AN ORAL AND SOCIAL HISTORY
OF THE CITY AND COMMUNITY
Debra L. Neiswonger
B.A., Metropolitan State College, Denver, 1994
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Masters of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Debra L. Neiswonger
has been approved
Neiswonger, Debra L. (M.A., History)
Remembering Thornton: An Oral and Social History of the City and Community
of Thornton, Colorado
Thesis directed by Mark Foster, Ph.D.
This thesis is an oral and social history of the City and community of Thornton,
Colorado. There are two predominant sources for this thesis. First is the numerous
Thornton Scrapbooks in storage in a City maintenance building. These books
consist of hundreds of newspaper articles detailing events of the City over the
years. Unfortunately, many of the articles were glued into the books without
citations. The second source of information is the personal stories and memories of
individuals who have lived and/or worked in the community. Through interviews
with these individuals, I gathered not only a factual history of Thornton, but also
the history of the community as told through their recollections of events and
personal experiences in the time periods from 1953 through 1999. The benefit of
this research fs-the-crcation of-oral and "written recordings for future generations of
community life in a suburb that began its existence after World War II.
The first residents of Thornton started out predominately on an equal footing.
The early citizens have worked together to build the City into a place that they are
proud to call home. Over the years, the City has taken an aggressive role in water
acquisition and is now often considered a leader in the Metro-Denver area when
dealing with water issues. Thornton has also faced many hardships, such as
problems with soil, bad press and disagreements with the neighboring city of
Northglenn. However, the community has always persevered, and today Thornton
has overcome past image problems to become a city ready to face the challenges of
the new millennium.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
I dedicate this thesis to my wonderful parents, Gary and Carol Neiswonger.
Nothing would have been possible without their love and support. I love you both.
I also dedicate this thesis to all the people of Thornton. You have all truly been
pioneers on a modem frontier.
I would like to acknowledge the generous financial assistance of the Thornton
History and Preservation organization as well as the City of Thornton. Thanks go
specifically to Sara Jane Anderson, Karen Eakes and Rita Ward. I would also like to
thank my family and volunteers, Randy Enright and Greg McKim, for their help.
Last, but certainly not least, is my appreciation to all the people who so generously
shared their time and memories with me to help preserve the heritage of a
1. INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW............................1
Adams County Overview...........................2
A Short History on the Suburbs..................8
2. THE BEGINNING OF THORNTON.............................16
Sam Hoffman: Founder Of Thornton...............16
Sam Hoffman and F&.S Construction..............18
The Land for Thornton..........................29
The Announcement of Thornton...................30
Daniel I. (Dan) Thomton-Namesake of Thornton...33
The Hollywood Connection-Jane Russell..........37
The Streets of Thornton........................41
Hoffman and the Denver Newspapers..............44
In Search of the American Dream................46
Thornton Battles with the FHA........................51
Families Move In.....................................54
Bill and Beth Suitts.................................54
Richard and Inez Ramirez.............................56
Max And Angela Loomis................................58
Jack and Bernice Molter..............................61
Pioneers on a Last Frontier..........................63
Thornton Becomes a Community in Spirit...............71
Everyday Life of Women...............................75
Thorntons First Shopping Center.....................77
Thorntons Volunteer Fire Dept.......................79
The Local News.......................................81
The Non-Issue of Race................................84
Thornton Organizes a Local Government................88
1st Incorporation Attempt............................89
2nd Incorporation Attempt............................94
3. A NEW CITY................................................96
A Matter of Legality...............................96
A Government is Put into Place.....................97
TRA and the Battle to get Thornton a Pool.........107
The Death of Sam Hoffman..........................116
4. THE 1960S...............................................118
Thornton and Westminster: A Comparison............118
The Problems of a Growing City....................122
Thornton as an Established City...................124
How James Carpenter got into Politics.............124
Oyer Leary Becomes a Judge........................125
A Change in Government............................126
The Water Company Purchase........................127
Thornton Festival Days............................130
Annexation of the Sixties.........................133
Thornton Considers a Name Change..................134
The City Selects a Seal...............................137
The Big Flood.........................................139
Beautification of the City............................140
The City Charter and Home Rule........................142
Community in the Sixties..............................144
Protest of a Slaughterhouse...........................145
Fighting with Northglenn..............................146
5. THE 1970S...................................................149
Growth and Development.............-.................149
Tom Carrillo Becomes Mayor............................150
Water Issues in the 1970s.............................151
Northglenn Sues Thornton Over Water...................154
Animosity With Northglenn.............................158
A Carpenter Resigns and a Carpenter Joins.............160
Growth in the Seventies...............................162
A House On The National Register......................164
Twenty Year Comprehensive Plan......................165
Community in the 1970s.............................167
Mayor Joe Chavez....................................172
A High Income City..................................175
The Mayor Richter Recall Attempt....................175
Margaret Carpenter Becomes Mayor....................177
6. THE 1980S................................................179
City Charter Gets Update............................179
The City Continues To Grow..........................180
The Day of the Tornadoes............................180
Thorntons Silver Anniversary.......................192
A New Municipal Building............................193
Community in the Eighties...........................196
Water Issues In The Eighties........................201
Growth In The Eighties..............................207
7. THE 1990S........................................217
Current Relationship With Northglenn....... 217
Thornton Opens A New Recreation Center -----219
Open Space in The Nineties..................220
Community And Culture In The Nineties.......231
A Sense Of Community........................238
A. THORNTON MAYORS...................................241
B. THORNTON DEDICATION SONG..........................242
C. CONSENT FORMS FOR INTERVIEWS......................243
1.1 County Evolution in Colorado................................6
2.1 Construction of Original Thornton..........................21
2.2 Map of Metro Denver......................................32
2.3 Governor Daniel I Thornton...............................35
2.4 Jane Russell and Sam Hoffman at Thornton Model Homes.....38
2.5 Crowds Gather at Grand Opening of the Thornton
2.6 Sam Hoffman (at left) with John and Harriet Ziegler........43
2.7 Hoffman Homes Brochure.....................................48
2.8 Colorado Paved Roads, 1940 and 1980........................68
2.9 Residents Work to Incorporate..............................94
3.1 Oyer Leary.................................................98
3.2 Early City Council Members................................101
3.3 1st Municipal Building....................................102
3.4 Thornton Recreation Assoc. Members Initiate the Swimming
Pool by Tossing in Mayor Oyer Leary---------------------109
4.1 Thornton Festival Days Parade Showing Festival Queen.. 131
4.2 City Seal of Thornton.....................................138
4-3 Beautification of the City in the 1960s...................140
5.1 Thornton High School......................................163
.2 Active Citizens Plant Trees...............................168
5.3 1976 Celebrations.........................................169
5.4 1976 Celebrations (left to right) City Manager Jim Castordale,
Mayor Joe Chavez and, Former Governor Dan Thornton......171
5.5 Mayor Joe Chavez..........................................172
5.6 City Manager Jim Castordale...............................174
5.7 Mayor Margaret Carpenter..................................178
6.1 Thornton Tornado of 1981..................................181
6.2 Governor Lamm Surveys Tornado Damage First Hand...........185
6.3 Temporary Living Quarters for Some While Houses were
6.4 1970s Municipal Building..................................194
6.5 New Municipal Building....................................194
6.6 Moving the Blatzer Homestead..............................197
7.1 Grand Opening of Recreation Center........................219
7.2 Thornton Recreation Center................................220
7.3 Population Graphs of Thornton and Westminster.............222
7-4 Crosses Mark the Graves and a Few Survivors of Prairie Dog
7.5 Park Map Of Thornton.......................................230
7.6 Community Activities Like Parades Continue Today...........232
7-7 Volunteer Corps Car Wash...................................235
7.8 Community and City Come Together at the Dedication of a
Memorial to Veterans at the Thornton Civic Center........ 239
INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
The City of Planned Progress is the motto proudly displayed on the city seal of
Thornton, Colorado. A relatively young community, Thornton began as the
vision of one person, builder Sam Hoffman. The first families moved into the
Adams County development on January 31, 1954, after coming to an open house
where Hollywood actress, Jane Russell, held court for the thousands who lined
up to see her. Young families, predominantly of ex-GIs, moved into Thornton,
and together worked hard to make themselves into a community and then a city,
both physically and in spirit.1
I shall trace the growth of Thornton into a modem city. Starting with its
conception in the mind of developer Sam Hoffman, through incorporation in
1956. I will then trace the evolution of the community throughout the
succeeding decades. A city is made up of people, and it is their experiences,
attitudes and participation that shape the character of the city around them.
Therefore, throughout this thesis, I shall include the memories of past and
interviews conducted specifically for this thesis have consent forms, see appendix. However,
multiple interviews used were done at previous time periods through the City of Thornton and
do not have consent forms. The interviews were done with the understanding that the
information revealed was being recorded and could be shared with the public.
present residents of this fledgling community, the new pioneers of the modem
Adams Countv Overview
The community of Thornton, Colorado lies approximately seven miles
north of Denver. The young city, situated in Adams County on the High Plains
of northeastern Colorado, lays just east of the Front Range of the Rocky
Mountains. Adams County consists mainly of rolling uplands, dotted with the
occasional yucca plant. The county is separated by stream valleys,2 notably the
South Platte River and its tributaries: Clear Creek, Sand Creek, Big Dry Creek,
Box Elder Creek, Kiowa Creek, Bijou Creek, and Badger Creek. Adams County
ranges from approximately 4,500 to 5,500 feet above sea level.3
People have not always been enamored with the Front Range area.
