By Liesl Greathouse
MONTROSE- One of Montrose’s architectural wonders is the 1909 Knights of Pythias Building located right next to the Fox Cinema Center in Montrose.
In 2013, the City of Montrose was considering buying the Knights of Pythias Building. Albert Stowell, who restores historical buildings, contacted the City to discuss what they intended to do, and learned that, due to the worn out state of the building, the City had concerns about how it would impact the goal of revitalizing Downtown Montrose.
“I asked the City if it would interfere with any long term City goals if I were to buy the building instead of the City,” Stowell said. “The City wanted the building to be used in a way that would help create a more vital downtown, and indicated that they would prefer that the private sector take on the challenge. Budgetline Furniture had occupied the building for several decades but because of [a] fire in the second floor apartments the prior owners were not in a position to move forward with the restoration of the building.”
Stowell’s interest in restoring historical buildings is nothing new. In fact, in 2012 Stowell purchased the Old Uncompahgre School building just south of Montrose and worked to restore it. Stowell also has a long history of restoration work in his family. “In 1964 our family moved from Rangeley to Longmont where my father bought several old historic houses in downtown Longmont,” explained Stowell. “My Dad allowed me to work with him as he repaired and restored these old houses. Dad then rented the houses to local families at affordable rates.”
Because of his experience working on those old buildings, Stowell was able to find a job doing the same thing in college. “While attending Colorado State Teachers College (now UNC) in the late 1960’s I found a job working for a man that remodeled and restored old historic buildings around the college,” he said. “These historic buildings were then converted from single-family homes into student housing. That started me on a long career of historic restoration. During the last forty plus years I have restored and re-purposed dozens of historic buildings.
“I really love the process of creating a new economic use for these wonderful old buildings.”
In restoring the Knights building, Stowell and his team are still completing the beginning stages. “The first step was to remove the fire damage and to stabilize the structural integrity of the building,” he explained. “As we move forward with the planning phase, we will be able to determine what the future uses will be. Once this process is completed we can move forward with the logistics and financial aspects of the construction.”
Unfortunately, the building had suffered a lot of damage and needs a lot of work, with nearly all the original details having been removed or destroyed. “There was only a small amount of damage to the second floor apartments but there was an incredible amount of damage to the structure that was done when floor joists were cut willy-nilly when the original second floor ballroom was subdivided into apartments,” Stowell explained. “More damage was caused when the old balconies were added to the first floor. The foundation needed to be replaced as well. This ended up taking several months longer than originally anticipated because the entire underbelly of the building had to be excavated by hand in order to remove the old foundation piers and install new piers and structural steel.”
While discovering such intense structural damage, some hidden crevices and treasures were discovered as well. “During the last hundred years someone had filled in what had at one time been a full basement,” said Stowell. “We found four different stairways that had been completely filled in. Treasures found during the excavation included the back cover to a 1930 ford roadster and several 1930 license tags from a form car dealer. We also discovered everything from a wagon wheel to antique bottles from a pharmacy that had operated in the building at one time.”
Discovering the history of the building and those that used it has been one of the most interesting parts of the restoration for Stowell. “The hunt for the original building plans, the original costs of the building construction, and the membership of the Knights of Pythias is one of the most challenging and rewarding part of this project,” he said.
The mystery is actually something that Stowell is hoping that people can help him with. “Hopefully [someone] will have family photos in the building or family history with the Knights of Pythias,” he said. “In 1910 there were 130 local members of this chapter of the Knights of Pythias.”
Stowell hopes to finish the planning phase of the restoration in the next few months so that he can move on to the construction of some big plans by the end of the summer or early fall. “The second floor has 26 foot height that we are anticipating building out as exclusive residential uses,” he said. “The first floor will probably be finished out with a combination of restaurant, office and retail. Because we are planning to combine residential along with the commercial uses we hope to have a vital building that will bring activity to the building around the clock.”
If you have any information about the Knights of Pythias in Montrose or about the building itself, contact Stowell at 240-4000.