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Despite This We Stay for August 23rd, 2012

Leaning buildings
by Carol Dunn
HUERFANO — If you’ve driven to La Junta in the past hundred years, you’ve probably seen those leaning buildings on the north side of Highway 10, way east of Walsenburg. I’m not sure who the foreman was on that construction project, but I’m thinking they got their permits out of a cracker jack box. Those buildings simply are not up to code; and I’m further thinking the code back then wasn’t much more complicated than to stick a little cross bracing in here and there and call life good. When you think about it, the leaning buildings comply with negative code – the one that describes the best way to injure people with a building.
Last time we stopped to admire the leaners, we knew we were taking a big risk with our lives, or at least with the lives of our relatives, who happened to be visiting at the time. Yes, this was one of the local “tourist” attractions we treated them to. And although that might sound pathetic, you have to admit, these buildings were a sight to see. Some of them had a 3D twist going on – a sort of “lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up, sit down, fight fight fight.” I’m not sure we can blame the leaning on the Huerfano wind, but I can try. You see, they were all leaning to the east, the direction away from Huerfano wind. And they were very weather beaten – beaten badly at that. Just like you and I feel after being out in a March Huerfano wind for about ten minutes.
The last time these buildings saw a paint brush, it was being used to curry a pony tied to the hitching post out back. You don’t dare touch any boards on these buildings, or splinters will leap into your skin as if they are spring loaded. And they are those hundred-year-old splinters that burn for hours, and you can’t pull them out because they disintegrate in your finger as soon as you touch them with tweezers.
So instead of getting splinters, we stood in the shadow of the leaners and got our pictures taken. I’m sure you can’t imagine why, but it seemed a little scary at the time. We were truly hoping that none of the buildings got a hankering to fall over at that same moment when we all said “cheese.” Really, it’s a toss up whether I’d like to have an old splintery building fall on me or be stuffed into a giant white tube sock and rolled through a field of cheatgrass and prickly pear cactus.
It truly is disappointing, although no surprise, that at least one of these breathtaking gems has since collapsed. Another piece of history bites the dust, so to speak. There’s no way they could be rebuilt crooked, and the grace with which they fought but finally capitulated to gravity and Huerfano wind was their one claim to fame.