s history. In 2002, the Levinger family purchased the building, and the restored Armstrong Hotel opened in June of 2004. As a guest of a hotel guest (my sister from Seattle), I had my first visit to one of the Armstrong’s 43 “unique and eclectic” rooms—Room 313, a “Modern Signature Queen Room,” with a western view. It was stylish but also quite cozy, a very nice place to toast the holidays with a glass of champagne.




























The Armstrong is close to everything downtown has to offer, not the least being the coffee, chocolate, and cocktails right there in the same building. Guests may use the hotel’s cruiser bikes, though in December most people probably opt to walk. The website offers a sneak-peek into all the rooms, but it’s more fun to stop by in person. If you do, be sure to say hi to Oreo the hotel cat.




Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday Fun

Last weekend,I happened across an Old Town performance by the Breathless in Berthoud Border Morris dancers. According to their website, "Border Morris dancing is a style of Morris dancing originating in the area of the English border with Wales. The dances are boisterous and energetic, primarily stick dances, emphasizing a thrilling performance rather than subtlety or refinement. The dancers often dance in black-face, and the dancers’ “kit” is often decorated with many ribbons or strips of material, known as rags. Besides the traditional dances, collected early in the twentieth century, Border teams dance many new dances, invented in the Border counties and in the U.S.A."

It was interesting and fun. If you see them around, check it out.





Mystery Photo:

Last week's photo was taken on the trail northwest of Spring Canyon Park.























Where in Fort Collins was this week's picture taken?


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Week 19: Old Town Carriage Ride


‘Tis the season. Hustling and bustling, a few excesses in the food and drink department, one too many shopping excursions. But it’s also the season to find some magical moments. Kids don’t need reminding of Christmas magic, but adults sometimes do. And for us, those moments tend to be less about the frenzy and more about the quiet times when we can stop and take a deep breath and appreciate some of the other gifts of the season.

My family and I discovered that a carriage ride in Old Town provided a perfect opportunity to do just that. In the waning light of one of the shortest days of the year, we enjoyed a horse-drawn tour of downtown. As the tree lights winked on to the sound of clopping hooves, I sat back and imagined Fort Collins as it once was. It was not difficult to do as we passed slowly by the Northern Hotel and the Old Firehouse, which have stood sentinel over downtown since the early days of Fort Collins.























Our friendly driver Tammy, of Colorado Carriage and Wagon, chatted with us as she guided the stalwart horse Annie Oakley past the Fort Collins Museum (when I was very young, it housed the public library) on Mathews Street and then back north on Remington to Old Town. We talked Fort Collins history, and came up with a few questions.

We wondered about the significance of The Abbott House at 230 Remington. All I could find out was that Malinda Maxwell Loomis gave the lot to Frank and Lulu May Abbott. The walls of the house were three bricks thick, and it cost $4000 to build.

To our credit, we knew that the building at 202 Remington Street, which currently houses St. Peter’s Fly Shop, was once a hospital. It is the McHugh house, known as the “House of the Mayors” because Mayor Harris and Mayor McHugh both called it home. It took three years to build, after which a carriage house was added. Mayor McHugh was also a doctor and saw patients in the carriage house.

Our ride combined local history, seasonal beauty, and a welcome break from my holiday to-do list. Weather permitting, Annie Oakley and her friends will be giving Old Town rides through the holidays, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It's a wonderful experience, and the perfect stand-in for a one-horse open sleigh.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Faces

Today's Friday Face belongs to undertaker Horace M. Balmer. (My husband thought the name was made up, so I felt compelled to prove otherwise.) Here is his bio, from a reproduction of the 1905 Chamber of Commerce brochure, compiled and edited by R.H. White:

"No wealth or power can stay the ravages of time, not affect the harvest of the grim reaper - Death-that ever and anon crosses the threshold and obliges bereaved relatives to pay toll to such indispensable establishments as that conducted by Mr. Balmer. He is located in the middle room in the Masonic Temple at No. 147 West Mountain avenue. Mr. Balmer is a licensed embalmer as well as a funeral director and has been in business for about eight years. He has an elegant rubber-tired funeral carriage, a beautiful new casket wagon and everything required to make his place first class and second to none, and the manner in which he conducts business makes his place grow steadily in favor with those whom sad circumstances compel to seek such services. Mr. Balmer is coroner of Larimer county and is a well and favorably known public man. He has long been a prominent figure in the city, is a K. P. and Elk, and takes a deep interest in all affairs concerning the welfare of the city. "




(I didn't know what a "K.P." was and had to look it up. It stands for The Knights of Pythias, a fraternal organization founded in Washington D.C. on February 19, 1864.)

