Ghost Signs Remain in Many A Colorado Town

Ghostly remains of a sign only seen inside Indigo Rose Books – Fort Collins, CO

One of the many things attracting the attention of residents and visitors alike are the ghost signs adorning the historic downtowns in Colorado, Loveland included.  These signs, from the 1890s to the 1960s, can be even more ghostly when you attempt to uncover the original words and images.  The several layers of paint can often provide many messages.  Ironically, in their day, the signs were nothing more than a highly visible way to advertise and solicit a product or business.

Ghost signs are making a comeback in many communities where residents are working to save these pieces of retail history.  The reasons they still exist are plentiful, however, the primary reasons are the durable lead-paint used in the early to mid-20th century which adheres well to masonry; location of the property which provided protection to the sign from the elements; and current historic preservation efforts to ensure they are around for decades to come.  The sign painters of this time period worked quickly and were quite skilled at painting.  The “wall dogs”, as they were called, generally worked for major sign companies.  Signage was primarily on privately owned barns in the country and commercial walls in smaller communities.  The “wall dogs” arrived with smaller drawings in hand and literally sized up the wall, smooth or bowed, and crafted the image onto the wall.  The painter often mixed the colors on site to get the exact color needed for the job.  These painters traveled from town to town to locations determined by company representatives.  A little customizing was done when the owner of the wall’s business name was added above the product being advertised.  These early advertisement signs were often painted over when the building was sold, thus the reason why there can be multiple layers on one sign.

J.L. Hohnstein Block – Coopersmiths – Coca Cola ghost sign – Fort Collins

Signs placed in communities were generally soft drinks, coffee, beer, and tobacco.  A Coca-Cola sign from 1958 in Old Town Fort Collins was preserved and touched up in 2011 (Coopersmiths) to make it more legible.  The conservation treatment saturated the original colors bringing back the intensity of the design.  It also made the underlying signs more visible to the naked eye.  It took almost three weeks.  Many thanks to Carol Tunner who led the Coca-Cola sign preservation efforts in Fort Collins. If you know of a ghost sign where you live, please let us know and we’ll add it to the collections!  For more information and a self-guided tour visit

Written by HLC Board member Sharon Danhauer

Gooch-e in Loveland

The Hidden Advantage to having historical surveys is the wealth of information readily available for all to see. Here is a quick summary of the history of 120 and 122 East 4th Street, as taken from the Downtown Loveland Historic District nomination form, written by Carl McWilliams in October 2014. What follows comes from Carl’s report.


Historic Name: Weinberg and Harrison Dry Goods Store Current Name: Cloz to Home Construction Date: Circa 1886. This two-story commercial building features a rectangular plan, with painted pale green stuccoed brick masonry walls, and a flat roof. The building has served as a retail commercial establishment throughout its history. In the late 1880s, a dry goods store occupied the first floor, while a hand printing shop was located upstairs. Other early uses include a billiards parlor, a bakery, and a general store. The H. A Gooch Dry Goods Company, followed by Weinberg and Harrison Dry Goods, was located in the building during the early 1900s. Loveland Hardware, owned by the Moon Brothers, was in business here during the 1920s. Uses from the 1930s to the 1970s include another billiards parlor, a sheet metal works shop, and a series of restaurants. The Green Lantern Café was in business here circa 1936-1937, followed by the Windsor Café from the early 1940s to the early 1950s. Circa 1954, the name of the establishment was changed to Betty’s Café, followed by the Double D Café and Cocktail Lounge in the 1960s, in turn, succeeded by the Top Hat Café and Lounge, from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. A retail store named the Cat’s Pajamas was located in the building in the 1980s, followed, in the 1990s by a store named Feathers. Currently (in 2014) the building is home to a retail store called “Cloz To Home.” The upstairs has primarily served as office space through the years.

Historic Loveland: Inside & Out

On November 17th, Historic Larimer County hosted a tour of three historic buildings in Loveland’s Downtown Historic District: the First National Bank building (now Desk Chair Workspace), the Lovelander Hotel (now residential housing), and the Rialto Theater. In addition to providing a view into the city’s history, the three buildings also provided a glimpse into three different ways of reusing an older building.

