A Stroll Down Tejon Street
The first stake of the city of Colorado Springs was driven on Monday, July 31, 1871. The city’s founder, General William Palmer, was not present. His close associate, General James Cameron, represented him at the ceremony. The latter was something of a fabulist, given to extravagant claims and fanciful oratory.
“Inspired by a jigger or two of whisky,” wrote Marshall Sprague in his engaging history of Colorado Springs, Newport in the Rockies, “the General launched into a speech.”
Never mind that the city site was treeless, bleak and brown. Cameron declared, “Fruit trees will blanket these glorious hills, next to the noble Cache la Poudre.”
The whisky had taken its toll. Cameron had forgotten his lines, confusing Colorado Springs with another startup city, Union Colony, which was in fact bordered by the Cache la Poudre River.
But never mind — it was time to name the streets of the new city. General Palmer’s spouse Queen had suggested that the north-south streets be named after western mountain ranges. It’s impossible to know how General Cameron came up with Tejon Street. It was probably derived from Tejon Pass, located in southern California at the southwest end of the Tehachapi Mountains. Almost 150 years later, it doesn’t matter — Cameron’s eccentric and notably ill-informed list of names has endured and Tejon Street is the beating heart of today’s vibrant western city.
Of the principal north-south streets, Tejon may have been something of an afterthought. Cascade and Nevada were conceived as stately residential boulevards, and the first stake was driven at the intersection of Cascade and Pikes Peak, a block west of Tejon. Nonetheless, Tejon quickly became the principal commercial thoroughfare, featuring shops and enterprises of all kinds, with the exception of bars, liquor stores, distilleries, and breweries. General Palmer’s puritanical little city was dry, but commerce quickly solved that problem. Drug stores along Tejon sold “medicinal” alcohol, while anyone who wanted a quick snort could drop a coin into the “Magic Wheel” at the corner of Pikes Peak and Tejon. Rotate the wheel, and an unseen hand would spin it back, replacing your coin with a jigger of whisky.
Bounded by Penrose Hospital to the north, Tejon extends for approximately 4.5 miles through the historic core of Colorado Springs. It includes one of the country’s best-preserved Victorian residential neighborhoods, a nationally renowned liberal arts college, three gorgeous 19th and early 20th century churches, a delightfully walkable downtown core, and mixed-use enclaves south of the core. It’s fun, safe, and easy to visit, but beware! It’s hard to leave. Unless you’re careful, you’ll be tempted join the thousands of folks who come for a week and stay for a lifetime.
The Old North End Historic District
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, this largely Victorian neighborhood includes hundreds of homes. At the turn of the 19th century, Tejon north of Colorado College was a tree-lined street of spacious two and three-story homes interspersed with cottages and bungalows, home to attorneys, bankers, businesspeople, and college professors. A hundred and twenty years later, it hasn’t changed. It’s a warm, family-centric neighborhood that has fended off commercial intrusion for 70 years, thanks to passionate residents and preservationists.
For a walking tour, park near the intersection of Tejon and Fontanero and head south for three or four blocks. The historic neighborhood extends to the east and west as well, so check out adjacent streets, particularly Cascade and Wood, where you’ll see grand mansions from the Gold Rush days.
Colorado College and North Downtown
Colorado College sits squarely athwart Tejon Street for three blocks, so drive down Cascade or Nevada to Cache la Poudre (and yes, General Cameron named it after the river that he had mistakenly cited in his 1871 speech). Park along Tejon, and you can either wander north and tour the Colorado College campus or head south.
If you choose the second option, don’t miss the 1893 All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, a block south of Cache la Poudre at the intersection of Tejon and Dale. Admire its shingle-style architecture, and then head one block west to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, one of the most distinguished performing and visual arts centers in the West. You can also continue down Tejon for another couple of blocks and take in the Gothic splendor of the 1926 Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church at 601 N. Tejon St. and the Richardsonian Romanesque 1889 First Congregational Church at St. Vrain and Tejon.
