Historic Walking Tour
239 West Elkhorn
The current building was built and designed (completed in 1975) by local dentist Dr James Durward, along with the building across the street at 238 W Elkhorn Ave, which he also built. The massive curved beams over the top of the Village Goldsmith were salvaged from a tennis center (site of old airport) in Ft Collins that was destroyed in a wind storm. The 8x8 and 12x12 logs and beams used came from Mr Hall, the 'Mountain Man' in Walden, where he cut and milled them. Dr Durward rented a truck and hauled the timbers to Estes Park himself.
More details about these buildings in the James Durward story below.
Built 1975 (current building)
Original site use (before current buildings)
Freight office & owners home circa 1900
Dr HW Crowell Dentist office & home 1930s-1960s
Amoco Gas Station owned by Bob Wagner circa 1970s (Tregent Park site)
12 unit motel (parking lot site)
Former use (current buildings)
PS Flowers restaurant
Dr James Durward DDS office
Omnibus Gifts (originally a sporting goods store in 1975)
Original photos courtesy James Durward
Dr James Durward
A vocal, active businessman at the West end of Elkhorn and an important part of the history of this community, Dr James Durward carries volumes of local business history in his head and is most often recognized as the founder of the Scottish Irish Festival, still held each fall in Estes. He grew up in Boulder, and worked at the Bob Wait Boy Scout Camp and Rocky Mtn National Park from 1949 to 1953. Young James Durward got into an ice cream business in Fort Collins before deciding on a career in dentistry at the age of 28, and enrolled in the University of Indiana Dental College in Indianapolis, Indiana. His first dental patient in Estes Park was July 11, 1967 in the Estes Park Dental Clinic at 235 West Elkhorn, which had been built in 1900 with an attached house. In 1975 on the site of the 1900 building, Durward built "Centennial Plaza" including a new dental office, clock tower and water wheel.
Dr Durward operated his dental practice in this center along with other retail tenants and a restaurant for several decades. Now retired, to this day he keeps a private office deep inside the building while businesses operate in the iconic building he designed and built.
Dr Durward shared the details of his master plan for his trio of new buildings that were to include a structure that climbed the rock wall on the South side of the street, where the Highland Bard now sits, with a tram that would ferry customers up and down. The roofline of the existing building was designed to permit the tram passage over the top. He got cold feet at that stage of the hill-climbing part of construction and it never came into existence. That was the same time that the Courtyard Shops were being built by Greig Steiner on Virginia Drive, across from Bond Park, and local government made it difficult on commercial developers "in those days" by requiring VERY high parking space fees be paid to the Town of Estes Park, based on the square footage of new buildings.
Durward felt that building codes and design trends made every town look the same, and in his quest for something different, he decided on a water wheel - an idea he had to add visual appeal to his building complex. He built the first version in his garage out of redwood. The soft wood was a challenge, with persistent loose bolts, so he rebuilt the wheel with a harder wood, mahogany, that was shipped from Belize via a Montana supplier (before it became off limits). Installed in 2008, the second version was much more solid and is it is that water wheel you see today. Originally it was lowered into the rushing water by hand, but it is now motorized.
Another dramatic part of the building is the clock tower, which for many years presented a 3 minute show with the hourly clock chimes- the steeple doors would open and brightly painted figurines depicted the development of the West while the clock faces display the four seasons of the year. It is a delight for all ages when they stop in their tracks to watch from the sidewalk below. The idea worked, drawing visitors to the West end of town for the hourly 'surprise'. Wisdom Manufacturing, an amusement ride company out of Sterling Colorado built the original mechanism, and the figurines were created by a local artist. The clock is a work of art. Today, plywood panels cover the steeple openings where the animated clock and chimes were removed in 2021 to be refurbished. We can't wait!
Other tidbits of trivia from Dr Durward: The original restaurant, PS Flowers, was named after his daughter "Peggy Sue". Peggy Sue had a flower stand in the area in 1976.
In 1979 a disgruntled piano player started a fire at 2am in the basement, which threatened to destroy the wooden structure, but was contained.
A separate, unrelated building to the North, across Cleave St is an interesting piece of local history, now vacant. This was a cold storage freezer building from the 1920s, and has very thick cork walls which can be seen in the window openings from outside.
Across the street to the South from the water wheel, the building that includes part of the natural rock wall in its design (check it out inside!) still has an original water well, visible in front of the building- the only water well remaining downtown. It's 150ft deep.
Finally, the Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highland Festival was Durwards creation in 1976 to stimulate visitor interest in Estes Park during the beginning of the off season, and has been very successful - drawing 50,000+ during some event days. The first year it was held in 'Centennial Plaza' (the name Durward gave his development) although the festival quickly outgrew the limited space around his building.
Traditionally held the first weekend of September, world class bands and competitors participate making for a delightful weekend destination for attendees from across the country. It's not uncommon to sell out accommodations and reservations for the 'Scotsfest' weekend.
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