Major Stephen H. Long, in his 1819-20 expedition across the West, declared
this area the Great American Desert.4 The High Plains are classified as semi-
2 Roman V. Bockus, Ricardo Borrero, Cherrye Manley, David Yamada, Duane Tinsley, Vemie
L. Simmons (Adams County Planning Department staff), Adams County Comprehensive Plan
(publisher information not available., 1968), pg. 17.
2 Ibid, pg-18.
4 Thomas J. Noel, Paul F. Mahoney and Richard E. Stevens, Historical Atlas of
Colorado. (Norman and-London: University of Oklahoma Press., 1994), pgr9.
arid. However, agriculture is possible with irrigation.5 Adams County also has
many hidden treasures. Among these are oil fields, as well as deposits of both
sand and gravel along the South Platte River and Clear Creek Basins.
Historically, Denver and the Metropolitan area have looked to Adams County to
supply both sand and gravel to the region.6 7
The land that become Adams County is known to have been part of the
territory of nomadic Native Americans.' In the early 1800s the most numerous
inhabitants of the area were the Arapaho Indians.8 Despite Major Stephen H.
Longs comments on this region, settlers made their presence known to the local
Indians and an increase in trading and exploration, especially along the rivers,
soon occurred. In 1836, Fort Lupton was established and became one of
Colorados most important beaver fur centers.9
Present day Adams County was once a portion of old Arapahoe County.
Arapahoe, named for the Arapaho Indians, was first organized as part of the
Kansas Territory in 1855. The huge county stretched from the Continental
5 Adams County Planning Department staff, Adams County Comprehensive Plan, pg.18.
6 Ibid. pgs. 30-31.
7 Ibid. pg. 5.
8 Albin Wagner, Adams County Crossroads of the West vol.l (Adams County: Board of County
Commissioners, Denver, Century Graphics., 1977), pg. 20.
9 Adams County Planning Department staff, Adams County Comprehensive Plan. pg.5.
Divide, east to the Kansas border, north to the northern boundary of present day
Adams County, and south to the vicinity of the Arkansas River. The Territory
contained one-fifth of what is now Colorado. Following the Colorado gold rush
of 1858-59, the new town of Denver, named after the Kansas Territory governor,
James W. Denver, became the seat for the gigantic county. The Colorado
Territory was officially organized by Congress in 1861 and substantially reduced
Arapahoe County to a thirty mile strip that extended to the Kansas border.10
In 1902, the Centennial State divided Arapahoe County. From it, they
created Adams County, the City and County of Denver, and a smaller Arapahoe
County. The State choose to name Adams County after Colorado governor,
Alva Adams.11 When it was first created, the new county extended all the way
to Kansas. In 1903, the eastern half of Adams County was divided between
Washington and Yuma Counties, leaving Adams County at its current size of 18
miles wide and 72 miles long.12
The 1858-59 gold rush sparked an increase in the settlement of areas in
and along Adams County and the rest of the Front Range. Colonel Jack
Henderson erected the first dwellings of appreciable size in the future Adams
10 Wagner, Adams County Crossroads of the West, vol.l pg-20.
11 Adams County Planning Department staff, Adams County Comprehensive Plan, pg.7.
12 Leonard and Noel, Denver; Mining Camp to Metropolis, pg.346.
County.13 The original community of Henderson was located close to the City of
Thornton, at the junction of Old Brighton Road and East 124th Avenue.14
Other farmers and ranchers moved into the same area and established an
agricultural community by the time Colorado became a state in 1876.15
Around 1900, Denver bought the original Henderson land and converted
it into a poor farm. The locally derided pest house was where the indigent and
diseased were placed by the State and made to support themselves by farming.
Denver closed the farm in 1952 and Adams County bought the land in 1959.16
The county transformed it into the Adams County Regional Park and
Fairgrounds. A golf course now resided on the previous site of the poor farm.
Henderson, the community, still exists. It, as well as the park and fairgrounds,
are situated between Brighton and Thornton.1' Section 23, township 2, south
range 68w of the state of Colorado is the location of original Thornton. In the
late 1800s, that land belonged to Michael Finnerty. Mr. Finnerty was a
descendent of immigrants from County Galway, Ireland. His grandparents
13 Adams County Planning Department staff, Adams County Comprehensive Plan. pg.6.
14 Ibid. pg-6.
15 Wagner, Adams County Crossroads of the West, vol.l pg-20.
16 Stephen J. Leonard and Thomas J. Noel, Denver: Mining Camp to Metropolis. (Niwot:
University Press of Colorado., 1990), pgs. 349-350.
16 Adams County Planning Department staff, Adams County Comprehensive Plan. pg-6.
1.1 County Evolution in Colorado (Noel, Mahoney & Stevens,
Historical Atlas of Colorado. Pg.16)
settled in Iowa where they passed on the tradition of farming to their daughter
and three sons. However, Michael Finnerty grew tired of working the land.
With his health failing, he felt a change of career was in order and decided to try
his hand at financing mining expeditions.18
In 1879, he set off for mineral rich Colorado. Mr. Finnerty had good luck
once his health was restored. He helped discover and develop the Adams mine
in Leadville, as well as The Hidden Treasure, The Dick Mackey and The
Comstock. He was the sole owner of The Dillon mine which became part of the
Granite Gold Mining Company of Victor.19 20
Michael Finnerty made his home in Denver but owned property
throughout the state. In 1889, he bought land that would become the future
location of Thornton. This property was eventually purchased by Arthur and
Dorothy Eppinger who then sold it to Sam Hoffman and the F&.S Construction
Company in the 1950s.2"
After World War II, suburbs sprang into existence across America in
response to the Baby Boom. Between 1950 and 1960, Adams County led all
other Colorado counties in the rate of population increase with a 200 percent
18 Maria Matthews, From Model Homes to dry Thornton, Colorado, (paper for History 5229,
Colorado Historic Places, Dr. Tom Noel., May 1, 1995), pgs. 3-4.
growth rate.21 This amazing growth within Adams County is in part a result to
the dream of one man, Sam Hoffman, the builder who started the City of
A Short History On The Suburbs
In the book, Crabgrass Frontier. The Suburbanization of The United
States, Kenneth T. Jackson explains that suburbia is a planning type as well as a
state of mind based on imagery and symbolism.22 That which makes a place a
suburb is defined many ways. Economists decide a communitys status based on
the functional relationships between the core city and the surrounding region.
Demographers determine a suburb by either residential density or commuting
patterns. Architects decide by building type, while sociologists make their basis
off of the behavior, or way of life of the residents.23
Suburban lifestyles have been around in various forms for thousands of
years. One of the earliest known documents to praise suburban life is a letter
written on a clay tablet in cuneiform. The letter to the king of Persia in 539 BC,
states, Our property seems to me the most beautiful in the world. It is so close
21 Adams County Planning Department staff, Adams County Comprehensive Plan. pg. 8.
22 Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. (New
York: Oxford University Press., 1985), pg-4-
to Babylon that we enjoy all the advantages of the city, and yet when we come
home we are away from all the noise and dust.23 24
As cities grew, the view held in 539 BC, became a sentiment only heard
by the rich about their summer estates. The fringe areas of cities were seen as
distasteful. This region was occupied by the poorer classes and businesses like
slaughterhouses. The richer you were, the closer you were to downtown. Travel
was difficult in the congested cities; therefore, people generally liked to be as
close as possible to their places of work.25
However, in the 1800s, cities were soon dealing with substantial growth
from the Industrial Revolution and the old pattern of pedestrian movement
became outdated.26 Urban historians generally agree that advances in
transportation technology allowed urban centers to horizontally expand. Before
1840, it was rare for the outer limits of built-up areas to be more than two miles
from city centers.27 The invention of the electric streetcar, or trolley, has been
23 Ibid. pg-5.
24 Ibid, pg-12.
25 Ibid, pg-19.
26 Ibid. pg. 33.
27 Mark S. Foster, From Streetcar to Superhighway: American City Planners and Urban
Transportation, 1900'1940. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press., 1981), pg. 15.
viewed as the major instrument in allowing ordinary citizens the freedom to
explore other parts of their cities.28
As the cities continued to expand and become more crowded, a growing
need for privacy and protection of home life developed.29 An increased demand
for personal rooms reflected the new social and psychological concepts of
privacy. Emerging values of domesticity, privacy and isolation reached their
fullest development in the U.S. during the second half of the 1800s. Ministers
held up the family unit as the safeguard against the moral slide of society as a
whole into sinfulness and greed. The woman was in charge of the house. This
womans sphere including acting as the caretaker of the morals of her family
and making the home as welcoming and comfortable as she could. Called the
cult of domesticity, the virtues of domestic life were seen as the way to a degree
of fulfillment, serenity and satisfaction through the home that could not be
found anywhere else.30
Between 1825 and 1875, middle-class Americans adopted a less
utilitarian view of residential space. Better transportation meant that people
were no longer dependent on herbs and vegetables from their own gardens .
2S Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, pg.l 12.
