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Downtown Durango: Self-Guided Historic Walking Tour

Discover The Iconic Sites In Main Avenue's Historic District

Whether you're exploring Downtown Durango in search of restaurants, shops or maybe just a nice walk, history is everywhere you look. By following along with this self-guided tour, you'll discover some iconic sites in Durango and their evolution over the past 100+ years.

Main Avenue: 479-500 Block

Durango Train Depot

Because the town was founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Company in 1879, it's only fitting to begin your tour at the Durango Train Depot located at 479 Main Avenue. From there, you can walk up one side of the street and come back on the other. Take as much time as you need to soak in Downtown Durango's rich history and culture.

Durango Railroad

500 Block

In the early 1900s, this block was a focal point for the Italian-American community in Durango. DiUbaldo Grocery was located at 528, and the Fiorini Residence at 546. Located between the railroad and river was the Poverty Flat, which was generally considered a slum. This block contained saloons, gambling, dance halls and squatters, and was known as the city's red-light district.

  • 552: The Belleview Saloon and Rooming House was built in 1906. The saloon was owned by John and Anton Baudino; the building was owned by the Baudino family for 50 years.
  • 532: Saloon that briefly served soda fountain soft drinks during Prohibition.
  • 546: Original location of the Fiorini Home, a clapboard frame house build in 1883. In the late 20th century it was destroyed and replaced with a new brick retail building. There is a monument shop that still operates behind the store.

567: General Palmer

Built in 1898 by Civil War General William Jackson Palmer, The General Palmer originally opened as a hotel and has always remained one. It has also never been closed down. In addition to the original main hotel at the General Palmer, you can stay in the Palace Wing in the annex building adjacent to the main hotel. Each room in the General Palmer is decorated in the authentic, Victorian style with unique replicas and antiques.

The General Palmer Hotel

Main Avenue: 600 Block

605-645 Main Ave.

The Wetter Building (605) was built as a boarding house in 1883 and is the oldest building on the block. Later businesses included the Durango Herald printing shop, a tin shop, grocery store and soda water factory. La Plata Bottling Works and Saloon had its brewery and bottling works located at 643 and its saloon at 645. It was owned by Adolph Coors until 1915 and purchased by Durango's first Coca-Cola franchisee John Kellenberger during Prohibition.

699: The Strater Hotel

The Strater Hotel opened in 1888 and embodied a period of wealth from the mines, railroad and recently opened smelter. Italianate, Romanesque and Renaissance architectural styles are represented throughout the building. Four years after initially leasing to R.L. Rice, Henry Strater built the Columbian Hotel next door on the former site of a county courthouse.

The Strater Hotel

Now, the two hotels are one establishment. A bullet hole from a gun fight remains in the bar of Diamond Belle Saloon. Rumors say there are tunnels running from the Strater Hotel and 3rd Avenue to the red-light district.

Main Avenue: 700 Block

700 Block

Members of the Ute Tribe camped at the corner of 7th and Main in teepees and with their ponies. Those staying at the Strater Hotel valued this as a tourist attraction. Before Europeans settled into the area, Southern Utes and other Native American tribes were here. Ignacio became the Utes' tribal headquarters following the Brunot Agreement of 1873.

  • 713: Smooth, simple glazed tile storefronts and large glass panel windows reflect Durango's modern downtown during the 1930s-1940s. The building was remodeled from its red brick storefront in the Victorian era to better suit the progressive men's clothing store located inside at the time.
  • 758-764: These stores feature typical architectural elements of a turn-of-the-century storefront. Large windows allowed maximum light to enter the store and provided a display area. The clerestory above the awnings offered additional light. The central recessed entryway protected the doorway. Mass-produced pressed metal cornice work was used on commercial storefronts across the country.
  • 781: Established in 1881, the Graden Mercantile Company was the largest department store in Durango. It was rebuilt after burning in 1948.

Main Avenue: 800 Block

801: The Newman Building

The Romanesque sandstone building at 801 Main Ave. was built in 1892 by Charles Newman, who owned a chain of drugstores in Silverton, Alamosa, Animas City and Chama. From 1892 to 1897, it housed the Smelter National Bank. Its sign is still visible on the back of the building. Durango Novelty Works was a low building attached to the back of the Newman Building and served as a garage for some of the first cars in the area.

What building had the only elevator between Denver and Phoenix when it opened, saw banks thrive and crash, was home to Durango's only indoor movie theater for decades and was our first building listed on the National Historic Register? The Newman Block, of course.The Durango Herald, 2014
  • 835: Much of the west side of the 800 block was destroyed by a fire in 1974, and two lives were lost. The buildings were reconstructed into the Main Mall.
  • 846: This brick storefront was modernized with a veneer of Carrera Glass — a popular structural glass during the slick, streamlined architectural surface style of the 1930s-1940s that is no longer made. When broken tiles on the storefront were replaced, a stash of Carrera Glass brought from Europe by a World War II veteran was discovered to be hidden in his backyard for nearly 50 years. Much of these pieces have replaced cracked original pieces.
  • 858: Built for an attorney's office and a painting/hardware store on street level.
  • 863-871: This showpiece of the Durango & Rio Grande's land development company was intended to be a model for future buildings in the community. The D&RG tried to require property owners to build in brick and stone as well, but their attempts were unsuccessful. A fire in 1889 burned seven blocks and spread to the residential neighborhood of East 3rd Avenue. The wooden structures of the buildings were replaced with brick and stone, and those same buildings remain today.

