The saga of Lowell Elementary School bears a remarkable resemblance to the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale. But, will it live happily ever after?
Strategically sited atop the hill at 831 South Nevada Avenue is Lowell Elementary School, the first permanent school built in Colorado Springs. This stately 1891 structure was designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style by Denver architects, Theodore Boal and Herbert Lee. It was named in honor of James Russell Lowell, the American poet who died that same year. With a northern addition completed in 1902, this imposing masterpiece became the city’s crowning glory of the South-End district.
The heavy Romanesque style, though costly, was especially well-suited for grand public buildings. Using boulders, brick and sandstone from the Red Rocks Quarry, the construction of Lowell employed variations and certain elements of the Richardsonian Romanesque style; square towers, massive rock-faced stone walls, transom windows positioned in groups in a ribbon-like fashion, and broad rounded Roman arches. A carving above an arched doorway still reads, “A.D. Lowell School 1891.”
While the original Lowell structure housed eight classrooms, the capacity doubled with the later addition. By 1910, the school had become the largest in the city with over 1,000 pupils. The prominent location of Lowell was clearly a calculated attempt to impress those traveling on the Denver and Rio Grande Railway running just south of the edifice. This deliberate and ideal setting was a success! Tourists from around the country and from abroad flocked to the new “Little London” and became the early homesteaders. Population steadily increased from 11,140 in 1890 to 43,321 in 1910.
The 90-year long “heyday” of the “beautiful” Lowell School would eventually come to an end. By the late 1970s, as the newer, more modern schools popped up around the city, the once beloved jewel of the old South-End was seen as an archaic remnant. Going out of vogue along with declining enrollment, the District 11 school board, notwithstanding great opposition, closed the school in 1982.
Gazette Headlines read: 4/1/1982 South-Lowell parents group says District 11 never listened to their proposals, 4/22/1982 South-Lowell teachers defend education, 8/20/1983 Police to train at old Lowell School, 1/4/1985 Old school may house elderly; architect is seeking to turn Lowell into 50-unit complex.
The abandoned Lowell School building was boarded up, forgotten and left to decay. The transformation began. The pitiful beast would emerge amid the overgrown weeds, broken glass and crumbling rock. The deteriorating interior became a mighty palace for bats, birds, and rodents. The monolithic eyesore had succumbed to neglect, water damage, fire and vandalism. No doubt, the city’s founding fathers would have been heartbroken, cringing at the sight of such sheer blasphemy.
The South-End beast clamored for attention over the years. Would it face the wrecking ball or avoid it with an exorbitant rehab? In 1987, the Lowell neighborhood was declared an Urban Renewal Project, yet the school’s fate remained a stalemate. Interested parties finally stepped in so as to assure its survival; Lowell was listed on the State Register of Historical Landmarks in March of 1995, and eligible for listing on the National Register.
Now, after two decades of hardship, this diamond in the rough revealed a new purpose. In 1998, the Colorado Springs Housing Authority sought to capitalize on the possibilities the old Lowell building had to offer. Their vision was to rehabilitate it, then make it their own command center as well as providing additional office space for the private sector. CSHA purchased this piece of history for $685,000 in May 2000. With funding from the Colorado State Historical Society, along with other city and federal grants, renovations and repairs were completed in 2001. While the community gathered in celebration for an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony, former students took a sentimental stroll down memory lane as they walked the hallways of the new $6.5 million “beauty.”
Respect, enjoy and preserve!