Drinking Up the Past

Sometimes a person needs to drink two cold beers, fast. The only sensible place to do this is the Lake Avenue Inn in Eastlake.

Eastlake is completely surrounded by the much larger suburb of Thornton. While Thornton is a twilight zone of housing developments, strip malls and four-lane speedways, Eastlake is a farming enclave that's survived intact into 2003, as though surrounded by a protective bubble. People who live here know they've got a good deal. And when that deal ends -- as all good deals must -- they know the act of selling out will net them millions of bittersweet dollars. What's to lose, really, besides their entire way of life, their horse and cattle properties and their excellent bar?

Bring on the longneck Buds.

Clete and Margo Schares came to Eastlake thirty years ago, for no particular reason. Margo had a horse obsession and the land was cheap -- a bankruptcy deal. A former Iowa farm boy, Clete had a genetic attachment to acreage.

"We got fifteen acres," he remembers, "and the weeds was this high. I knew a guy who lived near here, and I always thought, who the hell would want to make the drive? But I guess I got over that."

He also got a livelihood, running a brick-masonry operation while Margo raised racing quarterhorses, most recently the very lucky Smokin' Corona. "It's a good name for a horse," Clete observes. "Sounds illegal."

The Schares children enjoyed an idyllic Eastlake childhood, walking to a three-room school full of farm kids and fishing in one of the town's three lakes, where they once caught a carp six feet long. "I told them fine, now get it out of the house, the big ugly thing," Margo recalls.

Back in 1911, the brand-new lakes were christened One, Two and Three by the Eastlake Irrigation District, the entity that made the town possible. Soon after, Eastlake became a stop on the railroad between Denver and Greeley, complete with a holding pen for cattle as well as a pool hall and a post office, which both served to disseminate local news.

Only two great moments stand out in Eastlake's easygoing history: when two bank robbers came through in 1925 and when Thornton annexed the town in 1982. The bank robbers were quickly apprehended in a barley field not half a mile from the bank; Thornton offered municipal sewage and water services in exchange for land.

"And now we have a wildlife area," Margo says. "I think it's stupid. A waste of our tax dollars. I'm no damn tree-hugger."

Periodically, activists have protested the poisoning of prairie dogs at nearby developments, and this gives Margo conniptions. "In the morning, we saw crosses in every one of the prairie-dog holes," she says. "Meanwhile, where do all the prairie dogs go? To our place."

Other than horse pastures liberally sprinkled with the homes of prairie vermin, though, Margo's life is good -- and she knows it. Smokin' Corona has been making up for two bad years at the track; her grandkids live nearby; she has a fruitful antiquing hobby; and her husband is the kind of guy who's generally in happy hysterics over one thing or another. "I can just hear her say that," Clete laughs while discussing a close and troublesome acquaintance. "She is one terrible bitch!"

The Schareses know everyone in town -- and like most of them. Ray Roskopf, for instance.

"I called your wife and asked to borrow you," Clete says to Ray as the latter walks into the Schareses' backyard office.

"My wife's in Texas!" Ray says. "You couldn't have seen her."

"But I did, Ray. I did."

"Ray enters," Margo says dryly. "Unsure as to marital status."

Ray was only five when his family moved out of Eastlake, but he returned every summer to work on his uncle's farm and ruin his uncle's farm machinery. Later, after he became a concrete-block salesman, he fell in with Clete and Margo, and now he continues to hang out in the town of his birth. Ray doesn't remember much about the early days, but his sister Mary does.

Now 74, Mary has an almost photographic memory of everything that happened before she turned eleven and her parents decided to move to Globeville. "Which I hated," she remembers. "I wish you could have seen Eastlake back then. It was such a pretty town."

Mary attended the three-room school, walking younger children the half-mile from home to school and back. Afternoons, the kids played in the town's back yards and used their imagination.

"Oh, did we play," she recalls. "A lot of games. There were not a lot of bicycles in town -- although the Lobben boys each had one, of course."

Ray and Mary's father, who spent the week living and working in Globeville -- a distance of about 65 blocks, by today's reckoning -- came home for the weekends. On Sundays, their mother ran across the alley to the Catholic church, where she stoked the furnace in time for the visits of a circuit-riding priest and two nuns.

"I was so disappointed when we left," Mary repeats. "But even the bank had closed. I guess you know we had that Depression. So what else was left to do?"

In the late '30s, card games, billiards and alcohol moved into the building the bank had vacated. Now known as the Lake Avenue Inn, the tavern is renowned for its 4-6 p.m. happy hour, which attracts a crowd of construction- and ag-based regulars from the surrounding region. Over the past fifteen years, though, it's become harder and harder to penetrate the thick layer of new, suburban buildings to reach Eastlake.

"Well, let's go on down there anyway," Clete says, "before it gets too full."

Although the streets of Eastlake are nearly empty -- the barbershop, lumberyard, auto body shop and We're Hair for You salon are in their last hour of business -- the dirt lot across from the bar is filling up. Inside, Lloyd Swaithes is already holding court.

"I'm actually best at drinking," Lloyd admits, "but I work at Karl's Dairy. I moved here when I was ten. We'd been in Brush, and I remember no chores all day, no nuthin.' All we did was play ball. Then we moved here, and I had to take care of animals and work my butt off. That was 1953, and the road was paved, but just barely. We had to go to 48th and Pecos to get our groceries."

Somewhere along the way, Lloyd got so accustomed to animals that they became his main topic of conversation. Lately, for instance, he's been disgusted by the lack of work available for a team of mules. He once made a nice second income off of hayrides, but he had to quit those last year because he couldn't find help. "Find me someone who can hook up a team!" he says. "You can't. People don't know anything."

But that doesn't stop this crowd from discussing almost everything, from mules, ailing mules and white mules to the sewage challenges right here at the Lake Avenue Inn.

"I don't even want to talk about it," Lloyd says, "but it happened in that bathroom right there."

"I remember that," Margo says. "I swore I'd never come back."

"I don't know how many times I've said that," Lloyd admits.

"You bastard," says Eduardo Palormini, pronouncing the word "baxterd," to everyone's delight.

"Baxterd!" announces Wally Lyday. "That's an original Eastlake word. I'm a bricklayer," he adds. "I'm also the mayor. I'm the reverend. I'm the treasurer. I spent all the town money -- all thirteen cents."

"Hey, Wally," someone says. "How come I didn't know there was a party this weekend?"

"You don't always come to the meetings," Wally responds. "If you want the current information, you have to come to the meetings! You know we meet here every day at four!"

"It's true," Clete laughs. "It's very true."

And he buys a round.

In the coming months, Robin Chotzinoff will commemorate Westword's 25th anniversary with 25 profiles of Denver today. Click here to read these stories.

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Robin Chotzinoff
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