29 Ibid, pg-47.
30 Ibid, pg-48.
After the invention of mowing machines, smooth lawns replaced rough meadows
cut by scythe or sheep.31 The idea of grass in yards grew out of the sweeping
lawns of English gardens. In America, carefully tended grass and a well-
manicured yard soon became an object of great pride and a symbol of social
standing.32 By 1870, separateness had become essential to the identity of the
suburban house, with the yard acting as a buffer between the private sphere of
the home and the public sphere of the street.33
The American Dream had now become the attainment of a single-
family dwelling. The idea of owning a home is still often seen as verification of
having made it. A house is the most visible symbol of having arrived at a fixed
place in society.34
When Henry Ford came out with automobiles that were affordable to
middle-class America, he opened the door to the massive expansion of the
suburbs. The auto won the heart of most Americans, and minds of many
transportation planners. Planners viewed outlying city and suburban areas as
ideal laboratories for experimenting with major street and superhighway
31 Ibid, pg-54.
32 Ibid, pg.60.
33 Ibid, pg-58.
34 Ibid, pg.50.
building.35 Between 1910 and 1920, population growth within twenty-nine of
Americas largest cities averaged only 25.1 percent while the average rate of city
fringes was 32.7 percent.36
The stock-market crash in October of 1929, brought the housing boom to
an abrupt halt. Between 1928 and 1938, housing construction fell by 95
percent.37 Only aggressive sales and advertising policies kept the dream of
owning a house alive. On June 27, 1934, the government stepped in with the
creation of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). This program was
established through the National Housing Act. The FHA was designed to
stimulate building construction without government spending, instead relying on
President Roosevelt, and the policies he supported, encouraged the
spread of Americas population to the suburbs.39 During this time period, there
was a high commitment to improved streets and highways which eased the way
for suburban development. New Deal planners and politicians saw that road
35 Foster, From Streetcar to Superhighway, pg.91.
36 Ibid, pg.15.
3' Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, pg. 187.
36 Ibid, pg.203.
39 Foster, From Streetcar to Superhighway, pg-143.
accessibility and automobiles were one of the few objectives shared by both rural
and urban factions.4" This strong government support helped increase the
popularity of the automobile. The Interstate Highway Act became law in 1956
when Congress provided for a 42,500 mile system with the federal government
paying 90 percent of the cost.40 41
For sixteen years of depression and then war, the housing industry had
been in a profound slump. With the war over, the marriage rate began a steep
increase. Soon the Baby Boom was upon America and there was almost no
housing. By 1947, six million families were doubling up with relatives and
friends. In Chicago, 250 former trolley cars were sold as homes, and 500, 000
families were occupying temporary military quarters such as quonset huts.42
In 1944, the FHA was supplemented by the Servicemens Readjustment
Act, better known as the G.I. Bill. This act created the Veterans
Administration (VA) program which helped sixteen million soldiers and sailors
40 Ibid, pg.166.
41 Jackson, Crabgrvss Frontier, pg.249.
42 Ibid. pg. 233.
purchase a home after World War II.43 The program also gave federal mortgage
guaranties to builders. This assurance led to an unprecedented building boom.44
FHA and VA programs made possible the financing of immense
developments such as Thornton. Title VI of the National Housing Act of 1934,
allowed a builder to insure 90 percent of the cost of a house up to $9,000.
Ambitious entrepreneurs could receive an FHA commitment to insure a
mortgage and then use that commitment to sign themselves up as a temporary
The most famous subdivisions to come out of this time period were the
Levittown developments. The first Levittown began in 1946 on 4,000 acres of
land. It remains the biggest private housing project in American history.46 The
housing project is located twenty-five miles east of Manhattan, Originally, the
development was limited to veterans only.47
Abraham Levitt and his sons helped turn home construction into a major
manufacturing process. Adopting the assembly line processes that Henry Ford
had incorporated into the automobile industry, the Levitt company would lay
4j Ibid, pg.204-
44 Ibid, pg.233.
45 Ibid. pg. 237.
44 Ibid, pg.234.
out dozens of concrete foundations in a single day and use preassembled uniform
walls and roofs.47 48 The first Levittown included multiple parks and more than
17,400 separate houses with 82,000 residents.49 The success of the massive Levitt
projects inspired many, including Thornton builder Sam Hoffman.
47 Ibid. pg. 235
44 Ibid, pg.234.
49 Ibid, pg.235.
THE BEGINNING OF THORNTON
Sam Hoffman: Founder Of Thornton
Sam Hoffman was bom into a Jewish family in the Polish region of
Russia. When he was twenty two, after the Bolshevik Revolution occurred, Sam
left the Soviet Union and came to the United States.30 One of the more
interesting rumors to circulate about Mr. Hoffman is the anecdote of how he
escaped to the U.S. The story goes, that during one long summer, Sam, with his
brother Sol, walked out of Russia and traveled to a friendly port by way of China.
The only food the two men ate was watermelon they took from the fields around
them.50 51 However, according to Sol Dichter, Sam Hoffmans son-in-law, this is
all a tall tale. Mr. Dichter states that Sam Hoffman actually came to the United
States through Canada before he settled down in Detroit, Michigan. Sam
arrived first before arranging to have his wife, Ann, brought over along with his
two brothers, Solomon (Sol) and Louis. While living in Detroit, the three
50 Rocky Mountain News, October 14, 1959. pg-5.
51 Bill and Beth Suitts, Interview with author. 14 April 1997.
Hoffman brothers established their own trucking business, which they ran for
Sam and Sol then moved their families to Chicago where the two
brothers worked as mudslingers. The term mudslinger is slang for a plasterer in
the construction industry.53 The Hoffman brothers specialized in wet wall
plastering, which was often found in higher priced homes. Wet wall plastering is
now an almost forgotten trade. With wet wall, the plaster is mixed like cement
and then placed on the walls in a swirled design creating a pattern.54
After World War II, all of the Hoffmans moved to Phoenix, Arizona.
Sam then went into the construction business for himself. Sol had a plastering
company and did all the walls for Sams houses. Their brother Louis went into
the real estate business. Another unverified story told about Sam is that the
Hoffman Construction Company was created when Sam and his brother Sol
built their personal homes. Phoenix was in the grip of a population boom. As
the Hoffmans built their own houses, people kept stopping by offering them
increasing amounts of money for the dwellings. Sam said no until he realized he
5 Sol Dichter, interview with author. 23 April 1997.
54 Suitts interview. According to Bill Suitts, Sam Hoffman was a carpenter, and it was only his
brother Sol who was a plasterer. However, Sol Dichter said that both brothers were in the
plaster industry, but he did not say that they did wet wall plastering.
could get enough money with the sale of one home to build two more houses,
and thus was the start of his construction business.55
Sam Hoffman and F&S Construction
Sams company was Father and Sons Construction. F&.S Construction
originally consisted of Sam Hoffman and his son Jack. When Sams daughters
married, Mr. Hoffman made his sons-in-law, Sol Dichter and Bob Rossner,
partners as well. Mr. Dichter explained that his father-in-law wanted to keep
any bickering from occurring. So, Sam Hoffman made everyone equal partners,
including himself. They each now owned 25 percent of the company. Even
though they generally followed Sams lead, it was possible for Jack, Sol and Bob
to now outvote him.56
F&.S Constructions home base of operations remained in Phoenix,
Arizona, and most of their housing developments were in the Southwest. Once,
Father &Sons Construction did try a project in Cleveland, but there were
difficulties with the unions. After that one attempt, they decided to stay a little
closer to their home base. Among F&S Constructions many housing projects
were developments in Phoenix Arizona; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Salt
54 Dichter interview.
Lake City, Utah. In Colorado, there were developments in Aurora, Pueblo, and
of course, Thornton.57
Within just a few years F&.S Construction grew and grew. By 1954, Sam
Hoffman was the third largest home builder in the nation with 2,858 houses
under construction.58 There were many reasons behind the success of F&.S
Construction. For one, the time was right. The baby boom was under way and
there was a definite lack of homes for all of the new families. This is why
builders such as Sam Hoffman and Frank Bums were able sell homes so well.
Franks houses were advertised as Bums Better Built Bungalows. However,
people were known to actually call them Bums Better Built Boxes or Bums
Better Built Birdhouses.59 60 Jack Molter, an original Thornton resident, called
them oversized apple crates. They consisted of a living room, kitchen, two
bedrooms and one bathroom.6"
Secondly, Father and Sons Construction built solid brick homes that did
have a similar layout to the Bums houses. However, Sam Hoffmans houses
offered more home for a similar price than the smaller models built by other
58 News. October 14, 1959. pg.5.
60 Jack, Bernice, Diane, and Richard Molter. Interview with author. 11 April 1997.
contractors. Most of the Hoffman houses consisted of three bedrooms, a bath
and three quarters with attached garages.61
Sam Hoffman was like other home builders in that once he had a house
layout that he approved of, there would be, for the most part, only small
variations for different models. Dan Petro, who as a child lived in Thornton for
awhile, remembers that one Christmas his parents were house watching their
neighbors home. One night they accidentally locked themselves out of the
neighbors house. Dan and his father went under the house through the crawl
space. Mr. Petros father then pushed him into the home through the cold air
intake screen for the furnace. In pitch darkness, Dan walked through the house
and unlocked the front door without ever bumping into a thing. The house
layout was an exact replica of his own.62
The third key to the secret of Sam Hoffmans quick rise and
metamorphosis into one of the nations largest builders was his decision to build
houses like Henry Ford built cars. The Ford Motor Company was able to sell
affordable cars because of mass production with the use of the assembly line, and
61 Suitts interview.
62 Dan Petro. Interview with author. 30 April 1997. The only Hoffman Homes in Thornton
that had crawl space underneath were the Bonnies". These were frame homes, built after the
brick homes that Hoffman started with in Thornton.
uniform preassembled pieces.6' Like the builders of Levittown, Mr. Hoffman
adapted the ideas of mass production to the building industry. By building
multiple houses at the same time with the use of crews, more houses could be
built in a shorter period of time for a smaller amount of money.
