The Fort Collins YMCA in Color Postcards

In the later part of 1906, Reverend Sylvester E. Ellis, pastor of the Methodist Church, began to pull together a coalition of church and business leaders to explore the possibility of starting a Young Man’s Christian Association in Fort Collins. Within a year, money was raised (around $90,000 for the building and furnishings), architects selected (Montezuma Fuller and Arthur Garbutt), and a location for the building was chosen (the northwest corner of East Oak and Remington Streets).

On June 11, 1907 the cornerstone of the YMCA was laid and the next day the Fort Collins Courier ran a two page spread on the new building. Included in the article were the building illustration and the floor plans shown below.

01 YMCA Illus FCC 06121907 B680
 Fort Collins Courier Illustration of YMCA, June 12, 1907.
02 YMCA Floor Plans FCC 06121907 B680
Fort Collins Courier Floor Plans of YMCA, June 12, 1907.

Lots of column-inches were spent on the description of the building’s interior and the variety of rooms, from the separate swimming pool building (which “will have few equals in the county”), to the bowling alleys, gymnasium (“a splendid room”) and locker and shower facilities, to the dark room, biblical library, and to the 29 dormitory or sleeping rooms (each having an outside window and a closet). But even the boosterism of the local newspaper had trouble finding things to praise about the exterior. Here’s what they said:

“It will be seen that this exterior is devoid of ornamentation except upon the porch. It is believed, however, that the combination of white brick walls and red tile roof will make the building more attractive than one can first imagine.”

Since color is so important to the exterior, I’ve decided to show you four early colored postcards of the YMCA building. The first card is very early and may have been made during one of the opening events in late February or early March 1908.

03 YMCA pm1908 8004 B680
Y. M. C. A. Building, Fort Collins, Colo. Postmarked 1908.

The red roof tiles against the white walls is attractive and the early automobiles and all the people add to the charm of this image. A couple of weeks ago, I did a post on the Anderson Postals, the images the Chamber of Commerce used to promote Fort Collins. A Courier article mentioned that in 1908 they added three more images to their set of 16 postcards. One of those mentioned was a YMCA postcard. This postcard is very common.  I think this it is probably the YMCA postcard they distributed.

04 YMCA The Fair 1907-15 B680
Y. M. C. A. Building, Ft. Collins, Colo. C. 1910.

Here is a second early image of the building. It must have been taken a little later, since this image has a power pole and lines that is missing in the 1908 postcard.

The building was a three-story building with a basement. Since the basement is partially above ground, it gives the effect of a four-story building.

Both these postcards were four-color printed postcards. Let me show you a very early hand-colored version.

05 YMCA Gilbert Handcolored B680
Y. M. C. A. Building, Ft. Collins, Colo. C. 1908. Photographed by A. T. Gilbert.

There are a number of things I’d like to mention about this image. First, I love the picture angle, letting us see up Oak Street to College Avenue. It lets us see some of the other buildings in the area. Second, because the power lines are missing, I think this is another 1908 image. Third, this postcard is made using the Albertype process, a printing process that made finely detailed black-and-white postcards that were wonderful to hand-color. The Albertype Company sent photographers all over the country to take photographs that they would print and often hand-color. I’ll do a future post on Albertype images of Fort Collins. Finally, of course, is the elephant in the room, the green tile roof.

One of the problems with colored postcards is that the people who colored the cards often had no information on the real colors of the buildings. Obviously, they didn’t know our YMCA had a red tile roof. But, it can get worse as this next postcard shows.

06 YMCA Red Brick pm1915 B680
Y. M. C. A. Building, Ft. Collins, Colo. Postmarked 1915.

Now our building has a green or blue roof and reddish bricks. Never trust the colors on early colored postcards.

07 YMCA Red Brick pm1915 Water Wagon B400
Water Wagon in YMCA Image.

Notice the water wagon in the right foreground. While downtown Fort Collins had city water by 1915, water wagons continued to make deliveries to remote homes and businesses. They also were used to wet down dusty streets, as I covered in a post entitled “Water Wagon in Front of the Northern Hotel.

I’m going to end with two more images that conclude the history of the YMCA building. In 1939, the YMCA building was bought by the Elks to use as their lodge. They made extensive renovations to it, removing the front portico, changing some windows, and, apparently, even changing the roof line. Here is an image of the Elks Club, from around 1947.

08 Elks Swanson 10 B680
Elks Club, Fort Collins, Colo., 1947. Photograph by Swanson.

Melvin Swanson was a Fort Collins photographer who made a series of downtown images in 1947. This is probably one of that series.

On the morning of April 26, 1977, a downtown explosion rocked the city. Apparently caused by a gas leak, it destroyed a number of city business and seriously damaged the Elks Club. The Elks had to make a decision about what to do. They decided to stay where they where and to essentially build a new outer structure around the original building. Here is a photograph of it that I took in 2009.

09 Elks McNeill 2010 B680
Elks Building, 2009. Photograph by M. E. McNeill.

No hint of the original YMCA remained. More recently, the building was sold and the demolished in 2012. All that’s left is a fenced empty lot.

Next Sunday I’ll share the rest of my Virginia Dale images.