In a place with magnificent mountain scenery, artistic vibrancy and architectural distinction, the charm of Victor is enhanced by its people. “We don’t do things like other people do,” said Becky Parham, manager of Main Street, a grant-funded program designed to revitalize downtown areas.
Parham combines a sense of pride and desire to share the secrets of a place with less than 500 residents who live at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.
“There are so many hidden gems around here,” she said.
There’s Timmy the Hobo stirring up a pot of green chili on the stove at the Fortune Club. The stove happens to be right there in the eating area. Later in the day, the owner, Sue Kochevar, will be baking pies, with the finished product a show-stopper for the customers.
Parham is especially proud of the new laundromat on Fourth Street. “It’s so neat and tidy and it smells good,” Parham said. “I just love coming here because it’s so clean.”
Deb Downs, the city administrator, agrees. “The new laundromat has been a great boon to this community. People come in, not just from Victor but from Cripple Creek, too,” she said. “Things are starting to happen.”
Proud of their quirks and a fine appreciation for the turn-of-the-century (19th) buildings, albeit some in disrepair, the city applied for Main Street designation and succeeded.
As a result, Victor is eligible for technical assistance along with grants to spruce up the place. “They loved what Victor was doing, grassroots, volunteers, community members and no staff,” Downs said. “Leaders in the community stepped up and said ‘let’s do something.’”
Just in case somebody missed the memo on refurbishing, the Façade Squad knocked on doors, in addition to calling absentee owners. “They’re a bunch of retired guys led by Mike Wallace who, with a grant from the mine (Cripple Creek & Victor Mining Co.) were able to leverage that money with Sherwin Williams (paint store) to get a huge discount on materials,” Downs said. “And the fellas began working with a graphic artist who donated his time to come up with historic color schemes.”
From paint to restoring historic windows, the squad became experts in preservation. “They just wanted to do something for their community,” Downs said.
And with the Main Street Program, administered by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the city has access to architectural assistance. “They’ll actually come in and suggest professional assistance to the businesses by people we just couldn’t afford to hire,” Downs said.
With the infusion of money and energy, Victor is capitalizing on the out-of-the-box ideas, some dreamed up by Parham. “Becky is expanding the season by planning more events such as Steampunk and Sinkhole de Mayo,” Downs said, the latter a celebration spawned by a large sinkhole that, in other places, could have been a negative.
Parham relishes the independent spirit that characterizes Victor, particularly when it comes to the amphitheater project that will include the historic rock wall. “We’re being very careful so that what we end up with doesn’t look plastic, we don’t want anything to look too municipal,” she said.
Walking along the avenue, Parham points to several of 12 benches around a four-block area. “We figure a walkable city has places to sit down,” she said. “It’s kind of rough terrain.”
Despite the empty buildings scattered around, Parham and her Main Street committee have taken great pains to jazz up empty storefronts. In the old Monarch Gallery, for instance, several polished antique stoves grace the window. “We put lipstick on `em,” she said.
At Fourth and Diamond streets, the sculpture park transformed a weeded lot into a visual treat. An Eagle Scout project led by Spencer Hoover, the park is the result of collaboration among the scouts, the mine, the artists and the property owner.
Another treasure is the Ag and Mining Museum, a collection of tractors and an old-fashioned lathe, each the result of donations byMilford Ashworth.
In a city that begs to be different, a place graced with people who exhibit a sense of mountain independence, the project is a rallying cry for an economic resurgence by the Main Street committee. “We call ourselves ‘the bootstrappers,’” Parham said.