Memories of Early Southern Gables

Memories of Early Southern Gables
Southern Gables Neighborhood Association

A few years ago we hosted a celebration of the 50-year anniversary of the Southern Gables neighborhood, honoring the “first owners” and long-time residents. This story was among the memories shared on that occasion. 

By Harry Puncec

Time capsule: writing in May 2017…  Look across South Wadsworth Boulevard at the new housing going in over there. You’ll get a sense of what it was like in Southern Gables during the summer of 1967 when our brand new ranch-style Vicksburg model house was being built on South Yarrow. A complete neighborhood is being created over there at the old Green Gables County Club grounds in one fell swoop, not unlike what happened here long, long ago.

1967. Married less than a year, we had signed a contract with Wood Brothers earlier in the year and had put a deposit on our lot. Our choices of models had been limited as WB had determined which model would go on which lot as they resisted putting the same style house next to each other, and we wanted an eastern exposure midblock.

“Woody” showing off the Vicksburg model in the Wood Brothers brochure

The decisions we had to make were daunting for a newly married couple. First of all there was the cost. They wanted $18,400 for a plain Jane, stripped down model. (I know, outrageous!!!) If we wanted brick all around rather than just across the front it was another $400. fortunately grandma came through with the money and we built our home with brick rather than straw or sticks.

Then there were the decisions about the house on, well, everything. What kind of counter top, gas or electrical stove, color choices for the walls and carpet, and so on. We were even permitted to authorize change orders to modify the house itself; for instance you could order the dishwasher relocated, a wall moved, or even the porch enlarged. Of course today’s newly built homes save you the trouble – or the choices – of deciding much.

Once the house was ours – ours and the mortgage company – windows had to get coverings, furniture had to be found from family and friends, and when that wasn’t enough, Sears. We spent like sailors on shore leave, and entered a long period of great debt.

Wood Brothers built the homes a block at a time with crews moving from model to model. One week you’d see basements being dug and poured, a couple weeks later model after model would be framed giving you your first preview of your neighbor’s homes, and eventually the finishing touches inside and out added. Then at last you’d have the final walk-through inspection of your very own home and, if all went well, you’d be presented with the keys.

It was impossible to keep your stunningly expensive, new home clean! Dirt filled the air and construction noise rang constant. There was not a single tree worthy of the name, grass only slowly arrived, and the winds blew incessantly; you had the makings of housekeeping madness. And it only got worse when the rains came.

On the upside in Southern Gables friendships that have lasted decades were formed. Kids grew up together, went to school together, played sports together, until they moved on in their own lives as adults with a core value system built by our neighborhood. Some have moved back with their kids so they too can capture the magic we experienced.

Southern Gables grabs you like that.


The Padre

The PadreSouthern Gables Neighborhood Association

This is one in an occasional series about local history and old-time characters by our neighbor Ken Fischer. To see more of his stories, click on his name at the end of the article.

He was a small man in stature, but pretty large in all else.

He wore a tam and, but for the Roman collar, one would have made him for a leprechaun for he had a wry smile and lively eyes. The wry smile was not unfamiliar. I had seen such when I would identify a new device, scheme or process that seemed too good to be true (and usually was). My beat partner, Jim Miller, would say nothing but issue that smile with the implicit assumption that this was another shell game. Some days later he would wryly ask “how’s that working out for you?” It wasn’t.

The Padre looked a lot like the actor John Fiedler.

He was a Theatine Priest. An Italian order dedicated to education of less privileged youth and characterized by gentleness, patience and humility. Boy did St. Cajetan, the founder, have his man here in James Prohens.

I met him through a great (not just good) friend, Vince Coyle. Vince was a man for all seasons who lived his faith daily, not just on Sundays. He was such a commendable character that he was the victim of multiple practical jokes throughout our lives. Vince and JoAnn had been married by the good Fr. Prohens in Colorado Springs in the fifties.

During a visit in Denver, Vince took me along to meet this diminutive pillar of the faith for lunch. I was impressed. He spoke sparingly but said a lot. He was funny and also enjoyed ribbing Vince.

At one such later lunch, I asked Father his take on the community angst fostered by a younger firebrand priest and the La Raza movement, known to the police for bombings in Denver. Without hesitation, Father quietly retorted: they have spirit and dedication but they have never heard the bullets pass overhead.

I did not immediately digest or understand his meaning. Vince clarified. James Prohens was a seminary student in Spain during the bloody Spanish Civil War and had often faced life and death encounters. He knew the territory and walked the walk. He was beloved among his parishioners at St. Cajetan Church, the first Hispanic parish in Denver. I asked him how many parishioners there were. He asked back, “Officially or unofficially?” Enough said.

My wife and I had taken our Pre-Cana (marriage preparation) instruction through him at the parish and were honored to have him at our home for the baptism of our son several years later. He was smooth and easy to talk to. Vince related that he also had skill in negotiation as well as legal issues. This became important when his traditional parish site in Auraria was to be reconstituted into Metro State University property. A new venue for St. Cajetan’s had to be found. An appropriate property was located and plans initiated until the City of Denver found multiple problems and denied the request.

St. Cajetan Church. Photo: Colorado Historical Society.

Fr. Prohens politely researched, developed and presented a better plan with all the bases covered. He recruited a phalanx of high rollers on his team to run interference for him if necessary. It was not needed, and on the strength of his plan the parish was built on west Alameda to serve a thriving population of mostly Hispanic working-class faithful. Part of the deal was to have the old church building stay and become a multi-purpose building, hosting lectures, concerts, recitals, and other community events as part of the Auraria campus.