2.1 Construction of original Thornton. (Courtesy of City of
Bernice Molter remembers how quickly the homes were erected. It was
kind of an assembly type thing rather than just building one house at a time.
Mrs. Molter watched the bulldozer scrape the land flat for entire block areas.
The crews built the houses on slab foundations with no basements. He would
have a crew that would pour the foundation, a crew that put in the wiring and
63 Dichter interview.
everything, a crew that put up the walls, and crews that would come in and do
Walt Weingarten drove the gravel truck for the Thornton project. He
laid the foundation gravel for all of the homes and many of the streets. They
put in a foundation the size of the home, and they put a ramp up for me to back
up and dump this gravel rock, inch and a half of rock in there. Walts job was
one of the first steps in building the homes. Once Mr. Weingarten laid the
gravel down, workers would then lay out the sewer and water lines for the
bathrooms and sinks. At that point everything was covered with tar paper.
Only then was the floor of concrete slab poured.65
Of course, confusion would occasionally occur with crews working
separate jobs on large projects. Walt Weingarten remembers, One time I was
pulling in between houses to get to the house that was ready for me and they
were tearing one down. I said What are you tearing it down for? I thought we
were building them! And the construction worker said, We forgot to put the
furnace in.66 Mr. Weingarten also remembers that, In another one, they had
just poured the foundation and they were pushing it out with a bulldozer. I
64 Molter interview.
45 Walt and Marie Weingarten. Interview with author. 16 April 1997.
stopped and said What are you doing? And he said they had it on the wrong
line, it wasnt even in the right lot. Walt laughed, shook his head and said,
Well, at twenty-two houses a day what do you expect?67 Despite these
occasional problems, Mr. Hoffman was able to keep prices down and thus able to
reach the many rather than the few.
Sol Dichter saw Sam as a visionary. Mr. Hoffman was more interested in
the fast nickel than the slow quarter. F&S Construction catered to the largest
group of people who needed homes, those who were just starting out with brand
new families, but not a lot of money. Company policy was to make houses as
affordable as possible with low down payments. Mr. Dichter remembers that in
the Salt Lake City project, on one snowy Sunday they sold 200 houses.
Families came out with piggy banks, breaking their piggy banks. Putting
together something like fifty bucks for a down payment on a house that they
could never have owned any other way or at any other given time in those
Like many builders, Sam Hoffman geared his homes towards GIs. Usually
the men could only put in a few hundred dollars for a down payment and then
counted on receiving a Veterans Administration (VA) loan to pay for the house.
66 Dichter interview.
If a Hoffman home buyer was not eligible for a VA loan, then he would usually
try for an Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan where the down payment
and interest rates were often a bit higher.69
Generally, only the mans income was used to decide if the couple could
afford the loan. The VA and FHA would usually not include the wifes income.
Policy among lenders was that a womans earnings were not be considered
dependable since you never knew when a woman would become pregnant and
quit work.70 That rather mistrustful attitude toward women sometimes spilled
over into other aspects of society. Sarah Jane Anderson, a long time resident of
Thornton, remembers that when she went to pick up the keys to their brand new
house, she had to provide a photocopy of their marriage license before the keys
would be released to her.71
Several original residents of Thornton have commented that they felt
that even though Mr. Hoffman was making a small profit, he could have sold the
houses for more than he did and still have had people waiting in line to get one
of the Thornton homes. Dennis Bochard, long time resident of Thornton,
recalled that Sam Hoffman could have easily sold his homes for five to six
71 Sarah Jane Anderson, Interview with author. 24 September 1998.
thousand dollars more with no problem.'2 However, acquiring as much money as
possible did not appear to be Sams primary goal.
According to Bill Suitts, who was in charge of Hoffman Home Sales and
loan qualification in Thornton, Mr. Hoffman had a different perspective of the
world than some people. Sam had a theory about life and about building. He
was not in it for the money, he was actually a very strong family man. He just
loved to see kids playing in neighborhoods and so on.73
Bill Suitts remembers that;
Sam would come to Denver when we were building Thornton.
He would get up and come out there just at daybreak, in the
summertime, five oclock, and just walk the streets and be
there when the first kids would start coming out of their homes
and riding their bicycles and roller-skating and whatever they
were doing. Thats what he really, thoroughly enjoyed.'4
Sam was tough, but underneath he was a pussycat. He always felt for the
underdog, stated Sol Dichter. He was the type of guy that if someone needed
help or needed money, he would give them the help or the money that was
required. Mr. Dichter went on to explain, ,cWhen they said that they would
pay him back, he would say, No dont pay me back, but when your turn comes to 7
'2 Dennis Bochard. Interview with author. 20 April 1997.
'3 Suitts interview
help someone else, you remember what I did for you, and you in turn help them.
And that will be all the payment you need to make to me.75
Don Ciancio and his father, Frank, both dealt with Sam Hoffman. The
Ciancio family have been residents of the farming community of Welby back to
at least the turn of the century. The family has always been very active in local
politics, and thus, involved in the machinations occurring in Adams County. '6
When F&.S Construction was building Thornton, the choices for lunch break
were limited. A person could bring an unrefrigerated lunch, eat at Frank
Ciancios restaurant, or take the time to drive into Denver.7' Sam and the
higher officers of his company chose to eat lunch at the Ciancio restaurant
almost every day. Don Ciancios impression was that, Sam Hoffman was a bit
strange, but he had a mind like a steel trap. He was very smart and was always in
Bill Suitts remembers Sam as having an almost photographic mind able
to remember almost anything. One time, Mr. Hoffman wanted to know why a
couple had not yet received loan approval. Bill Suitts didnt know, but quickly
75 Dichter interview.
76 Don Ciancio. Interview with the author. 16 April 1997.
7' Suitts interview.
78 Ciancio interview.
made up an answer. Sam looked at him hard, told Bill that he was not leveling
with him, and that when he came back in a week Bill had better know the real
reason. A week later Mr. Hoffman was back and his first question was about the
loan, and yes, Bill had made sure that he knew the answer. Mr. Suitts
remembers that Sam never carried a notebook, but instead, depended only on his
memory, He was very smart, a wonder to be around and a great guy.7
When F&.S Construction began developing in Colorado, they started on
what was then the outskirts of the City of Aurora. The company built the
Hoffman Heights project, which consisted of thousands of homes. However,
once the houses were built, the FHA refused to give their approval of loan
requests for the properties until a lift pump was installed. A lift pump is used to
pump, or lift, water from the ground and through pipes. Father &. Sons
Construction had already invested over $1.5 million in the development, and it
was imperative for the project to proceed if the company was to remain
financially solvent. Operating funds had to be begged and borrowed just to pay
the laborers, while the vendors had to wait for payment. Although the cost of
the pump was only $3,400, it was manufactured only in Chicago. The problem
was getting the pump from Chicago to Denver quickly. The pump was very
heavy and no one was sure it could be air lifted, but at the same time there were
problems with bringing in the pump by land. Sam Hoffman was frustrated
enough that he was more than ready to purchase a plane on credit just to get the
lift pump out to Denver. Finally, it was placed on a flight. The company worked
around the clock to hook the pump up and soon had it running and FHA
According to Bill Suitts, the Hoffman Heights Project had its share of
political headaches as well. The City of Aurora did not want to supply the new
houses with water. Aurora officials were certain that Hoffman Heights would
fail; therefore, they did not want to annex it for fear that the development would
drain money the citys tax base. F&.S Construction maneuvered around the
water situation with Aurora when they made an agreement with the City of
Denver for water access as long as the company brought the water line out over a
mile and a half to connect with the project. The City of Aurora still thought
Hoffman Heights was a doomed project and would hurt the reputation of the
city. The city placed a big billboard sign right across from the model homes that
stated, Public Notice: No police or fire protection is furnished east of this sign.
In Mr. Suitts opinion, the sign was designed to scare people and it worked.
80 Dichter interview.
People would come in worried and say, Well what is that? What are they doing
The Hoffman Heights project also faced difficulties when F&.S
Construction was forced to file suit against two vendors that had furnished were
happy, F&.S won the suit and the project was considered to be going well. Soon,
defective siding for some of the homes.62 However, on the whole, the residents
Sam Hoffman was looking around for more land in the Denver area for his next
The Land For Thornton
Sol Dichter remembers that Mr. Hoffman was shown the Adams County
property that was destined to become Thornton and instantly fell in love with it.
The company bought the land and began making their plans to build an actual
town rather than a suburb development like their previous projects. Sam was a
visionary, stated Mr. Dichter. He said, this town, this entire Denver area is
going to mushroom. That was his vision. He saw that Thornton would have
lots of room to grow.* 82 83
S1 Suitts interview.
