Kaman Sciences was a major player in its day
In the days before restaurants, banks, bars, shops and hundreds of other businesses started lining Garden of the Gods Road,
there was Kaman Sciences Corp.
In fact, before Kaman Sciences erected its first building in 1960, there was nothing on the then-two-lane, oiled-gravel road - nothing, that is, except cattle and snakes, recalled nuclear physicist/ former company president Albert Bridges in a recent interview. Ken Erickson, Kaman's first president, even got to name the street, which had been known as Rusina Valley Road. “ 'What better place to be than Garden of the Gods Road?' ” Bridges quoted Erickson as saying at the time.
By 1991, when Bridges retired after 19 years as president, the company had about 800 employees, making it one of the top employers in Colorado Springs. But in 1959, the company was two years old, operating out of a former five-and-dime store in Albuquerque, N.M., and just starting to become a strong player in defense contracting. The Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, eager to attract industry, had created the Pikes Peak Industrial Park along Rusina Valley Road, on prairie land well north of the then-established city. Kaman was its first taker, eventually buying 70 acres for prices between $500 and $1,000 an acre.
The initial deal was so good that even with the relocation costs, it was cheaper than finding a new location in Albuquerque, former company executive John Hoffman writes in his history of Kaman Sciences.
“Before we moved, we were given an option where we wanted to go,” said Bridges, one of 13 senior employees who would transfer from Albuquerque. “A half-dozen of us came to Colorado Springs with our wives and looked at the city and the school system, and then we went back and said, 'Hey, this is a good place to live; let's go there.' ”
The impression would prove to be long-lasting. “A lot of Kaman employees who have retired live on the Westside,” noted Bob Whitt, a Kaman Sciences facilities director who worked for the company for 27 years. Bridges is one of those Westside retirees, living now in the Kissing Camels neighborhood after many years in Black Forest.
Kaman's first Colorado Springs building was its fanciest… but not the best planned. An architect from “back East” used glass blocks on the exterior walls that never sealed properly in the local climate. They eventually had to be replaced, Bridges said.
The remote location brought interesting experiences. “They were still running cattle through there,” Bridges said. “They kept breaking out and raising havoc.” And the snakes were so prevalent in those days the Kaman employees dubbed it “Venom Valley.”
The only other structure on Garden of the Gods Road at the time was a motel next to recently built I-25. It wasn't until the early/mid '60s that Hewlett Packard began joining Kaman in the industrial park.
Kaman put up a second building just west of the first one in 1962. “People said it looked like a barn,” Bridges said, but owner Charles Kaman (known for being careful with a dollar) was pleased that it cost less than the first.
Like the first structure, Building 2 faced onto Garden of the Gods Road. None of the other four did. Constructed one by one over the years, Buildings 3 through 6 went in north of the first two.
The first four buildings are the ones that are being demolished for future retail, according to developer Gary Hollenbeck, who bought the 20 acres with all six buildings, then sold the land with the two newer ones to companies that continue to use them.
Whitt, who now works for ITT (which bought Kaman Sciences in 1997), said Buildings 1 through 4 were “hard to maintain” and properly renovating them “would have cost an arm and a leg… About the only thing they could do was tear down and start over.”
Memories of the Kaman Sciences years are recalled in books by both Hoffman and Bridges. Both writers stress the easy-going management style, in which organization took a back seat to performance. “We'd hire good people and find work for them,” Bridges elaborated in an interview. “Because of the talents we had, we never had a problem. It's a different philosophy than companies have now.”
Not even having an organization chart until 1973 “was one of the things we were proud of,” Bridges chuckled.
Bridges' book includes a number of anecdotes, including one about security problems in the early years on Garden of the Gods Road. There was a time, he writes, when “someone came in the back door and tried to leave from the front, and the secretary wouldn't let him leave because he hadn't signed in.”
The company's initial focus was on defense-related nuclear power; its name was Kaman Nuclear until the early 1960s. The company changed “Nuclear” to “Sciences” because nuclear power was becoming a focus of protest at that time, including demonstrations outside the Kaman facility. He recalled one protest where he said he tried to talk to a “defrocked priest” who was among the group. “I said, 'Surely I can reason with him,' but when I asked him if he believed in any rules and he said no, I realized it was no use.”
Asked if he was sorry to see the demolition of four of the Kaman buildings where he'd labored so many years, Bridges said, “The obvious answer is yes. But let me qualify that by saying they haven't been used recently. It's time for the place to be renovated, one way or the other.”
Westside Pioneer article