Original Safeway building on Lincoln Avenue gains historic status
January 13, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The Safeway grocery has been a fixture in Steamboat Springs for longer than many people might guess.
The Historic Preservation Commission voted Thursday to add the original Safeway building, now the Nelson Building, 744 Lincoln Ave., to the Steamboat Springs Register of Historic Places.
The red brick building, which houses Straightline Sports, was built by the Ballard family in 1939. It was built specifically to house the Safeway, according to research conducted by city Historic Preservation Coordinator Laureen Schaffer.
"Safeway Inc. began as an independent grocery store in California and through expansion and a series of mergers, was the largest chain of grocery stores west of the Mississippi River by the late 1920s," Schaffer wrote in a formal application for historic designation.
The business moved into its new digs from just up Lincoln Avenue where Allen's Clothing is located today. Steven and John Nelson own the building at 744 Lincoln, which has been in their family since 1950.
Schaffer said the Safeway building replaced a 1911-era drug store housed in a one-story wood frame building with a false front. It already was gone when construction on the Safeway started, she added.
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Construction activity in Steamboat Springs in 1939 marked an exit from the years of the Great Depression, Schaffer said.
"Steamboat Springs experienced a local building boom, and what had previously been considered tough times had transformed, and the healthy community could support an expanding service business that catered to the needs of the local population."
Also in 1939, several modern homes were built, construction began on the Harbor Hotel, a service station was built at 10th Street and Lincoln Avenue and the school gymnasium was completed, according to reports Schaffer found in the Steamboat Pilot.
Safeway eventually moved west to the 1100 block of Lincoln Avenue, into the west side of what now is known as The Old West Building. Steamboat Motors occupied the eastern half of the building.
Bill Fetcher recalls the grocery being in the new building when his family moved to a ranch near Clark in 1939. He said his most vivid memory was walking up a ramp into the store and seeing large, black cash registers that were noisy.
Elk River Road was unpaved in those days, and the family came to town once a week, adding errands to grocery shopping.
"It was a gravel road and rough. We avoided it," Fetcher said. "My cousin Harriet lived on the ranch for a couple of years, and she liked to drive to town to go swimming. Whenever anyone heard she was going, they loaded her down with a list of groceries and tractor parts. Sometimes she left her bathing suit on the rear deck (of the car) and never got a swim in."
Historic consultant Carl McWilliams wrote in 2007 that despite some exterior modifications, including windows on its Eighth Street exposure that are not consistent with the original architecture, it has maintained its integrity sufficiently to tell the story of the commercial development of Steamboat Springs.
"The Safeway building has been maintained and owned by two families in its 70-year history and has consistently been an important piece of the evolution of Steamboat Springs as a Northwest Colorado town," he concluded.
When it outgrew its location on the west end of town, Safeway moved into a modern supermarket where the post office stands today at the corner of Third Street and Lincoln Avenue. The new grocery replaced the old Spring Creek Motel, Fetcher said. Subsequently, it moved to it current location adjacent to Fish Creek.
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