Updated: August 3, 2014 at 3:53 pm
From his perch high above the Busy Corner at Pikes Peak Avenue and Tejon Street in the heart of downtown, Lee Goodbar has enjoyed a front-row seat to a half-century of growth and change in Colorado Springs.
Since 1959, Goodbar has occupied the corner office in the fifth floor of the U.S. Bank Building, known historically as the Exchange National Bank Building. Just as the building's identity has changed, the panorama beyond his windows is dramatically different.
"I watched Colorado Springs explode," Goodbar, 84, said. "I saw it all. It was a good seat."
His decades of observation have made him think hard about Colorado Springs' future. He has some ideas about how to keep it vital and growing for decades to come.
But first, about his background.
Goodbar's link to the Busy Corner dates to well before his legal career. It extends to his boyhood and riding a streetcar downtown with his parents from their little house in unincorporated Knob Hill on the east side of Union Boulevard. Their home was just north of his dad's Mobil Oil service station on Platte Avenue.
It was in his early teen years that Goodbar first worked on the Busy Corner. He remembers selling popcorn at the corner drugstore when he was 13 years old in 1943.
"I sold small bags for 5 cents and larger bags for a dime," he said. "Patsy's Candies was next door."
Downtown had a wide range of businesses then, and he reeled off their names like they'd never left. There were movie theaters and other drugstores and department stores such as Hibbard's and Gidding's and locally owned banks such as the First National across the street (now home to The Gazette) and hotels such as the Antlers, the Alta Vista and the Alamo.
Streetcars ran in all directions and there were trains criss-crossing the city. West-side smelters processed ore from the gold fields of Cripple Creek and Victor and the neighborhoods there were mostly low-income miners and working people.
And the biggest employer in the region was The Broadmoor hotel southwest of town.
"I remember when World War II started," Goodbar said. "Colorado Springs turned into a ghost town."
Men left to enlist or to work in factories producing ships and planes to support the war effort.
"It really hit bottom," he said.
He didn't know it at the time, but the war would forever alter the future of his hometown with the establishment of Camp Carson on its southern edge in 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The camp eventually grew into the largest employer in the region, anchoring a military community that would grow to include four Air Force bases and the Air Force Academy.
And when the war ended, a boom cycle began that continued as Goodbar married his wife, Barbara, in 1951, graduated law school at the University of Denver and moved into the Exchange building in 1954.
"When I came back to Colorado Springs, downtown was really busy," he said. "Everybody wanted to buy a house and suburbs sprang up."
Although it wouldn't be evident for years, all those post-war good times - suburbs springing up and shopping malls and folks buying new cars - signaled the beginning of a downturn for downtown Colorado Springs.
"Our population grew so fast and cars ruled and no one lived downtown anymore so businesses followed them to the suburbs," he said. "We lost our base of businesses. Downtown became nonfunctional. Business really dropped off. It was a tough time."
Goodbar noticed the transformation from Gen. William Jackson Palmer's quaint "Little London" tourist mecca into today's sprawling metropolitan area of 650,000 or so.
He would mull all the changes when his head wasn't buried deep in property abstracts or statute books or commercial contracts or a client's criminal trial or whatever. Goodbar could watch out his window and see boom-and-bust cycles playing out on the streets below. And he wasn't alone. He'd host discussions with people in his office who we now know as the names of buildings.
An example would be Bob Isaac, who was a native and an attorney like Goodbar. Of course, Isaac later became a municipal judge, a member of the City Council and finally a legendary mayor whose name now identifies the municipal courthouse.
"Bob Isaac was a friend and he sat in this office many times," Goodbar said, wincing at the idea he would be perceived as dropping names for self-aggrandizement. It's not Goodbar's nature to try to impress or promote himself listing big cases he tried or important clients he served.
I had to coax him to talk about a case he handled for The Gazette Telegraph in 1961 when reporter Vi Murphy was jailed 30 days in Denver for contempt of court by the Colorado Supreme Court for refusing to reveal the name of a source who tipped her that a motion was to be filed in an attorney disciplinary case.
He told of working all night in his fifth-floor office preparing briefs with his brother Bill and a partner to present in arguments the next morning before the Supreme Court.
"It was an honor to represent her," said Goodbar, whose name appears in newspapers from the time as defending her and then meeting her when she was released from jail on May 3, 1961.
Other big cases will remain his secrets.
Nor did he brag about serving as president of the Legal Aid Society or his six years on the School District 11 school board.
"I thought it was important to serve," he said matter-of-factly, then scolding me. "Don't make this story about me. Make it about Colorado Springs."
And he doesn't hide his opinions about what he'd like to see in his hometown from his lofty perch in coming years. (Mind you, he never presents himself as a know-it-all who has all the answers.)
He recalled many meetings over the years with civic leaders worried about the city's future.
"We wondered what we could do to keep downtown going," he said. "We had those conversations right in this room. Many times. But it was not to be kept."
He noted the surge and ultimate loss of many of our high-tech manufacturing jobs at IBM, Apple, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, MCI, Quantum and more.
"All those manufacturing jobs went overseas," he said. "There wasn't a lot we could do."
Instead of lamenting the losses, he prefers to look for new opportunities. He likes some of the efforts to reinvigorate downtown with installation of artwork, and new museums, galleries, boutiques and other shops, restaurants and bars. But more is needed.
"We can't be what we were before," he said. "But we can be something different. We need museums and activities that bring people downtown. We need more than bars."
So he likes the City for Champions plan to build a U.S. Olympic Museum south of downtown. It will be coupled with a downtown sports stadium near America the Beautiful Park and Fountain Creek.
"Downtown is nice," he said, looking down at the statues of Hank the Cowboy and Spencer Penrose and Winfield Scott Stratton along Pikes Peak Avenue. "It's pretty. I like what they've done. But we need big drawing cards to bring people downtown."
He also understands the complaints about street people downtown, although he notes they are not a new phenomenon.
"We've had beggars around forever," he said. "We had drifters. But they didn't stay in town very long. I think the police were really hard on them and pushed them out of town."
Goodbar talks of the street people without an ounce of judgment in his tone. In fact, he likes some of them and he distinguishes between "antagonistic street people creating trouble" and the others.
"I know a few," he said with a smile. "One calls me 'Old Timer' and we talk."
And he tells how a couple of others helped him look for his keys recently when he lost them.
"I like people and I think you have to be interested in them," he said, describing the philosophy that drove him during his legal career and in life. "I think we all need to be interested in mankind. We need to listen and not have too many preconceived opinions."
I enjoyed my time sitting with Goodbar, and wandering around the bank building, exploring its nooks and crannies and hearing all the stories he shared about its characters over the years. And I admired that he continues to work every day, even after retiring from his law practice in 2002, because he thinks it's important to stay busy and active. I also like his philosophy about listening and not judging too fast and being willing to change.
"Our town is a good town," Goodbar said. "But it can be better."
I think we have people like Goodbar to thank for all the things we enjoy about Colorado Springs. And maybe we'll thank him down the road as we grow and change some more.
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