Denver letterpress printer Tom Parson has been practicing his hands-on and decidedly analog trade as Now It's Up To You Publications since the early ’80s, after becoming interested in printing as a poet and booster of small-press publications in Seattle. Also an avid collector, Parson amassed a huge personal collection of type, presses and publications over the years. In 2013, he and his wife, Patti, purchased the historic Englewood Depot from the City of Englewood and formed a nonprofit, Letterpress Depot, with dreams of turning it into a living letterpress museum and workshop. It hasn’t been easy — or cheap — to realize that dream.
The old Mission-style depot, built in 1915, still stands, long after its life as a whistle stop on the Santa Fe railroad line ended. Closed in the 1950s, the building was saved from demolition in 1994 and moved to its current location at Galapago Street and Dartmouth Avenue. But without a proper foundation, it languished, and it became apparent that expansive renovations would be needed to bring it up to code. While the Parsons were able to secure an easement on the historic portion of the building upstairs, they decided to work from the basement up — hooking up water lines, making repairs, building a ramp and shoring up the space to accommodate multiple presses and supplies before turning to the exhibit space on the upper floor.
It’s slow going, and the Parsons' target of opening the museum as early as 2015 has come and gone. That’s why the nonprofit is ready to raise funds for a big push toward moving in, says Letterpress Depot board president Peter Miles Bergman, a print media and communications instructor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Once done,” Bergman notes, “we could be one of largest hands-on letterpress print facilities in the nation, and definitely regionally. It’s a huge undertaking. That’s the heart of it.”
If the group can successfully open up the basement, it can begin offering printing workshops and house several nineteenth- and twentieth-century hand presses of various sizes (including a rare Vandercook Number 1 Truss Press, one of only twelve known to exist), 2,500 drawers of wood and metal letterpress type, other equipment (from reams of paper to paper cutters and more) and a huge collection of rare books, including a library of amateur journals going back 100 years. Bergman calls them a “precursor to zines.”
Right now, the majority of those treasures are costing the nonprofit money, stashed away in eight storage spaces and a forty-foot semi-truck. “Obviously, we need funds, but we also need for people to be interested in this amazing facility," Bergman says. "We need people to come and use it. In order to keep letterpress from becoming a dying art form, people have to do it. They have to know how to use things, and they also need to know how to break things — and how to fix them.”
To that end, the organization is launching a crowdfunding campaign on May 1, and will host a pre-launch party on Thursday, April 27, at Globe Hall. Bergman says fundraising is necessary to grow, but the project needs something else in order to succeed: “Right now, the old-timers still have that body of knowledge. This should serve as a legacy for all of those people, a vast majority of whom are still vital and alive. But fifty years from now, when I'm one of the old codgers, we’ll still need people who know how to fix it and use it.”
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Bottom line, says Bergman: “All the historical stuff is almost always behind glass in the usual museum context. We’re interested in making a historical museum that’s also an educational resource, but mainly we want people to be able to touch stuff and use it. That’s Tom’s vision. And beyond that, we really want to be a good community partner in Englewood. Once the upstairs is rehabbed, we’ll have a beautiful building open and available for community events.”
Letterpress Depot Fundraising Party runs from 6 to 11 p.m. Thursday, April 27, at Globe Hall, featuring live music by Chimney Choir and printed materials, from T-shirts to books, for sale. Admission is free, but a $10 donation at the door will entitle you to a free drink ticket and a “hold my beer while I print” koozie. See a preview of Letterpress Depot’s Indiegogo campaign online and learn more at the website and Facebook page. Watch all three for a link to the page when it launches on May 1.