As tuberculosis gained new chemical treatments by the end of the World War II, the sanitariums closed.
“The Chamber of Commerce and local businesses leaders began to look for new economic drivers,” said Witherow.
“Also at that point, the Army was looking for a new training base,” added Mayberry. “We actively recruited the military to come to Colorado Springs. We offered them land south of downtown, and other incentives.”
“That really began to change the economy of Colorado Springs,” said Witherow. “From the 1940s onward, we’re looking for military opportunities to bring an infusion of federal dollars here. And that radically alters our landscape.”
Following Camp Carson — later Fort Carson — Colorado Springs recruited the Air Force Academy.
“Then NORAD was built under Cheyenne Mountain,” said Mayberry. “Peterson Air Force base became the home of U.S. Space Command. Shreiver Airforce Base became a significant home for satellite technology. And so we have these five major defense installations in Colorado Springs — and there’s talk about the Space Force being housed here.”
“At a time when our economy was changing, and could no longer rely on tuberculosis, the military was what we turned to,” said Mayberry. “And it was that change in our economy this had such an extraordinary impact on who we are as a community.”
The change that happened after World War II was particularly evident in the downtown landscape. As population growth and urban sprawl pushed the city’s boundaries further out, “the downtown inner core began to decay,” said Witherow.
And it wasn’t just in Colorado Springs.
“In the post-war years from the 1950s to the 1970s, downtowns across the country were having to go through reinvention because of changes in the economy,” said Mayberry. “There was flight from downtown to suburban areas, and growth of malls.”
In an effort to revitalize urban cores across the United States, tax incentives were offered to take down historic structures and old businesses, and to raise new, modern buildings in their place.
“There were many historic structures lost to urban renewal,” said Mayberry.
“The reason stated — and this was typical across the country — was that they were obsolete,” said Harner. “Oftentimes, the standard response was that it was cheaper to rip a building down, and build a new one. And we did a lot of that in Colorado Springs.”
Whole blocks of historic structures were razed.
“Those blocks encompassed some important businesses, some legacy businesses,” said Witherow. “Local governments essentially declared certain sections of downtown to be blighted, to bring in federal dollars to rebuild, reimagine, wipe away the past, and build new buildings.”
Racism and discrimination played a role in urban renewal decisions.
“When you look at these neighborhoods which were declared blighted, no coincidence,” said Harner. “Where were they? African American, Latino, and minority neighborhoods. In the downtown, which used to be the historical African American neighborhood where there were a lot of people living, but also a lot of independent businesses, including probably the most famous, the Cotton Club of Fannie Mae Duncan — all those were ripped out.”
“So urban renewal is tinged with partition ideas of what buildings should be preserved, and what buildings need to go,” said Witherow. “It is a solution to some, and it's an assault to others.”
Other iconic buildings lost included the Colorado Springs High School, the Alamo Hotel, the second Antlers Hotel, and the Burns Opera House, later known as the Chief Theater. The latter was torn down by private property owners in order to make way for a parking lot.
“The Burns was a marvelous building,” said Tim Scanlon, Historian and City of Colorado Springs Senior Planner from 1985 to 2009. “It was beautifully constructed. There were no interior pillars. The tax code favored new construction over rehabilitation, and so, they demolished it. If we could have that theater today, it would be a tremendous asset to the city of Colorado Springs.”