Put a pair of glasses on him, and Mr. H. M. Balmer would bear a resemblance to my maternal grandfather, who was the undertaker and funeral director at the Berthoud Funeral Home when I was growing up. (Thanks to the Fort Collins History Connection for the bio and picture.)


Mystery Photo:


Last week's mystery photo was of the mural on the east wall of the Trimble Court Gallery.
















Where in Fort Collins was this week's picture taken?



Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Week 18: Vintage Cookbooks

There’s a lot going on in Fort Collins around the holidays—this year, it seems, more than ever. Music, stage shows, galas…but occasionally something unique catches my eye. This was the case with the “Vintage Holiday Cookbooks” presentation at the Council Tree Library.

I enjoy reading cookbooks, which might seem strange to my family and friends because I am not the world’s best cook. I have made unintentional flamb├ęs and stirred up gravy that would have taken first place at a science fair. On one memorable occasion, I mistook cayenne pepper for paprika.

Cheryl Miller is a Fort Collins collector and scrapbooker who shared her extensive knowledge of vintage cookbooks and obscure kitchen gadgets. Cheryl has collected hundreds of cookbooks, and when she told us that she would rather read them than cook, I felt right at home. (And she brought goodies for us to eat, too.)




Cookbooks have a fascinating history, dating back to Babylonian clay tablets circa 1500 B.C. One of the most interesting things to me was discovering that old cookbooks not only tell us what people were eating way back when (swan, anyone?) but give insight into the social and political climates of the times, as well.





Girls, who were not encouraged to attend school, often learned to read and write using cookbooks. But if a woman wanted to publish her own cookbook, she usually had to do it under her husband’s name or the anonymous “written by a woman.” The first American cookbook attributed to a woman is Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery from 1796. Lydia Marie Child, author of The American Frugal Housewife (1829), included her anti-slavery sentiments in this hearth-cooking guide, which did not win her any popularity contests. But female cooks and writers pressed on, despite men such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, who decried them all as a “damn mob of scribbling women.”

Cheryl graciously had many of her cookbooks available for browsing. My favorite was put together in 1896 by the ladies of the Fort Collins 1st Baptist Church, which included recipes from many of the founding fathers’ wives. And from the ‘You Can’t Make This Stuff Up’ department: the local mortician at the time was a man by the name of H. M. Balmer (no joke), whose wife contributed a recipe for brains. (I feel a historical zombie story coming on.)





Check Cheryl’s website for lots of links (this one is fun for Christmas) and great information about food and scrapbooking.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fort Collins Stories

Today’s story is an excerpt from “Talking About Fort Collins: Selections from Oral Histories,” a joint project of The Friends of the Library and the Local History Department of the Fort Collins Public Library (1992). Transcripts of the oral histories are also available at Fort Collins History Connection.

“I started to work for the post office in 1907, on Linden Street. Then I worked in the new post office on College and Oak until 1921. It was built in 1912. When I was married—a woman had to give up her job. My job was taking care of the registered mail, the insured mail, the box rents, anything that needed a safety (sic) place for the money. The carriers were all afoot, of course. Whenever they left a letter any place, they blew a whistle. You knew when people were getting mail, you would hear the postman’s whistle.

“Everyone was so proud of our new post office, because it was made of the best materials, marble and granite. I remember the lights on the outside, a lamp on each side of the doors. We were so proud of those big lamps because they cost a lot of money, $250 apiece. They were beautiful. And the plate glass windows, and all of the furniture. It might have been the best building in town. At least we thought so.”
--Edith Bair, 1975

Mystery Photo
Last week's photo was taken in Moby Gym--but I think you all know that by now.























Where in Fort Collins was this week's picture taken?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Week 17: Menorah Lighting


When I was a kid, Christmas was the epicenter of my entire winter. (I’m embarrassed to admit how many hours I spent poring over the Sears Toy Catalog.) I knew a couple of people who didn’t celebrate Christmas for various reasons, but that was the extent of my awareness. Now, one of the best things about being an adult at this time of year is understanding that there is room in this big world for a whole variety of celebrations.

On Sunday, the fifth night of Chanukah, The Chabad Jewish Center of Northern Colorado and CSU hosted the 6th annual Menorah Lighting in Old Town Square. Lively music played as I joined the crowd gathering at the steps in front of Ben and Jerry’s. The menorah was as large as I imagined it might be, and Santa’s house a few yards away made for an interesting juxtaposition.

My knowledge of Chanukah is basic at best, and I appreciated the history and ‘how-to’s in the free guide that was available at the info table. Even so, I anticipated that most of what Rabbi Gorelik had to say would go right over my judaicaly-ignorant head. But his message was less about particulars and more about the common ground so many of us share. We are hopeful. We wish to dispel darkness in its literal and figurative senses. We believe in freedom. We want peace. (Seriously. Right now. Please.)




