Until Friday, there was something you just expected to see while walking and driving around Santa Fe Drive in Baker: The Rio Grande Co. sign perched on top of six concrete silos that are sturdy, iconic and seemingly unmovable.
But in the end, it just took two guys on a cherrypicker to dismantle the sign, which as of Friday morning was the “Rande Co.” sign. The rest of it is coming down altogether, as are the nonfunctional pillars that have propped up an advertisement for the company for 93 years, said Brent Broekemeier, vice president of Rio Grande Co.
The massive silos once stored different grades of coal along the railroad line. The company has long since moved away from that industry and now supplies building materials and supplies. From Broekemeier’s business-centered perspective, the silos and the sign now just take up space on a relatively small lot that will be enlarged for parking and to make the area safer for people walking and driving large trucks that haul the company’s goods.
“It’s kind of a situation where they’re no longer used and there’s a concern going forward with the repair and maintenance of them,” Broekemeier said. “It’s economically infeasible. It’s just — they’re not used anymore.”
The old structure that holds up the advertisement and once helped load and unload coal, is also a liability, Broekemeier said, because of the RTD light rail trains that constantly pass under it.
Cities constantly change. Still, the void will still be noticeable, said Cassy Newitt, who owns Naked Aesthetics, a facial spa on Kalamath Street in the shadow of the sign. She’s lived in Colorado her whole life and just assumed the people on the cherrypicker were improving the sign, not taking it down.
“I see it every day,” Newitt said. “I guess I won’t be telling people to look for the Rio Grande sign and park under it anymore.”
While the ad and silos are iconic and historic by everyday standards, no one filed an application to preserve it, clearing the way for their destruction, city documents show. But the structures did have the potential for historic preservation, according to a brief written by the city’s landmark preservation arm.
Rio Grande Co. was started by Elmer J. Peterson in 1908 as the Rio Grande Fuel & Feed Co. and remains in the family today. The silos and their loading-and-unloading system were at one point an innovative industrial architecture, according to city documents. They “have direct association with the historical development of the city,” the documents state.
City documents show Rio Grande cleared all the hurdles required by the city government to take down the silos and the sign, said Amanda Weston, a spokesperson for Denver Community Planning and Development.
Broekemeier said his company cares deeply about its history. Several historic photos and antique signs from the company’s past hung in its lobby Friday as construction workers shuffled in and out Friday morning. Like those relics, Broekemeier said Rio Grande will keep part of its most recent iconic sign as a memento.