For 67 years, the Myron H. Akin building was an integral part of the fabric of Fort Collins. It sat prominently right up against the property line, an imposing presence along Laporte Avenue. And with travelers walking right past to get to and from the passenger train depot, it was an ideal location to host a business. The front of the building was made up of three bays, each with space for a separate shop or offices, and the back half of the building consisted of a large, red sandstone warehouse.
But this building wasn’t the first to be erected in this location. And since its initial construction, it has continued to change in substantial ways, including a remodel that is currently underway.
This is the first of three articles on the Akin building and will cover the time period between around 1880 and 1912. The second article will address the various uses of the building over the decades and the emotional roller coaster ride (figuratively speaking, of course) that the building went through in 1977. And the third article will give a sense of the future of this property.
Before the Akin Building
In the early 1880s, the plot of land in question was under the ownership of Edgar Avery and his son, Franklin (of the Avery House on W. Mountain). It was sold off in pieces to a variety of people including Calvin Malaby (later to be the father-in-law of Emma Malaby of the Malaby Grocery still standing on N. Meldrum Street), Samuel Luke, Annie Clay (wife of Charlie Clay), Ashley and Carmelia Howard, and Florence Weymouth.
Thanks to Sanborn fire insurance maps that were drawn every few years, we can trace the progression of development on the property. Despite the fact that College and Mason run north/south and Laporte Avenue runs east/west, the map makers drew this section of town together with a bit of the “Old Town” that ran at a 45 degree angle to the points of the compass. So in each Sanborn map, the property in question on Laporte Ave. is rendered at an angle. The following images have been turned so that north is to the top as we’re used to seeing it on a map. Note that the thick black lines, cutting diagonals through the bottom corners, indicate the outline of the original map.
The earliest Sanborn map of Fort Collins was drawn in 1886. There were two houses located where the Akin building would later stand. A 1-story house faced south and had an address of 15 Laporte Avenue. The back half of the house somehow also merited an address of its own, 412 Mason. And the 2-story house in back was 413 Mason Street. Mind you, Mason street isn’t even shown on the map above. It would be to the left of the image. To the immediate west of these two houses were grounds belonging to the railroad. Items waiting to be shipped off, or that had just been unloaded from a train, might be piled up in that yard. At the very upper left in the image above is the edge of the train depot (though not the same one that stands there now).
Calvin Malaby likely lived in the house that faced Laporte, though if that’s the case, it would have been in 1882, well before the first Sanborn map was drawn. It appears Ashley and Carmelia Howard lived there from 1882 to 1895. It’s interesting to note that on this map, there are two words added to the front room of the house, “Lunch Rm.” We don’t know who ate there for lunch, but perhaps it was a spot for railroad workers to stop and take a break.
As far as who lived in the 2-story house that faced the train yard, that information has been lost to the sands of time.
By 1895, the 2-story house was gone, either demolished or possibly moved to another part of town — a common practice at the time. Florence S. Weymouth moved into the house on Laporte in 1895 and lived there until 1902.
The yellow coloring used in the map indicates that the house was built of wood. The red in back shows a brick addition of some sort.
In 1901, the back half of the house was still used as a residence, but the front was a “2nd Hand & Repair Shop.”
Another interesting item of note is that the house has been renumbered. What used to be 15 Laporte Ave. is now 132 Laporte Ave.
There’s also a note to the left of the property that a passenger depot has been added, though it wasn’t included on the map.
The Akin Building Begins to Take Shape
In 1902, things start to significantly change on the property. Myron H. Akin bought the remaining house in January and the newspaper soon announced his plans.
Harris & Akin are having the building on Laporte avenue next east of the passenger station enlarged, remodeled and converted into office rooms. These rooms will be occupied by Jesse Harris, Myron H. Aken [sic], real estate agents, and John E. Havener, insurance agent. The work is being done by J. E. Walker. — Weekly Courier, February 20, 1902.
It appears that the 1-story house remained, but an addition was added to form a more rectangular, office-style structure.
On December 22, 1902, Myron Akin jotted down a brief note in his diary that stated, “Billy Dunham bought ground back of office @ 350.” Within a matter of weeks, excavation had begun for the basement of the new building that Dunham was having constructed. An article in the newspaper explained the project:
ANOTHER BIG BUSINESS BLOCK TO BE ERECTED
The growth of Fort Collins during the past year and the expansion of its business interests, call for more room in which to transact the multifarious affairs of a thriving community. There was a time not long since when Fort Collins had business rooms “to let,” but that day is past, so that now those who wish to extend their lines or to engage in new enterprises must either buy or build. As there are no suitably located or constructed business blocks for sale at figures which are mutually satisfactory, the promoters of new enterprises are reduced to the alternative of building to meet their needs. This, therefore, accounts for the numerous new business blocks in contemplation, some of which are already in process of erection. Among the latest to enter upon an undertaking of this character is William Dunham. Through his connection last year as manager of the affairs of the Larimer Fruit and Honey association.
