Local historian was one of earliest residents in fire-stricken apartments on South 18th... in 1953The five apartments decimated by fire Jan. 26 have been reported by some media outlets as originally being military barracks, with a construction date (according to the Assessor's Office website) of 1913.
That's not how Mel McFarland remembers it.
The local historian and Westside Pioneer columnist says they actually were office buildings, not barracks, and they were constructed for the U.S. Army's Camp Carson
He also knows what year they were moved to 323 S. 18th. It was 1953.
How is McFarland so sure? Because he lived there at that time. “I was in the second grade,” he said. “My family was one of the first ones there.”
Firefighters have not yet stated the cause of the blaze, which broke out in the late morning of Jan. 26, although they have deemed it accidental.
Property manager Rachel Frey said all the buildings will probably have to be demolished.
During the fire, according to Steve Dustin, who lives next door, flames at one point were shooting 6 feet high and he had to temporarily take in two pets belonging to residents.
Five households were displaced as a result, and one resident suffered burns to his lower legs.
For information on donating to those displaced, e-mails may be sent to Frey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
McFarland shared his memories about the apartments after being contacted by another local historian, Merell Folsom, who didn't think the media info about barracks and 1913 sounded right. "There weren't any barracks here then," he said.
McFarland's father Wilbur knew about the apartment availability because he had worked at Camp Carson with a man named Eldon Dustin. Dustin had been able to buy the buildings because the army post was replacing them with newer structures, McFarland said.
His family needed a place quickly because they had just been forced to relocate from their previous Westside home; adding to the urgency, Wilbur had suffered a heart attack around the same time.
Dustin was related to Clarion and Glenn Chambon, who in 1945 had started a surplus business, which eventually took the
Steve Dustin,the grandson of Eldon Dustin, corroborated McFarland's recollection that the buildings had come from the army fort. He said Eldon and his wife Elva lived for many years in the house just south of his. Both have since passed on.
Eldon and Elva made the news in an unfortunate way in 1979. They had to rebuild the rear of their house after it was ripped away by a devastating tornado. Rare for this part of town, the twister damaged other locations as well (including the 7-Eleven on South 21st Street) when it passed through Manitou and the Westside.
McFarland said he and his family lived in their South 18th Street apartment for less than a year. Another of his memories from that time is Eldon Dustin procuring an old military trainer plane that he parked in a field across the street from the apartments. “Due to weather and us kids playing on it, had to be scrapped,” McFarland recalled.
Steve Dustin did not know the airplane story, but said he would look through old family photo albums.
On the roughly half-acre property at 323 S. 18th, there is also a sixth structure, a non-military building being used as a shop, which appears to be older and of a different style than the apartments. It too was destroyed as a result of the fire, according to property manager Frey.
McFarland thinks that older building could be from 1913, which would explain why the Assessor's Office shows that date.
An earlier Westside Pioneer article on the fire can be found at this link.
Westside Pioneer article