WALSENBURG — Just 28 years ago, in February 1987, the old Solomon John building at the southeast corner of Seventh and Main streets in Walsenburg, was destroyed by fire. At the time of its destruction, it was known as the Candlelight Inn. The original part of the historic building was erected in 1906 at a cost of $7,000. A number of businesses had occupied the site beginning in the 1870s. The new white brick structure replaced an older one owned by John that had served several different enterprises including a skating rink. One of the former owners was Fr. Ussel, the well known priest of St. Mary Parish and founder of St. Mary School. It was razed by fire in April 1906 and John announced it would be replaced. Solomon John came to Huerfano County about 1893 and, like many Syrians on the Colorado frontier, started his life in America as a peddler, going from door to door with his goods, concentrating on rural areas and coal camps. He lived for a spell in Redwing on the upper Huerfano River. His brother was Saloom Saliba, another Walsenburg tradesman. John married Margaret Brady in 1899. The couple had eight children who, at the time of his death in 1943, were living in such far-flung places as Alaska and Brazil. John mostly leased out the new building, to retailers like the Louis Winter five and dime store,
M. Kalmes department store, Joe Bain’s department and grocery store, the Dissler Furniture Store and Colorado Supply Company between 1908 and the ‘50s. Most of these businesses were located here after 1926 when John had a 45-foot extension built onto the rear of the original. This renovation cost $50,000, and included a second floor earmarked for a 30-room hotel. By 1970, this hotel was called the Frontier. The entire building was sold to William and Jo Ellece Shellhart in 1975 and they renamed it the Candlelight. The couple remodeled heavily and sporadically operated a restaurant on the first floor while renting out the rooms upstairs. They sold in 1979 and the building was basically abandoned by 1987 when it was destroyed. The fire was said to have been caused by arson, and three men were quickly arrested for the loss, estimated at a half million dollar loss. Perhaps ironically, the Walsenburg Fire district had recently been formed from the old Huerfano County Volunteer Fire Department, which had gone broke. With its own equipment and manpower, and the assistance of outlying fire districts, the blaze was extinguished without too much damage to nearby buildings, though the north wall of the School District Re-1 bus garage to the south was badly damaged. Within three years, the now empty lots had caught the eye of developers from Hardees restaurant chain. The company entered negotiations with the city and school district, bought the lots and bus garage, demolished the buildings and cleared the land by August 1991. However, construction did not begin until May 1994 and the grand opening was July 5-11. The corner restaurant is now Carl’s Jr. The Candlelight was the first of three historic structures on Walsenburg’s Main Street to face destruction by fire within a two year span. In May 1988, the old Mazzone Opera House, built in 1888, suffered the same fate. At the time it was the Black and White Grocery at Sixth and Main streets, an old standby for local shoppers. Jim and Judy Benine were the owners, and the building had been in the Benine family for many years. This location was newer than the original Black and White which had moved there in 1980 from West Sixth Street when the neighboring building on the south, known as the old Guaranty State Bank, had been purchased and remodeled to enlarge the old opera house into a sizeable grocery. This blaze occupied the firefighters for a full nine hours, until only the north and west walls remained. This building was and has not since been replaced. Just six months later, in late November, the Victoria Hotel, dating back to the ‘teens, also burned down. This fire, too, was deemed to be caused by arson. The two-story brick structure was located in the 700 block on the west side of Main. The building dated back to the early 20th century, but was originally used for cafes and drinking establishments, as were most of its neighbors, and the occasional general mercantile or grocery store. It was also operated during the 1950s as the Main Hotel. The next door business to the south, belonging to Victoria Interiors, was damaged to an extent of some $20,000, was repaired and reopened. The hotel lots were cleared but after 26 years, they remain vacant.