Historic district residents fight to get 1930s ornamental streetlights put back up
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Pieces of history that are almost 100 years old were removed from a southern Colorado historic district, leaving residents frustrated and now fighting to bring them back.
The Old North End in Colorado Springs is an official historic district. Resident Jon Thomas has been a homeowner there since the 1970s. He says a group of streetlights that went up in the 1930s were key in the neighborhood earning its historic district certification. He and wife Jan Erickson live across the street from where one of the lights once stood, until the couple woke up one morning in October 2021 to find it was gone.
“This is not just a North End issue. We are getting calls form all over the city about wanting to preserve the character of this community,” Thomas said.
Only one of the lights remains standing on Colorado College’s campus and is visible when driving down Uintah Street, directly across from Wood Avenue.
“You can see the beauty and just how exquisite these lights are and why we want to have them back in the community,” Thomas said.
Colorado Springs Utilities crews removed four of the historic streetlights in fall 2021. A spokesperson for the company, Steve Berry, says the lights were taken down during routine maintenance for being too dim for safety standards. Berry says CSU did not check with neighbors or the historic preservation board beforehand because that’s not part of their standard protocols for streetlight servicing.
“In hindsight, obviously we would not have taken them down. There would have been a discussion that should have taken place before we took them down because of the historic preservation,” said Berry.
Not long after the lights were taken down, CSU started hearing from citizens wondering where the lights went and when they’d be back. Berry says, “We want to make sure that they’re happy, but we also have an entire customer base to keep whole. Especially when it’s these kind of complex financial decisions long-term, we have to look at things both from the neighborhood’s perspective and our whole customer base’s perspective.”
The lights are currently being stored in two warehouses, protected in bubble wrap. Berry says the challenge is figuring out how to keep the nearly century-old lights up and running.
“It’s not just cost, but also, can you even keep them operating? If something happens, you can’t easily obtain parts, or you can’t obtain parts at all to replace a broken fixture or a broken pole,” he said.
Old North End neighbors have have officially offered to pay for the lights’ refurbishment. The money is being collected through a fundraiser on a website dedicated to the effort, northendlamplighters.org.
“When I was a kid, I lived up off of Uintah, and I would come down here, I was probably 15 or 16 years old. I’d walk the community, I’d walk this neighborhood because of the atmosphere of working and being in a historic area,” Thomas said.
His wife Jan Erickson added, “We came from a long history. That’s one of the beautiful things about Colorado Springs, is we have this history, and to be able to honor the ancestors that created these beautiful things, and when they can be restored and live among us, we are constantly reminded that we weren’t here first.”
Thomas also said he’d like to see this experience change CSU’s standards.
“One of the most important things would be for city utilities, as part of their protocol, to insert that box that says, ‘Check with the neighborhood, check with the historic preservation board, check with any local organizations before you do anything dramatic.’”
Thomas and Erickson, along with Berry, say a meeting is expected soon with city leaders to determine next steps.
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