82 The Rocky Mountain News. (31 October). 1952. pg.20.
83 Dichter interview'.
Art Eppinger owned the land that Hoffman purchased. Since there was
really nothing in close proximity, the property value was relatively low. F&.S
Construction bought 640 acres, what is known as a section of land, for $250 an
acre from Mr. Eppinger. At that time, this was considered a normal price for
land that was seen as having no qualities that would increase the land value.84
According to Walt Weingarten, a cousin of Mr. Eppinger, Art did not
have his property officially on the market, although he may have been quietly
looking around for a buyer.85 Art may have met Sam Hoffman through his work
in the Southglenn subdivision in Aurora, or by way of mutual acquaintances..86
Arts father, William Eppinger, an Adams County Commissioner and well
known locally for his efforts to bring business into the county, may have had an
additional influence on the decision to buy the land.8.
The Announcement Of Thornton
The public first heard of Thornton on December 24, 1952, when F&.S
Construction announced their plans to launch a $7 million, five-thousand home
construction project north of the Denver city limits the next spring. The
84 Weingarten interview.
85 Walt Weingarten. 21 phone interview with the author. 28 April 1997.
86 Weingarten interview.
newspapers reported that it would be the most ambitious project of its type ever
attempted in Colorado and the second largest in the nation. This shows our
deep faith in Denvers future, said Sam Hoffman to the newspapers. It
represents, also, a cognizance of the desperate need for moderate-priced housing
in the Mile High City.* 88
The Denver Post announced on February 19, 1953, that Mr. Hoffman
had decided that the new community north of Denver was to be called Thornton
in honor of then current governor Dan Thornton. According to Sam, Governor
Thornton was chosen, Because Dan deserves the honor in view of his part in
building the State of Colorado and his interest in adequate housing for its
88 The Denver Post. (24, December). 1952. Pg.l and 8.
99 The Denver Post. (19, February). 1953. pg-1.
To Metropolis. Pg. 254.)
Daniel L (Dan2) Thornton Namesake Of Thornton
Sam Hoffman had announced Colorados newest city. Newspaper
journalists termed it the biggest low-cost housing development in the state.90
But, Governor Thornton was not very enthusiastic about having a new
community named after himself. Dan Thornton was rather nonplused about the
entire situation. He was quoted as half-jokingly saying, I wouldnt like to see a
town start out with a stigma like the name Thornton.91
Daniel (Dan) I. Thornton was bom on January 31, 1911, in Hall
County, Texas to Clay C. and Ida Fife Thornton, cotton sharecroppers. After
the family moved to Lubbock Texas, Dan was elected 4-H state president. This
earned him the right to travel to Washington D.C., for the first national 4-H
encampment. President Calvin Coolidge visited the 4'Hers where he spoke
personally to the sixteen year-old Dan, Id advise that you get less rest and do
more work. To those who work the hardest, come the greatest rewards.92
90 The Denver Post. (June). 1967. pg. 96.
91 Post. (19 February). 1953. pg. 18.
92 The Rocky Mountain News. (19 January). 1976. pg. 5.
While in college at the University of California at Los Angeles, Dan met
Jessie Willock. The two quickly became a couple and in 1934 married. In 1937
the couple moved to Arizona and purchased a ranch. Dan and Jessie Thornton
first made a name for themselves when they established, bred, and raised a strain
of Hereford cattle that became known as the Triumphant Type. Mr. Thornton
startled the livestock world when two of his famed Hereford bulls were auctioned
for $50,000 each, a world record at that time. Dan Thornton and his cattle
received a great deal of attention before the sale when Dan arranged to have one
of his bulls bedded down in the lobby of the prestigious Brown Palace Hotel in
After Mr. Thornton sold his cattle herd, he took an interest in politics.
He was elected to the Colorado State Senate and became governor when the
original candidate, Governor Ralph Carr, died thirty-four days before the
election. Dan Thornton carried on a whirlwind airplane campaign and on
November 7, 1950, won a sweeping victory.95 Mr. Thornton was a two-term
Colorado Republican governor who turned down a third term nomination as
well as a nomination to the Senate in 1954. In 1956, he did run for the
94 The Denver Post. (19 January). 1976. pgs.l&18.
95 Ibid, pg.18.
Republican Senate seat. He lost the Senate race despite the prestige of his close
friendship with President Eisenhower. Dan Thornton was twice mentioned as a
candidate for the vice-presidency when Eisenhower decided to run for the
executive office. However, on both occasions Richard Nixon was chosen
instead. In 1954, Mr. Thornton was instrumental in the selection of Colorado
Springs as the site of the Air Force Academy. He sponsored the legislation to
appropriate the $1 million necessary to purchase the land to donate for the
2.3 Governor E)aniel I. Thornton. (Courtesy of City of Thornton)
94 The Rocky Mountain News. (20 January). 1976. pg-4.
Sam Hoffman proceeded to call the community Thornton even though
the Governor had not officially given his permission.97 According to Don
Ciancio, although his father Frank was a Democrat and Governor Thornton was
Republican, Dan Thornton respected Frank. The Governor listened when Mr.
Ciancio, one of the major political forces in Adams County, took him aside and
convinced him that it was indeed an honor to have a town named after him.
Dan Thornton was apprehensive to be associated with a project that seemed like
it could very easily fail. Questions and concerns nagged at the Governor. What
if they built the homes and no one came? Would this project ruin his good
name? People might feel the town was too long of a commute to work in
Denver. However, Mr. Ciancio overcame these fears and acquired Governor
Thorntons official agreement to have the community of Thornton named after
himself.98 99 Dan Thornton was to have been an honored guest at the twentieth
anniversary of the city in 1976; however, the former governor died of a heart
attack on January 18, 1976.
97 Post. (19 January). 1976. pg.l &. 18.
99 Post. (19 January). 1976. pg. 1 &. 13. However, a photo from the 1976 Thornton celebrations
shows a man with Mayor Chavez that bears a striking resemblance to Dan Thornton, perhaps a
The Hollywood Connection lane Russell
Sam Hoffman had a connection to Hollywood in the form of actress Jane
Russell. Three of her brothers worked for F(StS Construction. In fact, Tommy
Russell ran the construction yard in Thornton. The yard was a large, fenced area
where the supplies, such as lumber and plumbing, were kept. Tommy Russell
would check people in and out of the yard, make certain that everything ran
smoothly and that material was dispersed properly. The Suitts and Russells were
next door neighbors and their children played with each other while living in
Thornton. The Suitts remember seeing Jane Russell several times whenever she
came out to visit her brothers.10C
Sol Dichter first met Jane Russell when she was married to Robert
Waterfield, then the star quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams. She was under
contract to Howard Hughes and had just finished the film, The Outlaw. Ms.
Russell had also received media attention for her high interest in interior
decorating.100 101 According to Mr. and Mrs. Suitts, Sam Hoffman asked Jane to
help his business, and thus her brothers, by becoming active in the Thornton
project. Sam Hoffman asked if she would be willing to decorate the Thornton
100 Suites interview.
101 Dichter interview
and Pueblo model homes as well as lend her name for advertising. She agreed
and also decided to sign autographs and meet with visitors at the Thornton
2.4 Jane Russell and Sam Hoffman at Thornton model homes.
(Courtesy of City of Thornton)
In an interview for the 40th Anniversary Celebration of Thornton, Jane
Russell remembered that time well, They said come on daughter. You come on
back and decorate. It was just sort of a family affair. While she did go to
102 Suitts interview. According to Sol Dichter it was actually Tim (possibly Tommy) Russell who
had Jane Russell come to Thornton.
several furniture stores, workers at the Thornton Lumber Yard built many of the
tables she used for the model homes. I was thinking Colorado, its a little bit
like New Mexico, so we did it in that vein, we were decorating the houses that
way. Ms. Russell isnt sure how the Southwestern theme went over with the
1950s middle-class citizens. I dont think the people in Colorado who were
going to buy the houses, had, you know, any idea of that (The Southwestern
Style of Decorating). They probably wanted Early American, so I think it was
kind of far out for them.1"3
The three Thornton model homes opened to the public in April of 1953.
The houses, just off of Washington Street, were three solitary buildings far from
anything else. They stood in a cleared field surrounded by desolate rolling
prairie north of Denver. However, the area was filled with noise and packed
with people and automobiles when Jane Russell held court at the Thornton
grand opening. There were reportedly thousands lined up to meet Ms. Russell,
shake her hand and possibly receive an autograph from the famous actress before
they went off to view the homes.103 104
103 Thornton: The Miracle City 4(f Anniversary Documentary. (Denver: Auraria Media
Center., 1996), video.
104 Thornton Memories: 40 Years of Planned Progress 1956-96. (Thornton: Anniversary
scrapbook compiled and sold by the City of Thornton., 1996)
2.5 Crowds gather at grand opening of the Thornton model homes.
(Courtesy of City of Thornton)
The Glassmans remember that there was a procedure that prospective
buyers often followed. The first step was to look at the model homes. Secondly
the clientele would pick out the house and analyze a map to choose the general
area they wanted for the location of their new home. The third step was to then
give F&.S Construction the down payment. Only at that point did the salesmen
usually take the new owners outside and point out the house site the customer
had chosen.10* *
Robert and Marjorie Glassman, Interview From Thornton City Archives
The Streets Of Thornton
Mr. Hoffman liked to name streets after people he knew. Even pesky
reporters, out to dig up dirt on Sam, sometimes found a street named after
themselves. Streets with familiar names can be found throughout Thornton. As
a tribute to Jane Russell, Hoffman named Thorntons most curvaceous street,
Russell Boulevard. Janes brothers were honored with Russell Way. Eppinger
Way was named after Art Eppinger, the previous owner of Thorntons land,
while Hoffman Way was named after Sam himself.106
By September 21, 1953, the actual work on the first thirty homes in the
Thornton project began.107 The land itself was predominately arid and rolling,
with deep gulches throughout from the countless years of sudden rain storms. To
begin house construction, F&S first needed to do plenty of dirt work or filling
in with bulldozers. Art Eppinger, who also owned a gravel company, received
the gravel contract for Thornton.108 Richard Molter, who grew up in Thornton,
1Â£* Molter interview.
