Published July 2, 2015
Copyright by The Colorado Springs Gazette
Side Streets: Goodbye Colorado Springs, it’s been fun
By Bill Vogrin
Dear Colorado Springs,
Oh how I’ve dreaded having this conversation.
I don’t know how to say it. Or where to start. So I’ll just blurt it out.
That sounds so harsh, and I don’t mean it to be.
I intend it in the nicest way possible. But the fact is, this 13-year love affair I’ve enjoyed with readers of The Gazette as Side Streets columnist is over with this installment.
Don’t take me wrong. It’s not you. It’s me.
For some reason, I feel the need to seek new adventures.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve grown tired of you. Never.
Even after writing 100-150 columns each year since July 2002, I could go on another decade. There’s plenty of amazing people to meet and interesting historical factoids about Gen. William Jackson Palmer to unearth and share.
But something inside me is pulling me in a different direction.
Frankly, I never dreamed I’d still be creaking along in 2015 as Mr. Side Streets, as many of you call me. (I rather like the name. Especially since the pronunciation of “Vogrin” is frequently butchered.)
I had the idea for the column when I was city editor in 2001. I’d read a biography of Heywood Broun, the legendary crusading columnist for The Tribune and The World in New York City in the early 1900s.
Just months before his death in 1939, Broun wrote: “I would like to see some columnists do the side streets and the suburbs and chronicle the joys and tragedies of the ordinary run of people.”
I loved the idea. I recognized we needed more local news in the paper. Trouble was, I couldn’t interest anyone in writing about what was perceived as mundane or trivial issues.
Reporters of my generation wanted to be the next Woodward or Bernstein and crack Watergate. Today’s young reporters have similar aspirations – to expose corruption, fight injustice, take on bullies.
I couldn’t convince anyone that rewarding journalism was possible, and needed, at the neighborhood level.
So I pitched the idea for myself in 2002 to then-editor Sharon Peters, and off I went exposing corrupt homeowners associations, fighting injustice at City Hall, and taking on bullies, like those who wanted to play midnight basketball at their neighbors’ expense.
Along the way I became adept at negotiating the system to cut red tape. I am proud that I helped save homeowners from landslides. I helped get several guardrails built to protect homes along busy streets. My columns got faulty storm drains fixed, handicapped ramps built, sidewalks repaired, bus shelters erected near nursing homes.
I especially enjoyed taking on bullies, including exposing hate among neighbors, including one man who carved “NO FAGGOTS ALLOWED” in steel letters, 4 inches tall, on his gate. And a cul-de-sac where blacks were being harassed by their white neighbors.
Side Streets debuted July 18, 2002, under the headline: “Houses Beyond Hope” about abandoned houses in the area and the frustration of neighbors because the city had no blight ordinance to deal with vacant dumps.
The column focused on two houses. One was in Cragmor that had burned and been left to rot when its owner became overwhelmed trying to raise her orphaned niece and nephew.
The other was at 715 N. 24th St. and owned by Joseph O’Brien, whose grandmother had it built in 1905. It had been condemned since 1973.
Those houses became Exhibits A and B, a few years later, when city code enforcers campaigned for a blight ordinance. I was proud when the City Council agreed and adopted a blight ordinance. And I remain frustrated those two houses continue to sit vacant and condemned.
Early columns examined common neighborhood disputes such as barking dogs, speeding and property-line fences, and neighborhood covenants enforced by homeowners associations, or HOAs.
My favorite part of the job was telling the extraordinary stories of the ordinary people of Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region, such as Nick and Bambi Venetucci. I was proud to help a school principal raise $100,000 to erect a statue to Nick, a farmer who grew millions of pumpkins over 50 years only to give them away on the couple’s farm south of town. And I was sad to write their obituaries in later years.
There was William H. Hutton, whose eccentricities led him to cover his home in the Old North End with a bizarre collection of art in a display he dubbed the Theater of Mankind. I enjoyed meeting him and I was heartbroken a few years later when, at age 78, he fell off a ladder as he was nailing up his latest piece of art, and died.
My proudest achievement was watching the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame enshrine the Brown Bombers, the all-black baseball team that overcame segregation, discrimination and beat all-white teams with better equipment and formal coaching to win back-to-back City League championships.
We’ve had so much fun together and made so many memories, Colorado Springs. That’s why this is so hard.
But I’m off to chase my dream as a newspaper owner and editor. I’ll still be writing, but I’m taking my pursuit of community journalism to a new level at weekly newspapers.
Of course, it will never be the same. At least we’ll always have Gen. Palmer, won’t we? No one can take that away.