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COBWEB CORNERS: Time for a new summit house... in 1936

By Mel McFarland

        In 1936 the U.S. Forest Service took over operating the Pikes Peak Highway from the old owners, Spencer Penrose and Company.
       One of the first things the government did was to issue rules for driving the road. You might expect them to be interesting, and they were. Such as:
       - “Driver watch the road not the scenery.”
       - “Speed limit is 20 miles per hour.”
       - “This highway crosses the area furnishing drinking water.”
       - “Observe all sanitation signs and instructions.”
       There was an inspection at Glen Cove on the way down, as well as four water stops on the way up. The road was free!
       Also in 1936, Forest Service wanted to build a new summit house. A fine one, located at the center of the summit, was proposed. It would be funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal program of the time. The Forest Service wanted to combine all services into one building. Sound familiar?
       There were then two summit houses. One was the old weather station, originally built by the U.S. Army in 1873 and expanded several times, including a multistory tower. It had been taken over by the railroad (the cog railway) after the tracks reached the summit in 1891.
       The highway facility had been built by Penrose in 1916 on the southwest corner of the summit.
       The Forest Service's concept was big news for several weeks. Fanfare greeted the unveiling of the 100-by-100-foot plan. But the proposal was eventually scaled
An imagined scene shows the lobby of the new Summit House that's being planned.
Rendering by RTA Architects & GWWO, Inc.
down to a remodel and expansion. The work included a second story, with a tower that rivaled that of the railroad. Later a house was built, providing a residence for a Forest Service caretaker.
       The railroad's summit house was not changed, as its owners felt a central site was too far for passengers to walk.
       One or more plans to redesign services at the summit were unveiled in the years that followed. But the present structure was not built until after the highway and railroad structures were lost to separate fires in the 1950s.
       Now, plans for a 26,000-square-foot replacement building are being worked out by the Forest Service, Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. Their goal is for work to start in 2017.
       With the Forest Service renovation in 1936, there was talk of canceling the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, but it was decided that the publicity was well worth it. That year's race had one of the smallest field of cars due the lateness of the decision, but it did feature a Westside racing family, the Unsers.

(Posted 5/15/16; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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