107 The Denver Post. (28 September). 1953. pg.3.
108 Weingarten interview.
remembers the open fields as Real dry land, very barren with just some yucca
plants and a couple of ditches that ran through there.109 There was some
farmable land in the section. In fact, Walt Weingarten laughs when he
remembers that the first models homes were out all by themselves in the middle
of a wheat field.11"
On January 31, 1954, an official ceremony opened the housing
development.111 Sam Hoffman, Frank Ciancio, Denvers Mayor Newton and
Lieutenant Governor Gordon Allott, were all on hand to greet the first forty
families as they moved into their new homes.112 Frank Ciancio held the door as
the first couple entered. Mrs. Thomas was carried across the threshold of one
new home by her husband and was then presented with a corsage by Mr.
Hoffman.113 The first family to sign an F&.S contract for the purchase of a
Thornton house were John and Harriet Ziegler.
109 Molter interview.
110 Weingarten interview.
111 The Denver Pose. (31 January). 1954- pg.l5A.
112 The Rocky Mountain News. (1 February). 1954. Pg. 46.
113 History Project Notebook., City of Thornton Archives.
2.6 Sam Hoffman (at left) with John and Harriet Ziegler.
(Courtesy of City of Thornton)
However, the first family to officially move to Thornton was Robert and
Marjorie Glassman with their son, Bobbie.114 Mr. Glassman recalled their
Well, it was pretty great, like I said, to be able to move into a
new home, and, of course, we didnt hire anybody. We got my
brother and friends and belongings into a rented truck and went
114 The Rocky Mountain News. (1 February). 1954- pg-46. According to Bill Suitts, he and his
wife Beth, actually bought the first house built in Thornton, but were not necessarily the first to
out together. I think that we moved in, in just a few hours. We
were so anxious to get going.115
In fact, the family was so eager to move into their new home that they did it
during the night. There were no street lights yet, so the night was pitch dark.
Robert ended up falling on the stairs and breaking his arm. The family then had
to call upon friends to finish the move and help get things situated.116 117
Hoffman And The Denver Newspapers
Hoffman did not advertise in the Denver newspapers except for the grand
opening with Jane Russell. Instead, he depended on flyers, brochures, radio
advertisements and word of mouth to spread the news about his homes.111 Since
so much of his market depended on ex-GIs, he did advertise in news papers on
some of the local bases.118 Mr. Hoffmans decision to pay for only limited
advertising with the Denver papers did not encourage them to look favorably on
the Thornton project.
The loss of the tax base to the city of Denver, combined with Mr.
Hoffmans perceived snub of the Denver newspapers by limiting advertising,
115 Glassman interview.
117 Molter interview.
118 Ramirez interview.
caused an air of hostility to quickly develop between Sam and both the city of
Denver and the papers. According to Mr. and Mrs. Molter, the other local
builders were hostile to Sam Hoffman because he sold more spacious homes for
less money than they were charging for their smaller homes. Many citizens of
Thornton felt that the newspapers seemed to focus undue attention on any
problems the fledgling community experienced. "Well, let me put it this way,
they never did anything libelous, but they never said anything good either,
explained Jack Molter. I mean, in other words, what they would say is, well if
youre looking for a house, you would do better than to look at the Hoffman
homes and this sort of thing.119
Although many reports were simply news articles, there was often an
implication of problems within the F&.S Construction Thornton development.
A 1954 Denver Post article reported that a delay in FHA approval meant that
many Thornton home buyers now found themselves in desperate
circumstances. The article went on to quote Eugene F. Duffy, local FHA
director, extensively. It was clear in the article that Mr. Duffy had severe doubts
about multiple aspects of the Thornton project. Mr. Duffy stated that in regards
119 Molter interview.
to Thornton, The FHA must protect the lender from loss if the loan goes
Dennis Bochard explained that Thornton took on the title The Miracle
City because the city survived what Mr. Bochard termed boycotts by the
Denver newspapers.120 121 Joe Maestas says it was also called The Miracle City
because so many were sure the development would fail. Instead, the residents of
Thornton quickly became a community and together shaped their city out of
nothing.122 Almost fifty years later, families such as the Molters, and Max and
Angela Loomis are very proud of the fact that they had to do everything from
scratch, from starting lawns, to building schools, to putting together a city
government. Max Loomis said, Thats the nice thing about Thornton, we did
things for ourselves. So, Thornton really built itself from nothing.123
In Search Of The American Dream
Tony Richter, a former mayor of Thornton, explained what drove the
baby boom and thus the building boom, There were a lot of ex-GIs that came
back who really had a deep desire to do something, do something for their
120 The Denver Post. (10 June). 1954. pg-25.
121 Bochard interview.
122 Joe Maestas, Interview with author. 28 September 1998.
123 Max and Angela (Angie) Loomis, Interview with author. 15 April 1997.
families to improve their lot, to follow that dream. Mr. Richter reminisced that
the mentality of people was one of relief, I know it sounds kind of maudlin, but
there were a lot of GIs that came back that were lucky to be alive. They had a
young family and they just wanted to get a piece of America, to settle down and
protect it.124 Americans were encouraged in this dream with the help of
developments such as Thornton and VA and FHA loans.
If someone wanted to buy a home in the 1950s, they almost universally
applied for either a Veterans Administration (VA) loan or a Federal Housing
Administration (FHA) loan. Both agencies act as insurers for long-term
mortgage loans made by private lenders for home construction and sale.
Neither administration actually builds houses or lends money. Instead, they
encourage lenders ,who have the money, to invest it in residential mortgages by
insuring the mortgages against loss with the full weight of the United States
Treasury behind the contract.125
The VA loans, with lower interest rates and smaller down payment
requirements, were often easier to acquire. The Veterans Administration was
124 Thornton: The Miracle City 4Cf Anniversary Documentary.
5 Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, pg.204.
created out of the Servicemens Readjustment Act of 1944, otherwise known as
the G.I. Bill. It is viewed as the U.S. Governments official endorsement and
support of the philosophy that the sixteen million GIs returning from World
War II each deserved a home of their own. By 1955, subdivisions accounted for
more than three-quarters of all new housing.126
2.7 Hoffman Homes Brochure. (Courtesy of City of Thornton,)
126 Ibid, pg.233.
When Thornton began, Bill Suitts, who was in charge of the loan
qualification process, visited with Fred Lane, who was in charge of VA mortgage
credit for the Denver area. Bill Suitts described him as, A wonderful person
and a very visionary type of individual. Together they worked out a program
useful for many veterans buying a Thornton home through the G.I. Bill. With
their program, many of the buyers had to only come up with a $99 fee which
included the down payment and all closing costs. The early families were
charged less than a hundred dollars a month in house payments. Estimations are
that anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of the first Thornton houses bought were
by ex-GIs.127 Remembering back, Jack Molter figures that the first two to three
hundred families in Thornton purchased their homes with VA loans. 128
The Federal Housing Administration was created out of the adoption of
the June 27, 1934, National Housing Act. The program was designed to
alleviate U.S. unemployment in the building industry by encouraging
construction. However, government involvement would not be through direct 12
12' Suitts interview.
12S Molter interview.
funding, but as support through private industry with the insurance of
FHA underwriters had eight criteria that they measured a development
by to determine if the FHA would insure mortgages. The first criteria was
relative economic stability which counted for 40 percent. The second was
protection from adverse influences and counted for 20 percent. The third was
freedom from special hazards, and it counted for 5 percent. The fourth FHA
criteria was adequacy of civic, social, and commercial centers and counted for 5
percent. The fifth consideration was adequacy of transportation and counted for
10 percent. Sixth was sufficiency of utilities and conveniences which counted
for 5 percent. Number seven was the level of taxes and special assessments and
counted for 5 percent. The eighth and last criteria was the appeal of the
development which counted for 10 percent. The nature of these criteria
encouraged the growth of new homes. It was much easier for builders to meet
the expected standards with brand new houses and communities rather than try
to renovate old neighborhoods.uc 129 130
129 Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, pg.203.
130 Ibid, pg.207.
Thornton Battles With the FHA
The front page of the June 10, 1954 Denver Post announced that the
FHA (Federal Housing Administration) was refusing to grant loans for Thornton
development. Eugene F. Duffy, FHA director for Colorado, stated that he did
not approve of the project for government-insured loans because he felt that
Father &. Sons Construction had inadequate plans for the community. In Mr.