Fr. Prohens however was an addict…. His addiction was well known and actually supported by his friends and parishioners. He loved Village Inn pie. After executive sessions with church leaders, it was off to Lakewood and Village Inn.

We had become pretty good friends, fighting the battle to make life better for people, but from different directions. We would often see father and his flock at the VI at ten o’clock or after when we would get our last coffee before ending our shift at 0100. One night the spirit of mischief overtook me and in a page out of the Vince Coyle practical joke manual, I approached father’s table and sternly advised him that this time he would have to pay his bill or receive no future service. The management was willing to overlook this once in a while but…. Fr. Prohens took up the drama and promised to do better in future.

This performance being witnessed by ten or so of his parishioners was surprising with most of them instantly stepping up to cover what appeared to be bad judgement by a PRIEST! We cut it short, laughed and embraced and the heart rates of those present went back into acceptable range.

I am not religious but do believe in God. The big guy in the sky had a skilled soldier in James Prohens. He would sometimes ask for my help which I would gladly give. Mostly it was information regarding a bad domestic situation, family members making bad choices based on bad information or a kid in trouble. He had an abiding principle that there were no ”bad” people, just poor judgement based on anger, greed, substance abuse or depression. I was advised that he could usually calm most storms and it put me to mind of a verse from a Kingston trio song: the reverend Mr. Black. “He stood like a rock, a man among men and he let that lumberjack hit him again, and then with a voice as quiet as could be, he cut him down like a big oak tree…”

The years passed. Life was busy and packed with experience and commitment. I got a call from Vince advising that father had been diagnosed with inoperable abdominal cancer. He was in no pain and at the parish, but unable to work in his life passion as extensively as before. One afternoon I called him and later met with him at the rectory. We shared some great Village Inn pie.

I had seen a lot of death and encountered people on the verge. I had never seen a man facing death with such grace and comfort.

He was going home. His race was run and he had finished well.

We shared a sentiment common to our roles in life: A man only gets so many days in his chosen vocation; make the most of them. Try to give back more than you take from life. He had.

His funeral was immense. People were standing for blocks around.

This quiet, humble man would have been pleased.

Ken Fischer holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Iowa and was involved in organizing Iowa’s first Law Enforcement Training Academy. He was on the SWAT Team in the Lakewood Police Department, and retired as a Senior Sergeant. A longtime resident of Southern Gables, he is an experienced woodsman and now runs a firewood business. 

Helping the Community

Helping the CommunitySouthern Gables Neighborhood Association

First, a refresher, from the bylaws of the Southern Gables Neighborhood Association: The Association has in its charter an objective of encouraging a cohesive community by providing opportunities for social activities and supporting worthy local civic organizations. 

The Association Board held its quarterly meeting last week (by Zoom, of course), and the big thing on everyone’s mind was the same as what’s been on everyone else’s mind these last few months. That thing about a virus; you’ve probably heard about it. What can we do to “serve the residents” in these difficult times? After all, our main event is our community-wide “Neighborhood Night Out” that brings neighbors together in a festival/picnic/party with a DJ and hotdogs and no social distancing. Can’t do that now. And the businesses that participated in the Neighborhood Night Out, the ones that largely paid for sponsorships to fund the hotdogs and the DJ and the big generous raffle prizes — some of them are out of business, or throttled down and holding at a bare level with grit and determination — we didn’t even ask for sponsorship money this year; how could we?  And the monthly neighborhood luncheons. Can’t do those now. And then there were the monthly evening get-togethers in driveways and front yards. Just didn’t seem right to try even those. Maybe in the spring…

Southern Gables CommunitySo what can we do? Well, part of our charter is to support “worthy local civic organizations” that benefit our neighborhood. We have a long history of doing that. (Here’s a recent recap, from last year: What Do the Dues Do?) Many of our members have paid their association dues through these hard times, and so we made some decisions in our recent Board meeting to do the best we can in supporting organizations that do the most good for our little part of Lakewood. Here’s what we decided:

    • Green Gables Elementary School. The Giving Tree program, to which we have donated in the past, is funded for this year because of, among other sources, the very successful 12/2/20 Chipotle fundraiser and donations that neighbors made on our annual Leaf Collection day. The next priority for using the funds is expected to be the installation of some tables outdoors to facilitate outdoor learning and to increase the use of the school grounds as a park by the community. 
    • Westwoods Community Church for community programs. The church on the corner of Wadsworth & Woodard has consistently (“Fifth  Sunday”) dispatched volunteer workers to assist seniors in need of cleanup, painting, or yardwork; sent a crew to refurbish the basketball courts at the school; and provides a safe meeting space to civic organizations such as the South Lakewood Business Association. 
    • Lakewood Police Toy Fund. This is a perennial favorite of ours, and the need this year is even greater with so many families in economic distress, including here in Southern Gables. 
    • Joy’s Kitchen, in recognition of increased demands on the food pantry because of you-know-what. They are located right here in Southern Gables. The mission of this organization is to “rescue” food that would otherwise go to waste and give it to anyone who wants it. 
    • We also previously gave a package of Magill’s Ice Cream gift certificate to Carmody Middle School for a planned silent auction fundraiser. 

You can read the full record of the Association Board meeting here. The Board, of course, is a volunteer activity. Speaking of volunteering, the need goes on even in these unusual times.

    • If you are inclined to look for the rewards of doing some volunteer work, to help make the neighborhood a better place, we can hook you up: start by looking here.
    • If you are involved in or can suggest other volunteer activities, let us know, and we will add these to the website.
    • If you want to participate as a member of the Association Board, let us know.

On behalf of the Southern Gables Neighborhood Association Board, let me say that last part again: If you want to participate as a member of the Association Board, let us know.