Carpenter Bob’s First-Hand Insider Look Into the Early Days of Gaming
~ by Bob Volpe ~
Before the introduction of gaming in Cripple Creek, the city was a crumbling mass of run-down buildings suffering from the ravages of time.
When limited stakes gambling began in Cripple Creek in Oct. 1991, the Cripple Creek Historical Preservation Commission was formed and strict requirements were placed on the renovation of the city’s historic district buildings.
As a carpenter who worked on the historic renovation of four of the downtown casinos back in those days, I witnessed first-hand the strict standards placed on contractors breathing life back into those dying structures.
We also faced many construction challenges. The first summer of gaming in 1992, for example, the town went from a handful of casinos to more than 25. It was probably the biggest construction boom since the gold rush days. However, the preservation guidelines and code demands never ceased for building owners.
When we arrived at a building site to begin work, each building had been completely gutted down to the brick walls, aging beams, and posts holding the roofs up.
All four of the buildings I worked on were what were called “shotgun buildings.” This referred to the narrow width and long depth of the buildings. The long narrow buildings were all brick construction that
dated back 100 years. We could scrape the brick with a fingernail and reduce it to sand.
Nailing thin strips of wood, to attach dry wall to, was difficult even with the application of the industries’ strongest commercial adhesives.
Add to that, the walls that ran the length of the building looked like vertical waves on a bay, which made creating a surface suitable to hang drywall extremely difficult.
Then there was the historical preservation commission to deal with, often referred to as the “hysterical society,” by gaming industry officials.
These diligent connoisseurs of history would show up on site with photos of the building that were taken back in the hay-day of the booming city. We were instructed to “make it look like this.”
The city’s preservation reins were held by Brian Levine, who collects historic artifacts from the region and has written a number of books on the district. He currently lives in the Crested Butte area.
Unfortunately, current building codes required us to come up with workaround techniques to keep the historic character but still meet building code standards. Aging wooden beams and posts were replaced
with steel I-beams and metal posts, which then had to be boxed in with era consistent wood. Often these fixes were larger than the originals and were frowned upon by the historical commission enforcers.
Sometimes raging arguments ensued over historical versus current building standards. We always found a happy medium to the issues and added a thing here and there to satisfy the history buffs.
The Turf Club, which has since been consumed by Bronco Billy’s earlier expansion, was one of those arguments. The large steel I-beam that was installed the length of the building extended out into the entrance foyer much to the dismay of the historians. We came up with a solution by boxing in the beam with wood and hanging a Victorian chandelier
from it. VOLIA!
Madam June’s, which is located across the street from the courthouse, and is now an office building, was our greatest challenge. All that was left when we got to the site was brick walls and bowed brick
columns in front. The historical commission showed up with a fist full of old photos of the exterior and interior and cut us loose to again, “make it look like this.” Some of the interior photos showed beautiful
oak moldings that are no longer made by any manufacturer. We had to take the photos to a milling outfit in Denver, where they cut special knives for their shaper machines to duplicate the moldings.
The brick columns in the front had to be made strictly decorative, as they could not perform their original job as supports for the upper level of the building. Again steel I-beams were used, supported by
steel posts, which were then boxed and trimmed with decorative
Plenty of Current Challenges
Today, Cripple Creek has a thriving gambling business, and historic preservation is facing continual challenges. The removal of an 1895 house to make room for r Bronco Billy’s
massive hotel expansion and new indoor parking garage, as part of a project of special merit, raised some concerns last year. In addition, a few other expansions have required street vacations, variances and rule changes in order to move forward.
But in public hearings, most residents and business leaders appear to support the movement to make Cripple Creek into more of a destination area.
Just last Thursday, Mayor Bruce Brown, and a host of local dignitaries were on hand to take part in a ground breaking ceremony for Wildwood casino’s addition of a new hotel that will have 104 rooms available and allow customers easy access to the casino through a heated coach gate joining the two buildings. Brown said, “”I think this is a really good thing for our community.
We really need this and I think it’s a great way to kick off the summer.”
City Administrator Mark Campbell chimed in stating, “It’s a positive improvement. It’s good to put these into the vacant properties. In some instances, they may be incorporating old buildings as well and
bringing them back to life.”