Duffys opinion, the plans offered by the company were only in the
contemplative stage in regards to water, transportation, schools, a shopping
center, and other community needs. Mr. Duffy was quoted to say, Theyre
building an entirely new city out there, representing a far different type of risk
than weve insured before in Colorado. I just feel the important elements are
lacking as of now.131
It was out here in the toolies, agrees Joe Maestas, there were no
highways, it was out here by itself. You wondered if it was really going to take off
or not.132 Calvin Jaynes, a long time resident of Thornton, explained that there
were definite concerns, People felt we were going to be a slum. Mr. Jaynes
remembers that some people felt sure that those who lived in Thornton were all 13
131 The Denver Pose. (10 June 1954), pg-1 -
13 Maestas interview.
losers and were positive that the City would never succeed in making it off the
ground because of the distance from Denver 133
Thornton residents were quick to argue against the Federal Housing
Administration ruling. The Denver Postr quoted several home owners that
defended their new community and the builder with such remarks as, Frankly, I
dont think the FHA is big enough to stop Sam Hoffman, we will have our town
with or without the FHA. There was rampant speculation among residents
over the possible motives behind the ruling. The most popular theory was that
jealous of the success of Father &. Sons Construction, other builders and the city
of Denver instigated the trouble with the FHA to cause problems for the
construction company. Mrs. David Hood stated that, Every 1,000 homes sold
out here in Thornton means just 1,000 that arent sold in Denver.134
F&.S Construction felt that they were being treated unfairly. They cited
other developments that were farther away from commerce than Thornton yet
had received the Federal Housing Administrations approval. Eugene Duffy
answered that in those cases, There were other attractive features offsetting that
133 Calvin Jaynes, interview with author. 5 October 1998.
134 The Denver Post. (20 June 1954), pg-3A.
135 The Denver Post. (21 June 1954), pg-30.
The FHA in Washington D.C. did not agree. It was not long before the
head office demanded that Eugene Duffy turn his files over for review. Mr.
Ehjffys main argument for denial had been the lack of a reliable water supply.
F&S Construction countered this argument with a report by a U.S. Geological
survey official who found that one of Thorntons three wells was shallow. This
meant that it was capable of longer, steadier production than the deep wells
which supplied many other Denver suburbs. When a shallow well runs low on
water, it is simply dug a little deeper to reestablish the water supply. Mr. Duffys
only answer to this evidence of easily accessible water was that he had been
unaware of the report when he made his decision.136
The announcement on June 23, 1954, that the Real Estate Corporation
of America planned to develop a project adjacent to Thornton was seen as a
boon that could only help F&.S Constructions appeal for a ruling change.
Surely, an additional 576 unit housing project, to be called City View Heights,
was proof that the Thornton project was sound.137 It was not long before the
Washington D.C. FHA office rescinded Eugene Duffys ruling and families were
moving in on FHA loans.
137 The Denver Post. (23 June 1954), pg.3.
FamHies Move In
Every family that moved to Thornton has their own tale to tell. Each
traveled a different road. Yet, often the families also shared similar
circumstances. Across the nation, couples were moving into brand new houses.
Many of the male residents were veterans with new families. Once residents
moved to Thornton, they soon felt a sense of community spirit as they built up
their new town from scratch. Calvin Jaynes remembers that for people to move
in, We first had to move out the jackrabbits, rattlesnakes, coyotes and prairie
dogs and then we started to take over.138 All of those jackrabbits made Wes
Brown very nervous. He wasnt at all sure about moving into what he called a
Rabbit Patch. Mr. Brown remembers that for years he saw jackrabbits hop up
and down the streets of Thornton.139
Bill and Beth Suitts
Bill Suitts job as loan qualifier for Thornton was an integral part in the
sale of Hoffman Homes. He was often needed on the premises beyond the
regular 8 to 5 oclock. So, it was only natural that he and his family would be
136 Jaynes interview.
139 Wes Brown, Interview from Thornton City Archives.
one of the first to move into Thornton. According to Mr. Suitts, they bought
the very first house built in Thornton although they were not the first family to
move to the new development.140 141
Bill received his masters degree in business administration from the
University of Denver in 1951. Mr. Suitts was worried about finding a job, so
when he saw an advertisement on the college bulletin board for a new mortgage
company that was hiring, he jumped at the chance. Meanwhile, Sam Hoffman
had come to town to begin construction of the Hoffman Heights Project. The
mortgage company Bill joined handled many of the Hoffman Heights loans.
Since Bill was making only $200 a month and had both a wife and a baby to
think of, he was soon working weekends for F&.S Construction. At his new
weekend job, Bill interviewed perspective home buyers for pre-qualification of
After a while ,the Suitts decided to move to Illinois and be closer to
family. However, their plans changed the morning they were to leave town
when Sam offered Bill a job at $400 a month. Mr. Suitts took the offer and
worked for F&.S Construction for the next four years. While living in Thornton,
Bill was in charge of loan approval. The Suitts family have fond memories of
140 Suitts interview.
their time in the newborn project. They especially recall feeling a strong sense
of community and willingness among the citizens to work together. Bill Suitts
would have stayed with F&.S Construction except a new man was moved in
above him. His new boss, Mr. Batts, was extremely abrasive. With only two
days notice, he canceled Bills vacation to visit his sick mother-in-law. A month
later, Mr. Suitts was offered a position with the Williams Brothers Company
which built in the Boulder area, and has been with them ever since.142
Richard and Inez Ramirez
Richard and Inez Ramirez first saw an advertisement for the Hoffman
Homes while living in Fort Logan. They were staying in temporary veterans
housing quarters which was simply converted old barracks. Space was incredibly
short for new families everywhere. Mr. and Mrs. Ramirez recall that many
people in Denver were living in quonset huts.. As soon as the Thornton models
opened, they, and many others, were there to investigate.143
Richard and Inez liked what they saw. They purchased their home in
May, 1953, with a VA loan. The houses came complete with both a trash
incinerator and a clothesline in the backyard. According to Inez Ramirez, I was
143 Ramirez interview.
pregnant with Pamela, and so we were waiting to see which would be first, the
house or the baby. The couple came out several times to photograph the
progress as their home was built. It was a race to the finish, but the house just
barely edged out the baby for arrival date. The Ramirez family received the keys
to their home the day before Pamela was bom.144
Richard Ramirez was a roofer, so he knew exactly what type of roof he
wanted for his own home. Their house has a gable roof with straight sides, while
the hip roof curves. The gable roof, explained Richard, made it much easier to
add on to the house. They wanted to be the second house on the block. The
comer lots held more prestige and thus were more expensive; therefore, the
second house had the second highest prestige but without the price increase.
However, F&.S called them to tell them they were adding another house on the
block, they could keep the second house position, but it would have a hip roof.
Their love of the gable roof won over location, and they took the third house on
New home owners were eager to learn about their neighbors. A group
went door to door asking the age of children. They soon discovered Pamela.
The one week old baby was propped up on the family couch and a photo was
taken.146 In April 1954, the first issue of Town Talk was published. There on the
front page was a photograph of Pamela. The caption stated that she was bom
March 4, at Mercy Hospital, and proudly proclaimed that Pamela was officially
the first baby of Thornton.14' Later, her picture was hung in a case at City Hall
next to the ceremonial shovel used at groundbreakings.148
Max and Angela Loomis
Max and Angela Loomis are long time residents of Thornton. Max
Loomis was a member of the City Board that acquired much of the land that
constitutes current Thornton. In fact, Max has been so influential in the City of
Thornton that Loomis Park was named in his honor. Max and Angela
discovered the Hoffman Homes project through a woman who worked in the
same office as Angela. Her office mates excitement over the houses stirred the
curiosity and interest of Mrs. Loomis. The couple decided it was worth the drive
to go and take a look. Well I fell in love with the house, but I said, oh, but
thats a long ways from Denver, explained Angela. You know, I couldnt see
1+6 Thornton Sentinel. (13 March, 1986)
147 Town Talk, (vol.l no.l, April., 1954), pg. 1
148 Thornton Sentinel. (13 March, 1986)
driving all that way every day to work because it seemed so far. In essence it
really wasnt, but it seemed that way.149
Despite Angelas reservations about the drive, the couple did decide to
purchase one of the houses. Max Loomis said, We came out one Saturday and
looked at them, thought about it all week, and came out the next Saturday and
purchased one. Then we had to wait for about three months before we got the
Since Mr. Loomis had been in the navy, they qualified for a VA loan.
They purchased their house for $10,250, with a four and a quarter interest rate
and a down payment of $250. Their new home actually had cheaper payments,
only $69 a month, than the rent for their semi-basement apartment, which was
$83, but included utilities. Two weeks after signing the papers, the price on their
model went up to $10,500 and interest rates to four and a half percent. Yes, we
got in just under the wire, said Mrs. Loomis, but, at that time, even 10,250
sounded like a lot of money.151
Although the models were similar, the small differences were important
to the buyers. Each family found different factors that influenced their purchase.
