They wanted to do something special. They’d been talking about it on and off for about 10 years, knowing it was on the horizon. Hundred year anniversaries don’t come around often, after all. But what could the AdAmAn Club do to commemorate the special milestone?
The club would release a commemorate book. A documentary film was begun. But it was three years ago during the group’s annual ascent when another idea sparked. There should be something downtown about the AdAmAn Club to tie the heart of the city to its iconic peak. But what?
“Some groups have statues around town, so we thought maybe we could do a statue,” says Don Sanborn, former president of the AdAmAn Club. “Somebody checked into it and said, ‘Well, it looks like if we do a statue, it’d be about $50,000.’ And we’re thinking, Do we really think we could raise $50,000?”
Turns out, that wouldn’t be a problem at all.
The club reached out to the Downtown Partnership and began brainstorming. Claire Swinford, then executive director of Downtown Ventures, the nonprofit arm of Downtown Partnership, enlisted local arts business leaders. On an exploratory walk, she pointed out the alley between the historic Hibbard and Carlton buildings and mentioned their owners had an interest in using the space for some sort of public art.
“All of a sudden, it was like, That could be AdAmAn Alley,” says Jack Donley, member of the AdAmAn Club.
As the team continued to brainstorm possibilities, community partners began to step up and offer support. Some, like the team at RTA Architects, provided design services free of charge. The City of Colorado Springs moved up its timeline to repair and replace the aging infrastructure beneath the alley network. Nearby businesses coalesced around plans to consolidate their waste removal from the previous 24 dumpsters to two shared compactors. World-class artists answered the call for creative proposals. And local donors gave money. Lots of money. Approximately $680,000 in private funding was donated for the project’s aesthetic elements.
“Our goal was to bring a little bit of Pikes Peak and the adventuresome spirit of the AdAmAn Club to downtown Colorado Springs,” Donley says. “The results are beyond our wildest imagination.”
The transformed network of alleys is now a pedestrian-friendly artistic corridor that brings to life the spirit of Pikes Peak and the AdAmAn Club. Murals line the walls. An LED display creates a nightly scene of fireworks above a bronze archway that reads AdAmAn Alley. When viewed looking west, it appears that the statuesque climbers are making their way across Pikes Peak, visible on the horizon behind them. The pavement underfoot is tinted to look like Pikes Peak granite. A painted pathway through the western alley creates a map of Barr Trail, with landmarks that have become part of the club’s annual ascent. At night, projection lighting brings to life a mural by internationally famed mural artist El Mac. There are historic photographs and QR codes that launch more information, photos or videos related to AdAmAn Club history and its annual trek.
“The alley is a great new public space where people will be entertained and inspired by the rich, local history of the AdAmAn Club from literally the ground up,” says Chelsea Gondeck, director of planning and mobility for the Downtown Partnership.
100 Years of AdAmAn
For the uninitiated, the AdAmAn Club was founded in 1922 when Fred and Ed Morath, Fred Barr, Harry Standley and Willis McGee climbed Pikes Peak and launched fireworks for the city below. Each year since, the group adds one new member to ascend the Peak and launch the New Year’s fireworks. Guests are allowed to join the hike by application. The group ascent takes place over two days with a night spent at Barr Camp in between. At 11 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, the group flashes signal mirrors to the city below, and hundreds if not thousands of people below signal back. At 9:00 p.m. the club shoots off five fireworks in honor of the original Frozen Five. The grand finale, of course, is the midnight firework show, visible from all over the city.
So what would the club’s founders, the original Frozen Five, think of AdAmAn Alley?
“Those guys were marketers; they were adventurers,” Donley says. “And the fact that there is now a permanent place called AdAmAn Alley in downtown Colorado Springs would be exactly what they had in mind.”
“I think they would love it,” Sanborn says. “For sure Fred and Ed Morath would love it. I think the others would as well, but the Morath brothers both ended up being real estate agents. They were sales guys, so it was kind of up their alley to bring attention to the club they started.”
It’s also fitting that the AdAmAn Alley is downtown. The club’s inaugural climb in 1922 was sponsored by the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph. It was called the Gazette-Telegraph New Year’s Eve Watch Party, with signal fireworks shot from the roof of the newspaper’s downtown building.
Through the years, Pikes Peak and the AdAmAn Club kept Colorado Springs at the forefront of the nation’s attention. According to Sanborn, during the pre-television era of the 1930s and ’40s, the club’s procession up the mountain included Fort Carson soldiers carrying radios. Air Force planes would fly overhead every hour to receive transmissions from the low-powered radios. “They could do a broadcast up through the plane, then back down to the ground, and they would send their radio broadcast out to about a hundred stations across the country.,” Sanborn says. “So it was a huge deal. They were kind of pushing communication technology to a degree.”
Similar to today’s TV broadcasts, American radio would track the arrival of the new year across time zones. Pikes Peak and the AdAmAn Club were a featured broadcast highlight as new year’s reports were given from destinations east to west. “I have a recording of them doing a broadcast in 1940, and at the end they said, ‘And now we pass it on to Pasadena,’” Sanborn says.
To mark its 100th anniversary, the AdAmAn Club is releasing a book titled AdAmAn One Hundred Years of Ice, Wind, and Fire, which is available in local bookstores. A documentary film about the club has been in production for several years. The plan is to capture the 100th anniversary climb and release the film next year.
Up on the mountain this New Year’s Eve, spouses will ride the cog railway up to join the midnight celebration, something that has only been done once before to usher in the new millennium of 2000.
Those below in Colorado Springs will get an even grander fireworks display than usual. “We’ve got a big show planned up on top,” Donley says.