This article is photo-heavy, so it may take awhile to load. Despite the fact that several photos are shared here, taking the tour is far richer in terms of sites, sounds, and information. If you would like to attend an upcoming Historic Larimer County tour or talk, please check out the upcoming events page.

First National Bank, 201 E. 4th Street

First National Bank was built in 1928 at the corner of 4th and Cleveland. The bank was managed by President Hugh Scilley and Vice Presidents D. T. Pulliam and Adolph Donath. In addition to housing a bank, the building also contained professional offices for lawyers, accountants and dentists. The bank remained in this location for 35 years before moving to a new location at 235 E. 6th Street in 1963. The Larimer County administrative offices then moved in and remained until 1990 when Interweave Press moved in and remodeled the building. Now housing Desk Chair Workspace, the interior of the building blends the historic with high-end modern details.

As described in a historical survey completed in 2003,..

The First National Bank building is an example of the Classical Revival style of architecture. The First National Bank building has a distinctive façade, unlike any other in Downtown Loveland. Centered on the north elevation is a very large arched entryway framed by massive tapered pilasters and ornate Corinthian capitals. A “capital” is the head or crowning feature of a column or pilaster. Above the entry way and tapered pilasters is an entablature bearing the words “FIRST NATIONAL BANK.” The Photos #1 (left), #2 (center), and #3 (right). Examples of Classic Revival architecture. Source: Colorado Historical Society Guide to Colorado’s Historic Architecture, 1983. Photo #4. West elevation shows front-block, and lower height rear-block. Photo #5. Primary building material is buff-colored brick. 4 tapered pilasters are faced with large terra-cotta pieces.

The entranceway to the building.

In one corner of a meeting room we were delighted to see the night drop-off vault.

The original high-ceilinged main room had a second story added.

Common areas were artsy with a touch of the historic. In two locations there were ghostly wire people, like visitors from the past.

The original capitals of the interior columns remain as a testament to the lavish interior of the former bank.

Where a rear exterior wall was cut to make a passageway into a back room, the cement was polished. This turned an exposed historic material into an artistic visual delight.

The view from the rooftop patio provides wonderful views of the surrounding Downtown Historic District.

Despite the weather, the group gathered around the front facade to learn more about the architecture of the building.

The Lovelander Hotel

Our second stop on the tour was the Lovelander Hotel. The building has undergone multiple changes over the years, yet it continues to stand as a monument to the importance of Loveland as a resting place for tourists before they would head up to Estes Park in a powerful Stanley Steamer back in the early 1900s. The tour only included the still residential portion of the building (the rest has housed the Elks for a substantial amount of time).

Entering the lobby of the hotel was like stepping back in time. The same old maps adorned the walls that had been there for tourists as they anticipated their vacations up in the mountains.

The building currently provides housing for several working class Loveland residents. Astrid explained that her mission with the building is to provide safe, sound, and quiet housing at an affordable rate. (Learn more at Astride A Starship.)

The part of the building that we toured.

The maps and other odds and ends that tourists would have seen when they entered the hotel.

The downstairs retail space is currently vacant. On the left it’s clear where ceilings were dropped for residential common areas at the back of the retail space.

The dropped ceiling made for an odd “second story” that was too small for regular use. Instead it gave access for utility hookups.

The hallways were cozy. And though we got to tour inside one of the apartments, it didn’t seem appropriate to snap photos there.

The Rialto Theater

The last place we visited was the Rialto theater. The theater was designed by Denver architect Robert K. Fuller (son of Montezuma Fuller of Fort Collins). It was completed in May of 1920. It was built primarily as a silent movie theater with a small orchestra pit in front. It was also used for special events in town such as graduations, town meetings, and recitals.

After under going several changes, including being turned into a mall for a time, the Friend of the Rialto was formed in 1989 with hopes of restoring the building to its former splendor. Beautiful interior and exterior decorations were uncovered and either repaired or, when the damage was too great for repairs, then reproduced in such a way that the new versions were similar the originals with some significant differences to indicate they were newer.

Entering the Rialto.

Ron Sladek, the president of Historic Larimer County, was involved in the renovation of the Rialto, so he gave us a first hand account of what the building looked like before rehabilitation, the process it went through, and how it got to the point it is now.

The sparkling gold of the flower at left indicates that it’s an original. The reproductions were painted to look similar, but the gold was deliberately left off to show they were newer.

