Get to know the history behind some of Durango's most historic structures
One of the special things about Downtown Durango is our history, and indeed our living heritage is still visible along our Main Ave. Start down at Rio Grande Land, the home of the railroad that literally founded our town, then saunter up Main and take a look at the historic structures, many of which date back to Durango’s founding in the late 1880s and into the early 1900s. The odd number addresses are on the west side of the street, the even on the east. Click here to print this document.
1. 500 block of Main Avenue
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Depot- Imagine stepping off the train in 1882 at what was then the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Depot. It remains remarkably unchanged and is a National Historic Landmark (just updated for safety and technology).
552 Main Avenue- The Belleview Saloon and Rooming House, built in 1906. This block was a focal point for the Italian-American community in Durango during the first decades of the 1900s.
528 Main Avenue, there was the DiUbaldo Grocery; 532 Main housed a number of different saloons, though during Prohibition it had a sort life as a soft drink fountain.
2. 600 Block of Main Avenue
605 Main Avenue- The Wetter Building is the oldest building on this block. Built as a boarding house in 1883, it housed a number of commercial ventures, including a soda water factory, the Durango Herald printing office, a tin shop and a grocery store.
643-645 Main Avenue- The La Plata Bottling Works and Saloon, was owned by Adolph Coors until 1915. The brewery and bottling works were located at 643 with the saloon at 645 Main.
699 Main Avenue- The Historic Strater Hotel, exemplifies the lavishness of the Victorian era. The building itself is an eclectic mix of Italianate, Romanesque and Renaissance architectural styles. The hotel opened in 1888 and was leased to HL Rice. This partnership went south quickly and four years after Henry Strater built the Columbian Hotel next door on the former site of the county courthouse. The two hotels are now one establishment. Ask a bartender where the bullet hole is located in the Diamond belle Saloon. This was from one of the many gun fights that took place there. Tours of the classic hotel are available. Inquire about scheduling at the hotel front desk.
3. 700 block of Main Avenue
713 Main Avenue, you will notice the smooth, simple glazed tile storefront and large glass paned windows. These illustrate Durango’s “modern” Downtown in the 1930s and 1940s. The building was in fact remodeled from its original Victorian era, red brick storefront to project the image of the progressive men’s clothing store that occupied the building until just the past year.
781 Main Avenue, The Graden Mercantile Company was the largest department store in Durango. It burned in 1948 and was rebuilt. Graden came in at the time of the railroad and was one of the founders of Durango.
4. 800 Block of Main Avenue
801 Main Avenue, the Newman Building, was built by Charles Newman in 1892. This Romanesque sandstone building originally housed the Smelter National Bank (1892-1897). The bank sign remains visible on the back side of the building. Newman owned a chain of drug stores in Silverton, Alamosa, Animas City and Chama.
846 Main Ave. - This brick storefront was “modernized” with a veneer of Carrera Glass, a structural glass popular in the slick, streamlined surfaces of the architectural styles of the 1930s and 1940s. Carrera Glass is no longer made. Replacement of damaged glass has been possible because of the discovery of a stash of Carrera Glass that a WWII Veteran had brought back with him from Europe and ha stored in his backyard. Much of this “cache” has replaced cracked original pieces.
863-871 Main Ave. - This showpiece of the Durango & Rio Grande’s land development company was intended to be a model of future buildings. The D&RG tried to require property owners to build in brick and stone as they had. Unfortunately, many didn’t, resulting in numerous fires of the early stick-built facilities. The fire of 1889, burned down 7 blocks and spread to the residential neighborhood of East 3rd Avenue. Many wooden structures were then replaced with stone and brick. These are the same buildings you see today.
5. 900 Block of Main Avenue.
Known as the notorious "saloon district" in Durango, the west side of the 900 block was filled with gambling halls and saloons between 1890 and the Prohibition Era. Ten saloons were located in the district in 1893.
900 Main Avenue - Richardson/Romanesque style building housed the Colorado State Bank from 1892 until the bank’s failure during the silver crash of 1907. Burns National Bank operated in the building from 1910 until it’s merging with Bank of Colorado. Located in the 900 block of Main Avenue.