Main Avenue: 900 Block

900 Block

9th and Main Avenue is the site of the first survey stake for Durango. This block's west side was the notorious "saloon district" filled with flourishing gambling halls and saloons between 1890 and Prohibition. In 1893, 10 saloons were located in the district. Before retiring to Animas City, prosperous local Madame Bessie Rivers held court in this block. Because the city needed money, instead of shutting down her business, leaders fined the business and let it carry on, as they did with others to make profit.

  • 900: This Richardson/Romanesque building housed the Colorado State Bank from 1892 until the silver crash of 1907, which resulted in the bank's failure. Burns National Bank — now merged with the Bank of Colorado — has occupied the building since 1910.
  • 901: The First National Bank of Colorado, the oldest bank in southwest Colorado, moved from Animas City and occupied this building until 1980. Built for $18,219, it showcased elaborate Queen Anne brickwork with Romanesque sandstone arched windows that replaced an earlier frame building that burned in the 1892 fire.
  • 920: A.C. Richey and Brother operated a bookstore that was later replaced by the Richey Confectionary and Stationary Store, a well-known local soda fountain for many years. The last remnants of the candy-making business remain on the front of the store. Marble tiles were added around 1945. The marble candy making block is located in the back of the building, as it was too heavy to be moved out.
  • 945: This building was a saloon for a period of time and still has its original ceiling and floor. It claims to be the site of "Durango's Strangest Shootout," which occurred in 1906. The sheriff raided the saloon during a poker game and confiscated a roulette wheel. The sheriff confronted the city marshal for this lack of enforcement, which led to a shootout leaving the sheriff dead and marshall injured.
  • 965 & 969: Two saloons operated here, with Bessie Rivers running The Horseshoe Club at 969. When the saloons closed, two different families by the name of Wong operated cafes through the 1950s.
  • 975: Built in 1892, this four-story French Second Empire Structure is characterized by its mansard roof and has a varied history as a saloon, post office, bank and hotel. References to French culture were often included in the Victorian commercial architecture as an allusion to the continental sophistication associated with the French.
  • 990: The Schneider Block was built in 1889 and housed the Keeley Institute, a reform group devoted to the cure of liquor, opium and tobacco habits. The Institute was one of four Colorado branches and operated between 1892 and the turn of the century. Part of the building was transformed into a dance hall by 1900, which stayed in the building until the 1920s. The Palace Grocery and Meat Market was the corner storefront from 1900 to the 1920s and continued as a grocery until the late 1940s.

Main Avenue: 1000 Block

1000: S.G. Wall Drug Store

From 1981 until August 2023, this iconic building served Downtown Durango as the Old Tymer's Cafe. It was originally a drug store operated by Samuel G. Wall (1881-1931), whose initials can be seen on the faded advertisement on the brick exterior. Wall was employed by Charles H. Newman, who owned pharmacies across the southwestern Colorado region. When he first came to Durango he was employed at Newman's downtown drug store. Eventually he acquired interest in the business and bought Newman out.

  • 1001: The Gem Theatre, an early Durango movie house, was located here in 1915. The building's original 1890s storefront is gone, but the wall's brick designs on the wall facing Main Avenue bring a unique element to Downtown. This building is now known as The Jarvis Building.
  • 1015: The cast iron and pressed metal front was made by the Mesker Brothers of St. Louis and likely brought to Durango by train. These early pre-fab products were popular because they were durable, fire resistant and less expensive than their custom-made options.
  • 1060: Old Post Office built in 1929 and restored in 1985.

Main Avenue: 1100 Block

1101: 11th Street Station

First opened as the Spanish Trail Filling Station in the early 1920s and later consolidated with the Foley Tire Shop. The building was demolished in 1953 to construct Ernie's Conoco Triangle gas station. It operated for 48 years until 1970. From then until 1988, the property changed hands and was used by a church, bank and window shop. Today we know this location as 11th Street Station.

11th Street Station
  • 1129: Built in 1890, this was the Chapman Hardware Store until the 1920s. Its original wood frame building burned in the 1889 fire. The first floor's glazed brick remodel was another modernization project.
  • 1138: The Windsor Hotel was the first occupant of this building. In the 1910s, the Durango Democrat — later renamed the Durango Herald — moved into the first floor and remained there until the mid 1950s. Look for the old ghost sign for the Herald on the south side of the building.

1200 Block and North

This is the farthest north extent of the Main Avenue Historic District, although historic buildings dot Main Avenue as you continue north. Livery buildings, bottling works and breweries were in the immediate area. Farther north, the Sisters of Mercy started the St. Columba Catholic Church, school and Mercy Hospital in 1892. The church and school remain at their original site, while Mercy Regional Hospital moved to the Grand View area of La Plata County.

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