On a pleasantly cold early December evening, it warmed my heart to see the city government officials and the politicians who took time to attend. After a(nother) contentious election season, it was nice to know that they weren’t there to drum up votes or advance a political agenda. They were there because this is the time of year when we’re all more inclined to pull together rather than push apart. When Mayor Hutchinson spoke—he hasn’t missed a menorah lighting yet—I really felt proud to be a part of a community that embraces its diversity.

Rabbi Gorelik has a fine sense of humor, and the mood of the evening was festive. Five of the oil lamps in the menorah were lit, along with many smaller candles in the crowd. And when the kids gathered to sing traditional Chanukah songs, I’m pretty sure I saw Santa on his porch, singing along.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Five

I’m not particularly good at the artsy-craftsy thing, but fortunately lots of other people around town are. Here are five places to find unique holiday gifts and support the local creative vibe this weekend (free admission, too):

The Holiday Mart at the Northern Colorado Writers studio (108 E. Monroe Drive) on Saturday from 9-5. Crafts, food demos and tastings, new and used books, author readings, jewelry, live music, and more.

9th Annual Harmony House Artisan Sale (3105 E. Harmony Road) on Saturday from 9-4. Featuring local and regional artists. Proceeds support abused and neglected children in our community.

Holiday Craft Fair & Bake Sale at Our Saviours Lutheran Church (2000 S. Lemay) on Saturday from 9-3. Jewelry, handmade items, baked goods, and kraut burgers.

Stove Prairie 34th Annual Winter Festival (3891 Stove Prairie Road) on Saturday from 10-4. Handmade crafts, chili, Santa Claus, a silent auction.

Holy Family Parish Annual Christmas Bazaar (326 N. Whitcomb Street) on Sunday from 9-3. Mexican food, crafts, baked goods, raffles.


I thought last week’s mystery photo would be really tough, but two people guessed it. It was indeed taken in the Northern Hotel.



























Where in Fort Collins was this week's picture taken?



Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Week 16: Small Business Saturday

The shopping season’s here. I know it. I’m just not feeling it yet. Black Friday didn’t thrill me. Cyber Monday left me uninspired. But in between the two, I did muster up some shopping mojo for Small Business Saturday, “a day to come together in support of the small businesses we love.” It sounds like such a homegrown idea that I was surprised to find that it’s sponsored and promoted by American Express. I don’t have an AmEx card, so I wasn’t able to take advantage of their $25 statement credit for shopping locally, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. My goal on Saturday was twofold: shop local, and find some small businesses I’ve never visited before.

I started the day at the annual Holiday Market at the Fort Collins Senior Center. I know, it’s not a business per se. But the post-Thanksgiving Holiday Market has been drawing crowds for years, and I’ve always been curious. For a mere $1 admission, I was able to browse tables displaying the wares of dozens of crafters and artisans. The selection was diverse, from quilts to funky purses to toys to elegant jewelry. It’s the kind of sale that draws you in, and only when your stomach starts growling do you realize that you’ve been there for hours. Too bad I didn’t have hours to spend. Maybe next year.


I’m not sure how I’ve missed The Metal Forest (#1 Old Town Square, Suite 107, along E. Mountain Avenue), but I’m very glad I dropped by. Not only is this a local business, but owners Mike and Nina Stanton also design and manufacture the products they sell, including ornaments, light fixtures, napkin holders, and other beautiful and functional items for the home. The Stantons are friendly people who take pride in their work, as they should. I was glad I had the chance to chat with them.


Link Lane is off the beaten path, but I’ll give you four very good reasons to make it a destination: Butter. Sugar. Almonds. Chocolate. I’ve had Vern's Toffee for years (they’ve been making it since 1976) but this was my first visit to their candy kitchen. It was fairly quiet on Saturday, as all the toffee-making elves had been given the Thanksgiving weekend off. I was sorry I couldn’t see the “old-fashioned copper kettles” in action, but the world map with pins marking the many mail-order destinations was pretty impressive. This year, Vern’s has added a dark-chocolate version of their toffee, so of course I had to buy some.




Around the corner from Vern’s, I discovered Simply Beautiful (426 Link Lane), a consignment store specializing in quality home furnishings. I had fun browsing through the cluster of rooms filled with an eclectic selection of pre-owned items, from furniture to small accent pieces. With a wide variety of prices and styles, Simply Beautiful has something for everyone. Owner Edie Barton couldn’t be nicer, and buying resale is such a great way to shop ‘green.’

I found some places I’ve never shopped before, and they’re all places I’ll visit again. Small Business Saturday: Mission Accomplished.