by Nancy Christofferson
CUCHARA- Many references to the old dance pavilion have been made in this series of articles on Cuchara Camps history, and it was indeed the center of “teenage culture” before the word teenage became a standard American word.
The founder of the Camps, George Alfred Mayes, built the first dance hall just west of his hotel and commissary in the early days. He fashioned the building from an old shed he’d formerly used as a stable for his riding horses, so it was nothing fancy! He installed an old and well-used piano and the rustic hall soon became the meeting place for the young. Someone could always be enlisted to play tunes, and others to sing. The hall was lighted by kerosene or oil lamps and firelight until the Delco battery system was introduced in 1927. After that, it was lights out at 10 p.m. sharp, and the singers and dancers were dispersed to other activities. Few, it was reported, were ready to go home, so night hikes were undertaken up the Rock Wall to tell ghost stories and prolong the evening’s fun.
The pavilion became a popular dance hall for the young people of La Veta and Walsenburg as well, and for the young at heart who just wanted to go dancing. The official summer dance season opened in mid-June, and local orchestras, as well as those from Pueblo and Trinidad, were booked for every Saturday night. There were old fashioned dances and new, round and square dances. After the last notes had faded, the pavilion was ready to host Sunday morning prayer or worship services and bible study. Wanda Powell, later Jameson, was the regular piano or organ player for those services.
The pavilion received several updates and enlargements, until it was attached to the commissary next door, had adequate space for whirling dancers and a new floor.
Following the death of G.A. Mayes, the buildings were sold to Charlie Powell, the father of the piano player Wanda, and in 1933 he tore down the old pavilion and built a new one. His pavilion included a large entrance area with a fireplace and even a refreshment counter where hungry dancers could buy a burger or hot dog and beverages. They still had to leave at 10, but at least they’d taken on nourishment.
The enlarged hall attracted ever more dancers, and also more activities. Card and board game playing became popular with all ages on rainy or cool days. The pavilion was used for all types of large gatherings and meetings, day and night.
Charlie sold the Camps to John and Rae Albright in 1945. The Albrights tore down the hotel, rebuilt the commissary and gutted the pavilion. The Walsenburg World-Independent noted in July 1947, “John Albright has converted the old dance hall into a modern apartment house to fit the needs of the tourist who doesn’t want to ‘rough it’”. It even had indoor plumbing!
Shortly after completion the so-called apartment house was sold to Ward and Veda Vickery of Kansas and longtime Camps residents. They named it La Chacra Lodge. Chacra in Spanish means small farm, so perhaps a farmhouse atmosphere was desired. The Vickery’s son Dean managed the business.
The Vickery family sold the place to the Elmo White of Texas in 1956. The Whites hired La Veta contractor Gilbert Arnold to begin a remodeling project to modernize the rooms and add five more bathrooms. Unfortunately, Mr. White overdid assisting and succumbed to a heart attack in July 1957, in La Chacra.
A family that visited La Chacra that summer wasted no time purchasing the motel. Gerald and Jeanette Hollman of Norman, Oklahoma, bought it in November 1957. The Hollmans had two daughters, Jill and Jolly, who were responsible for cleaning, registering guests and other light chores usually completed with the help of their friends. The motel by this time included an owners’ “suite” of two large rooms with the girls’ bunks in the kitchen. La Chacra was renamed Cuchara Valley Lodge.
The outside of the pavilion appeared much the same once it became a lodge. It was covered with pine slabs [under which many families of bats made their homes] but the entryway underwent fresh remodeling with every owner.
The Hollmans sold to Chuck and Dorothy McCart of Garden City, Kansas in the early summer of 1966. The McCarts again renamed it, and it became known as the Cuchara Chalet. To fit the theme, the entry was decked out with wooden gingerbread painted in bright colors, and the rooms were once again remodeled and modernized. In 1979 the McCarts sold to Don and Betty Vietti, visitors to the Lodge since 1956 and later cabin owners of long standing.
Al and Dennis Mills purchased the Cuchara Chalet in 1981. More improvements were made, including the addition of a two-story false front complete with balcony. The entire façade was sheathed with rustic lumber and shops were added. It became the Cuchara Lodge Chalet, with a big wooden “HOTEL” sign on top.
The historic building caught fire in early July 1994, and was destroyed. Firefighters from Cuchara and La Veta were unable to save it but managed to keep the blaze contained to avoid catching fire to nearby buildings such as the Country Store and The Timbers. Only the façade remained to greet Fourth of July parade-goers and partiers two days later.