By Michael Roberts
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By Patricia Calhoun
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By Melanie Asmar
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By Michael Roberts
Douglas Bruce, victim. Let it roll over the tongue a few times. Let it vibrate in the most sensitive part of the brain, the one usually reserved for trampled flowers and kicked puppies.
Hold that thought.
Douglas Bruce says he's a victim. He claims that he's the focus of a political vendetta, that he's being persecuted by petty bureaucrats and politicians and judges because of his anti-tax crusades. That his are the fattest files in Denver's zoning and building departments because he dared to defy authority. That vandals target his vacant properties because he's rebelled against government spending. That he has a jail sentence hanging over his thick head because he fathered Amendment 1.
"I'm a victim," Bruce declared in Denver County Court last week, where he was appearing on his umpty-umpth count of maintaining an abandoned, unsafe building. "The city's response when you are a victim is to prosecute."
And Bruce's response when he is prosecuted is to posture and pontificate.
He's said all this before, of course.
Douglas Bruce collects falling-down buildings the way Imelda Marcos accumulates shoes. He doesn't have a prayer of filling them, but the collection keeps piling up...and falling down.
Bruce was in Denver County Court eighteen months ago, saying much the same things he's now saying about mostly the same properties. Then, as now, the most heated legal action focused on a building at 3700 Humboldt. Since it was built in 1890, the brick storefront has served many purposes--apartments, a grocery store, a school--but none more ignominious than as Exhibit A for Colorado's most lackadaisical land baron. Bruce bought the building in December 1992 for a mere $2,000, from Ray Phillips of Arvada, who'd paid almost ten times as much for the structure four years before. But at the time Bruce added the structure to his collection, the fourplex already had been found to be in "imminent danger of collapse" by city inspectors, and orders had been filed for the building to either be demolished or repaired. That's why Bruce got such a deal on it.
Then he proceeded to make a big deal of it, stalling repairs every step of the way. Within a few months, one of the external walls had indeed collapsed, tumbling bricks onto 37th Avenue. It took months--and a looming court trial--for Bruce to get around to making even the most minimal of repairs. Then, as now, he claimed he was being persecuted. So did his repairmen: Even as the man who'd hired them was facing the judge, they stood outside the dilapidated building at 3700 Humboldt and said its owner was being picked on.
Apparently, the jury did not agree. In September 1993 Bruce was found guilty of owning an unsafe structure and failing to make required repairs. He was fined slightly more than he'd paid for the building and ordered to perform community service. That's the sentence Bruce is still fighting today, the reason he was threatened with arrest and the impetus for his appearance in federal court for an appeal hearing this Friday.
In the meantime, 3700 Humboldt still stands vacant. The backyard is a patch of dirt and debris; the windows are boarded over and marked with graffiti. From their tags, you can't tell if the vandals like to read the papers or raise taxes or even vote Democratic.
A tour of Bruce's Denver properties doesn't take long. The old, two-story houses at 2022 and 2036 Martin Luther King Boulevard have been empty since before Bruce's September 1993 court dates on building-code violations at these addresses. If he's since finished major repairs and renovations inside--say, installed a fabulous designer kitchen or added a master-bedroom suite--you can't tell from the street; plywood covers the windows, although the walls bear relatively new coats of paint. (Even those slight improvements are not without controversy; one charitable group claimed that Bruce had failed to reimburse it after the group included a few of his buildings in a neighborhood paint-a-thon.) There's been some movement on Bruce's properties at 3700 Gaylord and 3000 Marion--but then, Bruce had outstanding violations at these addresses, too, and appeared in court last week to deal with them. Even the city attorney who's been dogging Bruce's trail for years agreed that those properties showed signs of a "good-faith effort" to comply, and the city agreed to give Bruce a two-month grace period on those counts. But on his way into court Wednesday, Bruce was handed a ticket for troubles with a structure at 2426 Tremont. Of all Bruce's Denver buildings, this one showed the most promise as a true fixer-upper, which is what Bruce declares most of his acquisitions to be. It's at the edge of the Curtis Park Historic District, which takes pride in its Victorian charmers. Bruce's house, however, is the eyesore of the block, still showing the ravages of a fire last summer.
All told, Bruce owns 23 properties in Denver (depending on who's doing the counting). None are exactly garden spots; some are downright dumps. And this is just a fraction of Bruce's holdings. He also owns properties in Pueblo and Colorado Springs, where he's been repeatedly cited for building violations. Just as repeatedly, he's accused the City of Colorado Springs of carrying out a vendetta against him.
Bruce is no victim. Save your sympathy for his actual tenants in Colorado Springs. For the zoning inspectors and clerks who are just doing their jobs. And for the taxpayers, who are subsidizing this nonsense.
Last week, after his latest courtroom tantrum, Bruce announced he was going to sell all his Denver properties and get the hell out of town--commercially speaking, of course.
He's said that before, too. After his last round of court hearings back in 1993.
Here's your hat, Mr. Bruce. What's your hurry?