Stitched Together from the Past: The History & Restoration of Ivywild
A cool breeze blows down into the dale; chilly for the time of year. High above the plains to the East, on a hill at the foot of the Mountain of the Sun, Tava—or “Pikes Peak,” as the pioneers since called it—is a quiet neighborhood. The sky, bright and blue nary half an hour previous, is now dark and thick with heavy clouds that look as if they may crash into the wall of peaks that this hamlet sits nestled against. Trees older than any living human sway and whisper in the wind among homes that look like they came from all over the world. Some are young and some are very old; some house families and some host businesses; a few hold both.
This is Ivywild, one of the original 5 boroughs of the Colorado Springs, Colorado, area.
Before General William Palmer transformed the area by establishing a Kansas Pacific Railroad line there in 1871, Colorado City (as it was known at the time) was a sleepy town on the west bank of Monument Creek, inhabited by around 100 people. Many of the first residents in the area came during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of the late 1850s. Colorado City was an important supply stop for prospectors heading west into the mountains or north to placer gold deposits on the South Platte River.
The surrounding area was nearly all ranch land, but by 1880, Palmer had facilitated the creation of Colorado Springs—an entirely new and distinct city on the east side of Monument Creek. Ivywild was originally a separate town, where people working in Colorado Springs could live away from the busier center.
Palmer saw Colorado City as an immoral saloon town and thus took steps to ensure that the new town he built on the East side of Monument Creek would be “dry”(outlawing alcohol). Eventually Old Colorado City, as it came to be called, followed Colorado Springs’ example and banned alcohol in 1915, the state itself banned alcohol in 1916, and four years later, in 1920, the nation followed suit. Alcohol prohibition ended in Colorado when the 18th amendment was repealed in 1933.
Molly Merry, the Vice President of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations and member-at-large of the Ivywild Improvement Society, said that Ivywild was always a “working class” neighborhood and does not share the luxurious reputation of the nearby Broadmoor. Since its beginning as an old cattle ranch, it was largely self-sufficient until its final incorporation in 1982. Many of its oldest buildings still remain, having been maintained and remodeled over the years to stay functional.
“The people here are innovators,” she commented. “In a throwaway society, this neighborhood is a synthesis of old and new. [We are] thinking creatively about what already exists, rather than rebuilding everything.”
In 1899, Nikola Tesla, brilliant inventor and pioneer in electric technology, set up a new experimentation center in Colorado Springs since it is one of the most electrically energetic areas in the United States (having an unusually high number of lightning strikes, combined with more electrically-conductive high-altitude air). Amazingly, Tesla was able to channel so much electricity in some of his experiments that the city lost power, its power station dynamos completely fried. Tesla intended to pioneer wirelessly-transmitted electricity, but funding issues and other setbacks prompted him to close his lab in Colorado Springs in 1900, and its contents were subsequently sold in 1904. Interestingly, it is rumored (though not confirmed) that many of the buildings standing in Ivywild today were constructed using wood from that same lab after it was dismantled. Nikola Tesla’s legacy and impact on the world are noted to this day, which is not lost on the neighborhood’s residents (which may be a reason for such a rumor’s propensity)!
Ivywild was always a hub for highly independent and forward-thinking Americans. As the genuinely American sport of baseball grew in popularity, this area became the site of Colorado Springs’ first baseball park, built in 1903 and called Boulevard Park. The Colorado Springs Millionaires, the city’s first baseball namesake, played their first and only season there.
Independence from Colorado Springs was not to last, however, as Ivywild was de facto a small town, but technically considered an unincorporated community. It remained so for over 100 years—until 1982, when the residents of Ivywild, the Broadmoor, and other communities southwest of Colorado Springs finally lost a long legal battle with the city over annexation. Despite the initial resistance, the city planning committee has been accommodating to the neighborhood council’s wishes and feelings.
“During the [Navajo Street] restorations, the city actually asked us how it should look,” Molly said. “They’ve been determined to preserve our neighborhood’s character as much as us.”
Restoration is not all that’s happening there. Ivywild is undergoing a community renaissance. In 2013, conversion of the once-vacant Ivywild Elementary School was completed, during which the Bristol Brewing Company, the Old School Bakery, and the Meat Locker Delicatessen moved into the old building (built in 1916). This newly renovated Ivywild School fast became a local hit and brought a new wave of commercial traffic and interest to both Bristol Brewing and to the neighborhood itself.
“The community, as well as the Ivywild Improvement Society, want to piggyback on the popularity and success of the [Ivywild] School to preserve the neighborhood,” said Molly. “The expansion [of the Ivywild School] made for more inclusiveness here.”
The school is certainly the most famous gathering place in the neighborhood, but there are others. The Edelweiss restaurant on Ramona Street is the oldest restaurant in the area and occupies one of the original schoolhouses built in the town of Ivywild, also making it one of the borough’s oldest structures. Blue Star, one of the Springs most well-known restaurants, is practically next door. There’s even a planned amphitheater space, as well as apartments and a hotel being built right on South Tejon Street. This new development—dubbed “On the Ivy”—will be composed of townhomes and condominiums, pools and penthouses, restaurants and retail stores.
Molly is optimistic about the expansion of the neighborhood. “This [ expansion] has brought more inclusiveness here,” she described. “Ivywild is full of colorful people; unique, independent people live here.” The Council of Neighbors and Organizations and The Ivywild Improvement Society hold regular events to support businesses in the area, such as community picnics, game nights, and happy hours. “This organization is about relationships,” Molly said. “Our job is to preserve them and to create new ones. And there have been a lot of new ones and more to come.”
New relationships are already forming: The Millibo Art Theatre moved in across the street from the Ivywild School and is a popular local performing arts center. Then there’s Joseph’s Fine Dining, a new restaurant mixing old table side flambé cooking and nouveau cuisine. The Smiling Toad Brewery also debuted its new location in Ivywild, which is much larger but just as homey as their old space.
To Molly and to the others who live here, Ivywild is a neighborhood. A community. It is more than just its history. Ivywild is a caricature of Colorado Springs; a new city by the world’s standards, but still stitched together from the past, like everywhere else.
What really makes Colorado Springs, and what makes Ivywild, are people—people with passions, pets, families, and friends. Places to go, things to do, people to see. It’s one thing to have a beer or an authentic European meal in Ivywild, and it’s another thing to truly discover the neighborhood. Because it’s really a combination of all those human things—the picnics, the barbecues, the late-night backyard fires; the kindling romances and old bonds—all of them existing in one space. This is the space we call a “neighborhood.” It’s what we call Ivywild.
P.O. Box 60242
Colorado Springs, CO 80905
Facebook: Ivywild Improvement Society