The theater. We also got to visit the area under the stage, but it was so cramped that getting a decent photo was difficult.

The whole tour group in front of the Rialto Theater.

Threatened: Loveland’s Great Western Sugar Depots

There are two small white, wooden buildings sitting vacant on Monroe Avenue and 10 Street in Loveland. Though they look a bit lost and forlorn, they continue to stand as a reminder of days gone by when the Loveland Great Western Sugar factory was at the heart of the city’s economy. The depots were used for passenger service as well as freight. But in the mid-1980s, they were decommissioned. Wanting to protect a building that held deep memories for many, the windows were boarded up, but the boards were painted over to look like glass windows so that the buildings would continue to appear like they were in service. Five years ago, however, the company that owns the land decided that the depots had to go. That’s when the Loveland Historical Society decided to step in and try to save the buildings.

The Great Western passenger depot was built by the Great Western Railway in 1902, the year after the sugar factory opened. The factory was the first Great Western Co. sugar plant in Northern Colorado, although three other sugar processing plants had previously been built in the state. The sugar factory drove our economy for eight decades and grew Loveland’s population by 300% the first decade of operation! It was a major contributor to the area’s economic success and remains a very important piece of our history and heritage. All the next generations in Loveland deserve a chance to know and appreciate the Great Western legacy.

The Great Western Railway’s main purpose was to transport beets from outlying farmers’ beet dumps, as well as refined sugar, molasses, coal and lime rock, but it also operated passenger service from 1917 – 1926. Before and after passenger service years, it was used as the railroad agent’s central office. In the 1980s, Great Western Railway offered popular rail excursions, and school classes rode cabooses for years, but the railroad never got back on its feet. The passenger depot was closed in the mid-1980s. The little freight depot to the east was built in 1942.

OmniTRAX, Inc. owns the railway system now. In 2012, the Loveland Historical Society was negotiating a lease, which would have left the depots on railroad land, and was planning to fundraise and seek grants for restoration as probably a Great Western Sugar museum. At that point, OmniTRAX decided the buildings had to go due to their new plan to bring oil tanker trucks onto the property from Monroe Ave. The buildings were in the way, and the railroad gave the historical society 30 days to move ‘em or lose ‘em. Our volunteer who was working to save the depots hustled to find someone to take them, thinking that saved but gone is better than demolished. LHS reluctantly agreed, and the depots were happily claimed by the Moffat Railroad Museum in Granby, who also planned to fundraise and take the buildings apart to move them over the mountain.

But after four years of expecting them to be frisked away every day, the Loveland Historical Society has formed a committee that has redoubled efforts to save the depots in Loveland where they belong. OmniTRAX will give the buildings to anyone who will get them off railroad property. The contract between OmniTRAX and the Moffat Railroad Museum still has not been signed, making them fair game. We don’t want to lose that part of our history. We need Loveland’s help!

The Loveland Historic Preservation Commission and a new county-wide preservation non-profit, Historic Larimer County, are supportive of the efforts to save the depots, offering invaluable knowledge and expertise. The depots have been nominated to the 2018 Colorado’s Most Endangered Places list, run by Colorado Preservation, Inc. in Denver. We will need to fundraise approximately $60,000 to cover inspection and abatement of hazardous materials, the cost of moving the buildings, and at least one new foundation. Then we will seek various restoration grants. The buildings are eligible for listing on the State and Local Historic Registers, but only if they are kept in their historic context near the sugar factory. Without a historic registration, grants would not be available.

The historical society will approach the City about possibly moving the buildings just south to leased City land. Once saved, restoration will have to be accomplished in phases, as with the Milner-Schwarz House. Plans for reuse could include a Great Western Sugar museum, model railroad, coffee shop or some other income-producing retail enterprise, or all the above! We will begin by taking pledges for monetary and in-kind support. Look for “Save Loveland’s Great Western Depots!” on Facebook. Find a pledge form at the Loveland Museum, the Library and Mail to: Save the Great Western Sugar Depots! PO Box 7311, Loveland, CO 80537.

You can help by contacting your City Council person and asking him or her to please save Loveland’s Great Western Depots!   Message number: 970-290-0169.

The Loveland Great Western Sugar Company depots are beloved remnants of the community’s past that could be revitalized and once again become a place where memories are made.