May 25, 2014 Updated: May 26, 2014 at 8:12 am
Buried in a basement boiler room of the 112-year-old Albany Hotel, Jerimy Noon found a strange black object.
Noon, who manages the 70-room rental house at 228 N. Tejon St., was cleaning out years of junk when he noticed the object wedged behind a large air duct and a stone foundation wall.
"I tried to wiggle it out and then I got the sledge hammer and gave it three good whacks," Noon said. "But it wouldn't come out."
So Noon decided to take a softer approach.
He grabbed a pry bar to loosen the wooden object.
"I pulled on it and pried until it finally came free," Noon said.
During the process, Noon saw a label and realized this was something special. So he set it aside and called his in-laws, John and Mary Murphy, who own the hotel.
John Murphy, longtime attorney, historian and art collector, picks up the story.
"Lo and behold, out came a large, expensively framed and matted photo of a nude male in a Classic Greek pose," Murphy said in an email. "On the back was the gallery in New York City.
"The artist was the late Herb Ritts, whose works ascended in value as the gay community gained acceptance in our culture. I did ten minutes of research and found it to be quite valuable as his works are found in many of our nation's finest art museums."
Murphy sent the photo to Robert Lockwood at Rio Grande Custom Framing for restoration and appraisal. If it was as valuable as he suspected, he intended to restore it and donate it to the Fine Arts Center.
I love stories of buried treasure so I asked Noon to show me the boiler room.
As an added bonus, I got a tour of the Albany, one of those remarkable buildings in the heart of downtown that most don't know exist.
The Albany is like a piece of old furniture in your grandparents' home. It's a little worn and you walk past so often it becomes invisible.
But it's been there, serving guests as the major tenant of the Lennox building, which was constructed in 1902 by William Lennox, who, Murphy told me, came from Iowa and made a fortune mining gold in Cripple Creek.
(Lennox and his brother, John, have deep roots in Colorado Springs history. They had a coal hauling business, Murphy said, and were friends of city founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer. In 1900, Lennox was one of the incorporators of the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railway, which evolved into today's Gold Camp Road.)
Anyway, the Albany served as the Holiday Inn of its time. Murphy said that while wealthy visitors stayed at The Broadmoor hotel or the Antlers, middle-class tourists and railroad workers would get off the train and lodge at the Albany.
Murphy and his brother, builder Chuck Murphy, bought the building in 1979 and have operated it since. In 1994, the brothers split their holdings, giving John and Mary sole ownership of the building, which they have improved regularly, including installation of a fire sprinkler system about 25 years ago.
More recently, they added skylights and vents and put in a high-tech security system.
The Murphys also had a huge mural painted on the north exterior that pays tribute to Lennox, his railroad, and John and Chuck Murphy, who appear in the mural.
All the work has made the Albany a safer, nicer place. But the hotel doesn't hide the many wrinkles it has acquired. It looks a little worn.
And that also describes the people who stay there. Instead of housing middle-class tourists, these days the Albany is a home for the less fortunate in Colorado Springs.
For $450 a month, or about $15 a day, tenants get a modest room with a shared bath. For a private tub, it's $25 more and another $25 for a kitchenette.
Most stay anywhere from a month to a few years, Noon said, although one has lived at the Albany 36 years.
And when they leave, sometimes they leave their stuff.
Which brings us back to the framed photo discovered in the basement.
Apparently, it was stashed for a tenant who never returned for it. It fell behind the duct and was forgotten until Noon's discovery.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the appraiser to determine it was a poster print, not an original photograph, making it worth potentially hundreds of dollars instead of thousands, as Murphy first hoped.
I went to see it at Lockwood's frame shop. It's a beautiful poster of a photo Ritts titled "Male Nude on Log." Lockwood straightened the print in its matte, put an acid-free backing on it and replaced the old frame, which bore the scars of Noon's sledge hammer and pry bar.
I'll be interested to know what Murphy does next with the print. Perhaps it will join a wide assortment of art that adorns the walls of the Albany - it's worth a visit to check it all out.
And I'll be going by soon to check out the mural. Murphy is installing a sound system that will broadcast train sounds on the hour, 12 hours a day.
I think it's a great idea and wonderful tribute to the Albany, to Lennox, to Palmer and our rich history as a railroad town.
Read my blog updates at blogs.gazette.com/sidestreets.