After the Fall

The Evans school has seen a lot over the past century -- including a death last spring. But does this building have a future?

They missed it. Although trash and weeds have disappeared from the exterior and construction crews have begun chipping away at the layers of paint, the building is still a shambles. The Ebers now have until a February 17 meeting with the city's planning agency to explain why that is. At that point, agency officials will decide whether to extend the deadline or invoke more drastic measures, possibly fining the owners almost $1,000 a day or turning the matter over to the courts. If a judge found the Ebers to be in violation of Denver's building codes, he could place a lien on the property or force it into receivership. Or the city could pursue a friendly condemnation, forcing the brothers to sell for the city's price.

But taking control of a privately owned building is not a precedent the city's in any hurry to set. "The good news is that we don't live in the U.S.S.R. in 1966," says Zsako. "The other side of the coin is that due process takes time, and property owners have rights."

"The city has no precedent for how to deal with a situation like this," says Hicks. "But now, because the city kind of has its feet to the fire, the time is right to really try and do something. There have been attempts. We can talk until we're blue in the face to Dick Eber. But this is the most pressure they've ever had to do something."

The Evans school in all its decay today. Tracy Rollert 
fell from the second-floor ledge at the right.
Anthony Camera
The Evans school in all its decay today. Tracy Rollert fell from the second-floor ledge at the right.
The Evans school in all its historic glory.
The Evans school in all its historic glory.

"There had been a reservoir of goodwill at one point, but I feel that's been drawn down a bit," says Kathleen Brooker, head of Historic Denver. "People who were very enthusiastic about the building have grown weary."

Not Dick Eber, though. Bad weather delayed the first phases of the redevelopment plan he'd agreed to with the city, he says. But he considers it only a minor setback, since everyone he talks to -- from people at the Golden Triangle Neighborhood Association to the mayor's office to the State Historical Fund -- gives him reason for optimism.

"The timing and the practicality of this thing have to be just right. And the timing is now," he says, smiling. "We have to look at every little thing that needs to be done. We're getting some terrific insight from some design teams and architects and tapping other resources of talent. We're ready to start all the design process -- painting, repainting, repairing windows. To me, the most exciting thing is to imagine seeing the lights turn on, to see it all lit up and beautiful.

"I'm not looking like I'm over here and other people are over there," he says. "There's a tremendous amount of support and interest in this. The state has given us good indications that they want to work with us -- the city, too. There's a tremendous amount of interest in this neighborhood now. Four or five years ago, there was no energy, no enthusiasm. But that's changed. There's incredible support for this building, and my door is wide open to anyone who wants to help."

Hicks doubts that. "I've heard their description so many times I know it by heart," she says. "Dick Eber is so believable, and there's always some person who hasn't heard it before. 'We've saved the building from demolition,' they'll say. 'We're interviewing architects now. In six months, we'll be ready to go.' He's gotten thirty years out of that. I know that there is no rational business decision to support that building being empty for thirty years," she adds. "There is none. Oh, they're waiting for the market? They've had incredible opportunities."

Hicks and Humphries have already met with administrators at the nearby P.S. 1 charter school to discuss moving the school from its cramped campus to the Evans property. They stress that the talks are in the very early stages -- "We're dreaming," Hicks says -- and that while the move would appeal to preservationists and grant-givers, finding permanent funding in the already cash-strapped educational system would be difficult.

Still, even an impossible dream is better than inaction, according to Humphries. "The worst case is that nothing gets done," he says. "The school is physically and emotionally the center of the Triangle. Nearly everyone in the city is familiar with the structure. Leaving it vacant is not an option anymore."


Jim Farley goes out of his way to avoid the Evans school. He's got enough reminders of what happened there.

In the months following the accident, the memories were so strong that he obliterated them with alcohol and was hospitalized after slitting his wrists. His parents flew from the Bronx to Denver twice to look after him, staging interventions with a few of his close friends.

"I think it was a cry for help, because if I'd really had the guts to do it, I would have hurt myself more," he says. "I just missed her so much. I was trying to escape the pain, and instead I just caused more -- for my family, especially. It's just this fucked-up cycle where people tell you that in time things will get better, but you just can't see it."

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