The Gazette is back downtown - and back home

By Dave Philipps Updated: December 21, 2013 at 7:22 pm • Published: December 21, 2013 | 6:55 pm 0
photo - A worker removes the "coming soon" lettering from the Tejon Street side of the new office of The Gazette Friday, Dec. 20, 2013.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
A worker removes the "coming soon" lettering from the Tejon Street side of the new office of The Gazette Friday, Dec. 20, 2013. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Fifty-six years ago, The Gazette left its longtime home on Pikes Peak Avenue in downtown Colorado Springs for more spacious digs on what was then the outskirts of the city.

Now we are back.

During the past few days, The Gazette has moved from its longtime home at 30 S. Prospect St. into new offices at 30 E. Pikes Peak Ave. The street number provides a nice nod to a hallowed bit of newspaper shorthand - 30 is used to mark the end of a story. It means "nothing more follows."

And 30 E. Pikes Peak Ave. is the same spot the paper occupied 90 years ago.

"Being at the heart of downtown puts us closer to the pulse of the city," Gazette Publisher Dan Steever said. "We are where a modern media company should be, poised to move forward, but also back to our roots."

The new offices are open and airy, with high ceilings and glass walls.

"It's open, it's transparent, it shows our newspaper's values," Steever said.

The newsroom will have a video studio and other features to maximize The Gazette's growing multimedia offerings.

The move was spurred by a number of factors, including the 2012 sale to Clarity Media, which bought the operation but not the Prospect Street building. Perhaps the biggest push comes from the explosion in digital media, which has made newspapers increasingly less reliant on their namesake pulp and made buildings erected around giant presses obsolete.

As Gazette employees left 30 S. Prospect St. last week, they could hear the clang and boom of a crew tearing apart the massive old printing presses to sell for scrap.

During its 141-year history, The Gazette has occupied five buildings. At each move, the paper has looked back at its history and forward at the ever-evolving business of delivering the news. The Gazette pounded out news on Prospect Street starting in 1957. Back then, the midcentury modern building of aluminum and brick was held up as a sign of Colorado Springs' postwar prosperity. Across the country, downtowns were being abandoned for a more alluring landscape: the suburbs.

The Gazette had been in a cramped, turn-of-the-century two-story brick building downtown for decades. The Prospect Street building, The Gazette boasted in a special section announcing the move, was "spacious and modern" with "ample parking" and "the best asbestos flooring."

"Our new location is indicative of our expectations for the future," wrote then-publisher Harry Hoiles. Since 1872, he said, The Gazette "has paced and reported the stirring human story as it was written and enacted by the men who built the west . The new Gazette stands as a living memorial to our faith in tomorrows."

At the time, The Gazette was not just an office, it was a factory. Disseminating information was an industrial ordeal. News came off the wire on throbbing teletype machines. The compact newsroom with a staff of 18 reporters gripping cigarettes as they hunched over typewriters was dwarfed by the rest of "the plant," as workers called it. Behind the newsroom, 38 men in the composing room or "hot shop" pumped hot lead from a huge tank into linotype machines that cranked out the day's print word by word. A false move could send a "front squirt" of molten metal onto anyone nearby. Workers laid out type by hand on big trays. Boys called printer's devils pushed a "hell box" through the composing room, collecting used lead slugs to melt down for the next day.

Behind the composing room, more workers transferred the heavy type to a single metal plate called a stereotype. (Yes, that's where the word comes from.) A small army of printers then spooled 1,000-pound rolls of paper into the presses and the thrum of the steel presses made the building shake late into the night.

Things changed incrementally over the years as the paper grew and the building expanded several times. But the basics remained the same until an almost unnoticed novelty called Gazette.com launched in 1994. The little side project promised to connect users with something a reporter called "The Internet, a vast web of computer networks that connects millions of users worldwide."

The Internet has played a larger role in The Gazette's operations every year since.

Although The Gazette has no plans to stop printing a newspaper, it now reaches far more people online than on their front steps.

Last spring, The Gazette stopped printing its own paper. It now contracts with the Denver Post presses.

Because of these changes, The Gazette no longer needs an army of industrial workers or a 60,000-square-foot plant. Writing, editing and layout are done with a light touch on a keyboard. Even the servers that maintain our Web pages have largely been outsourced to the "cloud." The Gazette could publish from a coffee shop.

Throughout the changes, the fundamental role of The Gazette remains the same.

Reporters in 1957 worked sources by phone and by foot, then pounded out copy, an article at the time said, "for what it's worth."

Today's newsroom of nearly 70 employees still engages in the same daily chase, gathering and distilling facts, then putting them in print and online.

Few Gazette workers will miss the building on Prospect Street. It was dreary and laid out like an asylum. It had a great view of downtown and the mountains to the west but almost no windows on that side.

The climate control system all but required sweaters in the summer and shorts in the winter.

But longtime workers can't help but feel wistful for the small, sometimes unnoticed triumphs of journalism that transpired there. It was at Prospect in 1961 that court reporter Vi Murphy, a mother of four who had reported on the corruption case of a local judge, went to jail for 30 days rather than reveal her source. For her stance, she was put on the cover of Life magazine. It was at Prospect in 1990 that features reporter Dave Curtin won the Pulitzer Prize for telling the story of a father and two children who were severely burned when their house exploded and how the tragedy left their spirits intact. It was on Prospect that reporters remembered working "the day from hell" - a winter day in 1991 when a plane crash and a nursing home fire hit Colorado Springs within 24 hours, killing 35 people. It was at Prospect that for decades the newsroom strove to keep public institutions accountable while jotting down the first draft of the city's history.

Every once in a while, reporters would think about these moments, early in the morning as they entered the building and could note the ink from the night press run in the air.

-30-

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