Mr. Dunham fully realized the need in Fort Collins of suitable warehouse and cold storage facilities. This need he now proposes to supply. Ground was broken by Mr. Dunham on the last day of the expiring old year for the big two story block, 62 by 80 feet in dimensions, which is to be erected in the rear of the lots on Laporte avenue, adjoining Akin & Harris real estate office. The basement will be 10 feet high, built of stone, and the superstruction of brick, two stories in heighth. It will be a strong, substantially built block, well lighted and fitted up with modern conveniences, including elevator, scales, offices, etc., for conducting a general commission, warehouse and cold storage business, and for the handling and preservation of fruit, honey, vegetables, etc. The plans and specification were prepared by M. W. Fuller. The estimated cost of the building is $8,000. —Weekly Courier. January 7, 1903.
The warehouse that was built still stands today, but it wasn’t made of brick as the article describes. Instead the white sandstone that made up the basement gave way to a red sandstone that formed the rest of the building. It’s unclear whether the final product still adhered to the design plans of famed local architect, Montezuma Fuller, or if that changed along with the shift in materials.
In the 1906 Sanborn map the warehouse is shown in blue, indicating that it was built of stone and is listed as a “Produce W. Ho” (or produce warehouse). An “E” in the center indicates the location of the freight elevator. The stone walls gave Dunham an advantage when advertising his storage facility. An ad in the Fort Collins Courier on March 11, 1908 states, “We store all Kinds of H. H. goods in our large fire proof building. Phone Collins 271 for rates. —The DunhamMiller Mercantile Co.”
The house in front has clearly been remade into an office, though the wood structure takes up only a slightly larger footprint than it had when it was a residential dwelling.
Just to the west of Akin’s offices and Dunham’s stone warehouse is a structure that only appears in the 1906 and 1909 Sanborn maps. The front office was made of brick and the “Mouldings, Sash, Door &c W. HO. [Warehouse]” appears to have been iron clad.
Also note that the passenger depot has been included this time around to the southwest of the offices and warehouses and right smack in the middle of the west bound lane of Laporte Avenue.
It should be noted that on the Sanborn maps for 1906 and 1909, there is a very small space shown between the Dunham warehouse and Akin’s office building. So the warehouse was clearly an individual building in its own right when it was first constructed, though in 1910 that would change and the warehouse would end up becoming the rear end of a sizable business block.
The Historic Akin Building Is Completed
Though Myron Akin didn’t own the stone warehouse behind his office, he appears to have been involved in activities there. Not only did he use it for storage of some of his own items, but he seemed to have helped with the installation of an electric elevator as well. On July 31, 1909, he wrote the following diary entry:
Clear & hot. Finished picking cherries this am. Putting in electric elevator at warehouse. Uncle Harry & Laura at Seattle Wash Fair. Eunice & I went down town trading this eve. She weighs 126 lbs. Dr. Lee here from California. Bradley’s garage burned last night.
This mention of the elevator seems to have been the announcement of a plan and not a reference to the elevator actually going in at that time. It wasn’t installed until January 4, 1910, at which point “Uncle Will” helped to get it set up. (Uncle Will was likely Myron’s brother William, uncle to his children. He also referred to his wife, in his diary, as “mama” not Elizabeth.)
According to Joan Day, this was the first electric freight elevator in the city of Fort Collins.
On November 21, 1910, Myron wrote in his diary, “Busy with Atty. [Attorney] Crose getting abstract on Laporte ave lots fixed up.” It was on that same day that the title document for the Akin building lists a sale by the heirs of Edgar Avery to Myron Akin of the two vacant lots fronting the stone warehouse.
Despite the fact that the sale of the land wasn’t official until November 21st, back on November 8th Akin was already writing about selecting contractors for the project. He wrote, “Let contract to Perry Harrington to move ofs + Frank Wiley to excavate cellar for new block.” And on November 10th he wrote, “Let contract for stone work on Bldg to Marsh + Wiley for $470.00.” It sounds like they might have even begun digging before the sale was complete. A note in Akin’s diary on November 17th states, “Fine progress being made on the Laporte Ave block.” Either he was talking about getting paperwork completed or excavation had already begun.
On January 7, 1911, the wind was so terrific that work had to be stopped on the construction of the new building. But by the 17th Akin wrote that the brick work was completed. And by January 24th the new roof had been put on. On January 27th Akin wrote, “Mrs. Kennedy wants to rent rooms over new block” which implies that the second story may have had residential uses. And on February 4th Akin “Locked up the new Bldg for the first time.”
The old office that Akin had been using, the one converted from a house in 1902, was moved off of the property by Perry Harrington and on February 13th, he began the arduous process of hauling it to a new location. (Unfortunately Akin’s diary doesn’t indicate where that was.)
The Akin Block was completed in 1911 and in 1912 the warehouse and the office/retail building in front were finally consolidated into one legal holding under the ownership of the Dunham-Miller Mercantile Co., of which Myron H. Akin was president.
Sources for this article:
Sanborn map images were modified from the digitized maps available through the CU Boulder Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Collection.
Newspaper quotes were taken from the Colorado Historic Newspapers website.
Quotes from Myron H. Akin’s diary are thanks to Joan Day, his great niece, who allowed me to sit at her kitchen counter and flip through the old diaries while we chatted about the occasional macabre reference that Akin would throw in proceeded by the weather for that day and followed by some cheerful reference to mundane activity such as raspberry picking.
A very thorough compilation of ownership titles for the Akin building was compiled by Todd Eckert and is available through The Archive at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.