901 Main Ave. - The oldest bank in southwestern Colorado, the First National Bank of Durango moved south from Animas City in 1881 and operated here from 1882 to 1980. The elaborately detailed Queen Anne brickwork building with Romanesque sandstone arched windows was built for $18,219 and replace an earlier frame building that burned in 1892.
945 Main Ave. - Now recreated as El Moro Spirits and Tavern, the facility was originally the El Moro Saloon. El Moro lays claim as the site of “Durango’s Strangest Shootout.” In January in 1906, Sheriff William Thompson raided the saloon in the midst of a poker game and hastily covered then confiscated a roulette wheel that was also in play. On the sidewalk in front of El Moro, Thompson confronted the city marshal, Jesse Stansel, for his lack of enforcement. The two men exchanged insults and guns were drawn. When the smoke cleared Sheriff Thompson was dead and Marshal Stansel was injured. At Stansel’s court trial, eyewitnesses gave conflicting reports of who drew and who fired first and whether or not drinking was involved. The marshal was acquitted. Thompson’s ghost is said to still enjoy the whiskey set out for him at the restaurant.
965 and 969 Main Ave. - The 900 block was the saloon district, and these two buildings were at the heart. Notorious madam Bessie Rivers ran The Horseshoe Club at 969. After the saloons closed, two different families by the name of Wong operated cafes into the late 1950s.
975 Main Ave. - Built in 1892, the four-story, French Second Empire structure characterized by the mansard roof, has a varied history as a salon, a post office, a bank and a hotel. References to French culture were often included in Victorian commercial architecture.
990 Main Ave. - Built in 1889, the Schneider block housed the Keeley Institute, a reform group devoted to the cure of liquor, opium and tobacco habits. One of four Colorado branches, the Institute operated between 1892 and the turn of the century.
6. 1000 block of Main Avenue
In 1910 the 1000 block has a significant contingent of Chinese settlers who operated restaurants & laundries. This was the largest minority group, numbering at most 50 people.
1001 Main Ave. - An early Durango movie house, The Gem Theater was located in the building in 1915. The building’s original 1890s storefront is gone, but the brick designs on the wall facing Main bring a unique element to the Downtown.
1015 Main Ave. - The cast iron and pressed metal front was made by Mesker Brothers of St. Louis, and likely came to Durango on the train. These early “pre-fab” products were popular because they were durable, fire resistant and inexpensive.
1060 Main Avenue- The Old Post Office build in 1929 and then restored in 1985.
7. 1100 block of Main Avenue
1101 Main Avenue- Spanish Trail Filling station in the early 1920. The owner Charles "Chick" Sheehan also owned Foley Tire shop at 1162 Main Avenue. In 1925 consolidated his tire business into the filling station and changed the name of the business to Foley Tire Shop. He has a great reputation and success in selling Goodyear Tires. Unfortunately, Chick was in a very serious accident and passed away in 1934. His employee Art Pearce took over the tire shop after Chick's Passing. In 1946 Ernie Schaff took over and in 1953 the existing building was demolished and a new gas station called Ernies Conoco Triangle was built and operated for 48 years at various Durango Locations. Around 1970 The location was permanently shuttered. From 1970 to 1988 the property was owned by Jaime Wisner and housed an eclectic mix of uses from a church to a bank window shop and many others. In 2017 Winsner and his son Marcos remodeled the building and brought back the look from the 1950's when it was a gas station. It is now home to Ernie's Bar, named after the owner of the gas station. Surrounding the Bar you will find an array of food trucks and outdoor seating.
1129 Main Avenue- Originally the Chapman Hardware Store until 1920. The original wood frame building burned in the great fire of 1889
1138 Main Ave. - The first occupant of this building was the Windsor Hotel. The Durango Democrat (eventually the Durango Herald) moved into the first floor around 1910 and remained there until the mid-1950s.
For more information on the History of Durango click here.