Coke plant leaving Westside in January

       A half-century relationship will end this January when the Coca-Cola plant, 415 W. Pikes Peak Ave., relocates from the Westside.
       The business, which employs 115 people and serves as the Coke distributor for the Pikes Peak region, is scheduled to move to a new, larger facility at Powers Boulevard and Aeroplaza Drive.
       While “I'm excited about it,” sales manager Jerry Mayes said he will miss the Westside. “The people here have been great,” said Mayes, who grew up in Colorado Springs and has worked at the plant for 29 years “We've always been part of the Westside neighborhood.” As an example, he recalled his days as a driver. “Anytime I had to pull over because my truck had mechanical trouble, four or five people would stop to help.”
       A visitor to the Coke offices on West Pikes Peak can see that the company has given back to the area as well. The walls are lined with testimonials from numerous area groups that have received donated Coke products, including the Boys & Girls Club of Colorado Springs.
       The new site will have a 63,000-square-foot warehouse on 11 acres instead of the current 45,000 on 2. “It's where the growth is in the city,” Mayes said, noting that the location is also only five stoplights from I-25. “It gives good efficiencies to customers and good access.”
       Coca-Cola has had a presence in Colorado Springs dating back to the early 1900s. Like many other aspects of the company's history in the Springs, there are no pictures or other information about it - not even the starting date is known. (This document dearth may be a result of the privately owned local company having changed hands numerous times over the years, according to local historian Mel Mc-Farland.)
       However, there is one piece of indisputable proof that Coca-Cola was being made here close to a century ago, and that is (surprise!) a Coca-Cola bottle. Some years ago, Mayes bought one from a collector that has “Colorado Springs” inscribed in the glass. It is in the style that Coke used before introducing its shaped bottle in 1915. Because Coca-Cola was just getting started nationwide in 1900, Mayes narrowed the bottle's manufacture date to around 1910.
       Another uncertainty involves when Coke moved its operations from the downtown to the Westside. Again, there is no exact information. The company has a document proving that the West Pikes Peak property was bought by the Coca-Cola ownership in 1945; on the other hand, the city directory doesn't show Coke located at that address until 1957, and McFarland remembers as a child looking through the clear windows of the bottling plant downtown as late as the mid-'50s. “People would stop by, see the Coke machinery run and go inside and get one,” he chuckled. His mother wasn't interested in watching, he added; she had seen plenty of Cokes go by during previous employment at a Coke bottling plant in Illinois.
       The downtown site was on the southeast corner of Cascade Avenue and Kiowa Street - just north of the Cheyenne building, which now houses the Phantom Canyon Brewery - in a set of buildings that were torn down to make way for a Neusteter's department store in 1963. (Neusteter's is long since gone, but its building remains.)
       Coca-Cola continued to be bottled in the Springs until March 1984. Mayes can narrow down that time frame because he was there, and remembers seeing the last bottle come off the line.
       He and Russ Young, who was production manager at the time, become a little nostalgic in recalling those days. Coca-Cola would deliver its special syrup, pre-made, in 50-gallon drums. Automated filling devices would shoot each bottle with a carefully measured mix of syrup and carbonated water.
       The Colorado Springs plant also bottled a variety of other Coke-owned beverages, including Sprite, Tab, Fanta, Nesbitt's and Dr. Pepper.
       Even though the work sometimes meant coming in at 4 a.m., “I enjoyed bottling. It was fun,” Young said.
       Mayes and Young described the bottle scene: 30 to 35 people, including chemists who would quality-check the contents, were stationed around machinery that in a minute's time could tranform a bottle from a sterilized empty to one that was filled, capped and ready for transport. The room would be kept cold and the machinery would be loud, with the bottles clanking together as they moved down the conveyor belt.
       At the end of the line, the bottles would wind up in wooden cases (except for the 10-ounce bottles, which were plastic). Mayes remembered a Black Forest woman who made wagons out of old wooden cases.
       After 1984, the local business became a distribution center, as it is to this day. The former bottling area was converted into warehouse space, and most of the bottling employees integrated into the workforce in other ways, Mayes said.
       The last private owner of Colorado Springs Coca-Cola was the Late Group, which sold out to the parent Coca-Cola company in 1996. This was part of a nationwide drive by the company to take control from independent dealerships. According to Mayes, in 1996, Coca-Cola owned just 56 percent of the Coke businesses; now it owns 84 percent.
       Mayes is an enthusiastic Coke supporter - his office is full of company memorabilia, including promotional materials and other antique bottles - but he might have been even more enthusiastic had one of his long-ago uncles been able to predict the business future better. According to Mayes' story, the uncle was offered the chance before World War I to inexpensively buy the Coca-Cola distribution rights in the Pikes Peak region. But the uncle declined. “People don't come here to drink Coca- Cola, they come here to drink Manitou spring water,” was his reported answer.

Westside Pioneer article