He and several others will be going up early to set up.
“I’ve got to tell you, when you’re at 14,000 feet at midnight, and the wind is blowing at 40 mph with the temperature about 30- or 40-below zero with wind chill, and those huge 6-inch bombs are going off, and the flares are lighting up the face of Pikes Peak, and all of Colorado Springs and Pueblo and Denver and Castle Rock are shimmering below — it is like no place else in the world. It is a place to behold.”
While AdAmAn Alley won’t recreate that unique experience — most will be glad to not endure -40 degree wind chills — the project will provide a tangible anchor downtown to commemorate and advance a unique part of Colorado Springs’ heritage. The alley’s grand opening will be Dec. 28, just before the club’s 100th anniversary ascent.
“The AdAmAn Club exemplifies this region’s spirit of adventure and its perseverance in overcoming adversity, carrying forward tradition while making the club’s mission ever more inclusive.,” says Michelle Winchell, executive director of Downtown Ventures, the nonprofit arm of the Downtown Partnership. “Especially as so many Colorado Springs residents and visitors are drawn by our outdoor culture, the murals and adventure of AdAmAn Alley will serve as an evocative depiction of our community’s best attributes through the lens of America’s Mountain.”
“It’s cool to be part of something that has gone on for a hundred years,” Donley says. “Being part of all that tradition and knowing what that means to Colorado Springs, especially as it’s been reinforced by the support we’ve gotten for this alley — it is just a wonderful place to be.”
The Artistic Elements of AdAmAn Alley
According to Chelsea Gondeck and the Downtown Partnership, the creative placemaking elements throughout the alley pay tribute to both the club‘s history and our community‘s relationship with mountaineering and the natural world. Many of the elements use a visual language that will be familiar to outdoor enthusiasts: lettering and sign colors that evoke National Park Service trail signs, and blue trail blazes (with QR codes that lead to the Pioneers Museum website where historical information can be found).
The Arch and Fireworks
A beautiful custom arch designed by Greg Johnson of RTA Architects spans the western entrance between the historic Carlton and Hibbard buildings. Above this arch is a two-sided LED fireworks display that evokes the annual show from the summit of Pikes Peak at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The fireworks animation was created by George Berlin.
The pavement is brand new, textured and colored to match the granite of the Pikes Peak region, with foliage imprints from native tree species. There’s a painted representation of Barr Trail that spans the alley from a trailhead on the east side (Nevada Avenue) to the summit on the west (Tejon Street). Bronze benchmarks are embedded in the pavement along the trail, marking significant locations on the club’s annual hike. Some are official map designation. Others, such as AdAmAn Lunch Tree, are specific to the club.
“Each of those brings to mind what happens during the climb each year when we stop at each of those spots,” Sanborn says. “Now some folks go out to AdAmAn Point to look down on Colorado Springs while we’re waiting in the afternoon at Barr Camp. It used to be that the club did a big bonfire out there. That was fun for the club, but we stopped doing bonfires when things started getting dry.”
Artist Kim Carlino created vibrant, colorful representations of rock cairns that mark the Barr Trail ascent to Pikes Peak, which are installed on the west leg of the alley.
Mural by Zane Prater
The mural on the alley’s north side is visible from Pikes Peak Avenue. Zane Prater used a narrative approach with subtle design elements that enliven the piece. The rope connecting the climbers is a nod to the value of community, togetherness and lineage which binds us all to people and place. The burst of light over the peak most obviously references the club’s firework display but is also a reference to the original Ute name for the mountain, Tava Kahv or Sun Mountain.
Frozen Five of Yore by FIXER | Brand Design Studio
The Frozen Five of Yore vinyl mural was inspired by photos from the first decade of the club’s history, illustrated in the style of WPA posters of the 1930s. Lyrics from the AdAmAn Club song also are incorporated in a style reminiscent of the period.
Mural by El Mac / Projection by George Berlin
Los Angeles-based El Mac has worked in Colorado Springs, Denver and the Front Range before. His portrait of notable local artist Floyd Tunson adorns the exterior wall of the Manitou Art Center. For the AdAmAn Alley, El Mac painted a portrait of his young son to suggest the sense of wonder and excitement that people young and old feel about New Year’s fireworks, as well as enchantment with our regional landscape. A light show by George Berlin is projected over El Mac’s mural, bringing an extra sense of magic and awe to the heart of the alley. Berlin’s projection design incorporates a variety of regional plant and animal life to create a vibrant depiction of the experience of hiking Pikes Peak through various seasons.
In the southern leg of the alley off of Colorado Avenue, visitors are greeted by imagery from the Club’s archive. A historic image taken by Harry Standley (renowned photographer and one of the original Frozen Five) captures firemasters John Garrett and Rev. George McDonald proudly holding fireworks. A more recent composite photo of fireworks on the peak was taken by local photographer Daniel Forster. Both can be enjoyed by taking a brief respite in the new parklet adjacent to the city’s administration building. Its planters are filled with a series of sculptures of native plants by Yul Jorgensen.
The breezeway north of the alley is wrapped from floor to ceiling in a compilation of photos taken on Pikes Peak by local photographer Britt Jones. The images have been stitched together to make the jaunt from the alley out to Pikes Peak Avenue feel like a walk in the woods in the middle of downtown.
Celebrate the Grand Opening
Join the celebration of the grand opening of AdAmAn Alley downtown on Dec. 28. The widespread collaboration, finished artwork and alley enhancements are impressive, and the official ribbon cutting will come just in time to launch the club’s annual ascent.
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