Tired? You’ve only just begun. Find a parking place around Boulder and Tejon, and consider your options. In the four blocks between Boulder and Pikes Peak, there are dozens of bars, restaurants, cool shops, and fun stops. We’re fond of the Wild Goose Meeting House at Boulder and Tejon, Odyssey Gastropub on the east side of Tejon between Boulder and Platte, and Tony’s, a cheerfully noisy bar on the west side of the street.
You might explore the Poor Richard’s complex, also on the west side of the street. It’s an unlikely but somehow perfect grouping of four businesses under the same ownership — a restaurant, a toy store, a wine bar, and a bookstore. Launched almost 40 years ago as Poor Richard’s Feed & Read by recent Colorado College grad Richard Skorman, the businesses have grown, thrived, and matured along with their owner. The once-ponytailed young progressive is now the president of the Colorado Springs City Council, and the food, wine, books, and toys are better than ever. Have a seat at Rico’s Café and Wine Bar, order a glass and try a slice of the New York pizza.
The downtown core extends from Platte to Vermijo. Amble on down the west side of Tejon to Bijou, cross the street and walk half a block west to the alley for one of downtown’s newest bars — Shame & Regret. It opens at 4 p.m., and features a sweet late night vibe, with a dark wood bar and what one patron called the “sexy secret feel of the place whispering in the shadows.”
But before you hit the bars and restaurants, don’t forget to visit the shops. Feeling inadequately shod? You might stop at Podiatryst Shoe Salon at 113 N. Tejon. They’ve got what you need for a fun evening — in men’s sizes 4-14, and women’s sizes 5-16.
Three of our downtown favorites are a block south at Kiowa and Tejon — The Famous Steakhouse, Bonny & Read Fresh Steak and Seafood, and The Rabbit Hole. Accessible from a sidewalk entrance patterned after a stop on the Paris Metro, The Rabbit Hole calls itself a “late-night New American haunt crafting creative bites and cocktails in a sleek, subterranean space.” The two neighboring eateries are clearly best in class in the city. Reservations are recommended at The Famous and Bonny and Read, especially on weekend evenings. Lunch and drinks at the bar are usually less crowded.
Another block south and you’re at Pikes Peak Avenue. The Magic Wheel is long gone (alas!), but it remains a lively area. A block to the west is the Antlers Hotel, with multiple bars and restaurants, while to the east is the magnificently restored Mining Exchange, now a four-star boutique hotel. Try the lobby bar, or sample the authentic Cajun cuisine at Springs Orleans next door.
South Downtown Explosion
The Pioneers Museum, situated on a landscaped city block bounded by Tejon and Vermijo, was originally the El Paso County Courthouse. Its Victorian majesty contrasts with the lively renovation underway in south downtown. As we point out in another article, the museum is well worth a visit!
As of early spring of 2019, 211 new apartment units were under construction along the South Tejon corridor. Plans are well advanced for a 255 room Marriott-branded hotel two blocks south of the museum, as are those for Kinship Landing, a multiuse residential development a block west on Nevada.
The lovely 1909 bowstring truss building that has housed John Crandall’s Old Town Bike Shop since 1996 will soon have a neighbor when the 27-unit Casa Mundi opens. Crandall says that he sought to create “a community-minded business that combined his fascination with mechanical engineering, his dedication to fitness, and his passion for environmentalism.” He’s remained true to his original vision, and today’s dedicated bike lanes on Weber and Cascade make biking in our busy downtown easier and safer.
A little farther south, the 19th century trolley barns on the 500 block have been freshly renovated by a Denver-based investment group and now house half a dozen linked bar and restaurants, including Atomic Cowboy (also home to Fat Sully’s Pizza and Denver Biscuit Company), and Frozen Gold, a soft-serve ice cream bar. In this rejuvenated part of town, you can also grab at taco at Dos Santos, dinner at Streetcar520, or a swank sip at Cork & Cask.
The time has come — lace up your walking shoes and head out for a charming stroll down Tejon Street, at the core of our city.
Words by: John Hazlehurst