For the Ramirez, it was the roof and location on the block. For the Loomis
family, it was the actual land and location of the dining room. Max Loomis
remembers that he parked the car, walked into the field and looked at empty
land covered with nothing but weeds, billowing dust and markers. However,
even with the gullies and rolling prairie, Max still found one lot he liked for the
location of their home.152
In the beginning, there were three models. At first glance it might be
hard to distinguish what made each model different. According to the Loomiss,
one of the big differences between the three styles are the placement of the
dining rooms. In one it sits forward three feet from the front door, but in
another model, the dining room and front door are even. In the style chosen by
the Loomiss, the dining room sits back from the front door three feet. In the
kitchen of their home there is a half-wall which creates an open space that still
separates the kitchen from the dining room. The Loomiss chose this model
because of the way the rooms are situated, a person standing in the kitchen can
look out through the dining room and see who is at the front door without
having to leave the kitchen.153
They bought their home on May 18, 1954, and then like others, waited
and watched as their house was built. By this time, there were approximately
two hundred and fifty homes standing, but no other developments. The
Loomiss home was ready the very same day their daughter, Debbie, was bom. In
fact, Angela worked as a secretary until the last minute. Max picked her up from
her job and raced through Friday night rush hour to get her to the hospital in
time. A new house, a new baby, a wonderful husband, what more can I ask?
laughed Angela, It was wonderful!154
Tack and Bernice Molter
Jack and Bernice Molter were one of the first families to buy a Thornton
home with a Federal Housing Administration loan. Mr. Molter was a Canadian
army veteran. In 1946, after World War II, he and a friend decided to take a
vacation in the United States before starting back to their jobs waiting in
Canada. Their introduction to Colorado and the future Thornton area was quite
Jack and his friend were coming down North Washington Street from
Cheyenne, Wyoming when at 71" they came across a roadhouse called Silver
155 Molter interview.
Spurs. It was noon and they were hungry, so they stopped to eat. Jack and his
friend saw people walking in through a back entrance, they followed and found
they were not in the restaurant. They had, instead, accidentally entered an
illegal gambling room hidden away behind the tavern, and who should be
pouring in from the front door, but the sheriffs department. To prove they were
from Canada and had literally just arrived in the area took some quick talking
and a visit to the parking lot to show the local law enforcement their car. The
sheriffs department sent them on their way with a warning to be more careful
about where they chose to eat in the future.156
Despite this rather unsettling introduction to Colorado, Mr. Molter fell
in love with the region. I said I was coming back to Denver some time and we
did. Soon after Bernice and Jack were married they moved to Denver. They
heard about Thornton and since they where shopping around for a house, came
out to take a look and liked what they saw. The Molters could not obtain a VA
loan even though Jack was a veteran. Only U.S. GIs could qualify for a Veterans
Administration loan. Instead, in October 1954, the Molters became one of the
first families to reside in Thornton with a Federal Housing Administration
(FHA) loan 157
Pioneers On A Last Frontier
As residents moved into their new homes, they also moved into a new
life. It was the last of the frontier, explained early Thortonite, Thomas
Burke.158 159 We all felt like modem pioneers, stated Jane Garcia with an amazed
laugh at all they dealt with back then.150
The first residents of Thornton had roofs over their heads, electricity and
water but little else. Like citizens of many new communities springing up across
America, the home owners of Thornton had little or no amenities and suddenly
found themselves thrust into the predicament of doing for themselves or doing
without. If residents wanted something like a public school, then they were
going to have to go out and build it themselves. As you came over that last hill
on Washington toward Thornton, the wind would suddenly start blowing and
dust was everywhere. You wondered if it was always going to be like this,
remembered Virginia Smith with a shudder. As more buildings went up it did
improve.160 When the Molter family moved in, Thornton only had dirt and
gravel streets. There were paved sidewalks for the houses, but not much else yet
158 Thomas Burke, Interview with author. 28 September 1998
159 Jane Garcia, Interview with author. 24 September 1998.
160 Virginia Smith, Interview with author. 24 September 1998.
in existence in the area. For residents, little things, like lawns, existed for the
most part in anticipatory talks over the dinner table. Big plans, such as
streetlights, were simply a hope for the future.161
Many people who worked for F&.S Construction would eventually buy
homes from their employer. Salvador Zendejas worked for Sam Floffiman as an
expediter, a person who orders items such as lumber for the construction of the
houses. When someone didnt qualify for a house in Thornton, the Zendejas
family decided to try for a loan and qualified. In 1954, when Salvador and
Tomisita moved their family into a house, there were only a few homes yet built.
Tomisita was not at all sure of their decision to move away from Denver. I
always had to wait for my husband to do anything because I didnt drive,
explained Mrs. Zendejas. The dusty, barren landscape certainly did not help
endear the place to her. The kids found a rattlesnake once when we first lived
here. I didnt like it here much. Flowever, as the community developed,
Tomisita changed her mind. Mrs. Zendejas has continued living in Thornton all
161 Molter interview.
162 Tomisita Zendejas, Interview with author. 30 September 1998.
Inez Ramirez remembers those first years well, No telephones, no trees,
no lawn, no way to communicate at all with those in town.163 At first, it was a
challenge and a journey for any resident just to have access a telephone. Ruth
Causey reminisced that she and others in her area would have to drive up to the
Hoffman show homes to find a phone.164 Sarah Jane Anderson remembers the
long walk to use the telephone at the communitys only gas station.165 It was not
until several months after families had moved in that the telephone company
installed a community pay phone in the alley close to the Ramirez household.
Mrs. Ramirez remembers that long lines would form as the early residents waited
for their opportunity to use the pay phone.166 The first personal telephones were
all installed on party lines, with eight houses using each line. In Jack Molters
opinion the situation was extremely annoying since it never failed that everyone
would want to use the phone line at the same time, and there was of course
always someone who talked incessantly. It took a bit of public outcry before
service improved and private lines were available.16'
143 Ramirez interview.
164 Ruth Causey, Interview with author. 24 September 1998.
165 Anderson interview.
164 Ramirez interview.
14' Molter interview.
The residents of Thornton discovered that not only were schools going to
have to be built, but that their new city was also on the apex of three school
districts. According to Max Loomis, up the hill ffom him a school boundary ran
right through one house. Supposedly, the family finally decided which school
district their child would go to based on which district their childs bedroom was
According to Diane Molter, who grew up in the Thornton area, there was
originally no bus or taxi service in Thornton, You had to pay extra to have a
cab bring you out here and they would not come out here to pick you up.
Therefore, citizens in Thornton were out of luck if they did not have access to a
vehicle. For a while, the closest gas station was in Denver. Except for one or
two small mom and pop stores, there were no grocery stores in operation in the
The main road in and out of town was Washington Street, the Valley
Highway had not yet been built. However, according to Richard Ramirez this
situation had a positive side since along Washington, in the Welby area, were
truck farms. You could leave Denver, and when you got down to about 56* you
could feel the cool air coming this way because of all the gardens and all the 168 169
168 Loomis interview.
169 Molter interview.
flowers. You could feel a difference in the heat, you could smell it even, the
good old days, he recalled.1'0
Everything was just dirt, and it was up to you to take care of it,
remembers former mayor, James Carpenter. Landscaping and fences were not
included with the houses.171 In fact, Virginia Smith remembers that there was a
problem with some people not respecting property lines. They would drive
through their neighbors backyards. Some residents seemed to feel it made no
difference, aside from the occasional yucca plant, both the yards and streets were
As people installed their lawns, they again encountered problems. There
were few lawn services close by, therefore most people had to plant their own
grass. James Carpenter explained that in those days there was no sod available,
instead grass seeds had to be planted. The first step was to rent a rototiller to
break up the hard, clay soil. Next, the grass seeds had to be spread on the dirt.
The third step was to then mix the seeds with fertilizer. This mixture must be
kept covered and damp if there was to be any hope of the grass coming up.1'3
1.0 Ramirez Interview.
1.1 James Carpenter, Interview with author. 21 September 1998.
1.2 Smith interview.
1.3 James Carpenter interview.
2.8 Colorado Paved Roads, 1940 and 1980 (Noel, Mahoney &
Stevens, Historical Atlas of Colorado. Pg. 31.
The ground was high in both clay and alkali. After a rainstorm the dirt
would turn white from all the alkali rising to the surface. However, the families
were not about to admit defeat, they simply had to add some fertilizer, by the
truckload.* 174 Commercial fertilizer was not common in the early 1950s.
According to Richard Ramirez, they would instead get the raw stuff straight
from the stock yards. Soon the entire neighborhood would carry the strong
smell of manure.1,5
The Molters remember that every time it rained, it was almost like
starting over as all the neighbors yards practically flowed together. Diane Molter
remembers as a child playing in the mud every time it rained:
It would wash down, we had gullies and Rivulets and we would
get out there and make dams and big earthworks. You would get
out there with your Tonka Trucks and your dollies, and, you
know, float your dolly down the river. A couple days later you
would go and dig them out of the dirt four or five houses down.
When it [the toy] dried out somewhat, bang the mud out of them
and start over again.1,6
Jack Molter shook his head and laughed good naturedly when he remembered
how cloudbursts would wash the lawns out to flow as mud down the streets
174 Molter interview.
1,5 Ramirez interview
174 Molter interview.
before the grass could really get started. Everybody down in the ditch had grass
growing down there, our grass that should have been up here.1'7
The Ramirezs were thankful they never had to deal with that problem.
The first thing everyone in their neighborhood did was put up retaining walls.1'8
On the other hand, Mr. and Mrs. Loomis decided it would be easier to just pay
the extra money and have a landscaping company come out to fertilize and seed
their yard. However, the company put straw down in the back yard to retain
moisture in the soil and before they knew it, the Loomiss found themselves with
a half acre of good oats.177 179
At first, only all-brick homes were built, but then F&.S Construction
began to build frame houses called Bonnies. Mr. Hoffman liked to name things
after people he knew. Sam had a salesmen whose wife, Bonnie, was a positive
and perky sort of person Mr. Hoffman liked her and, therefore, decided to name
the frame style house the Bonnie.180
174 Ramirez interview.
179 Loomis interview.
18C Suitts interview.
The Bonnies were lower priced than the earlier homes. Some people
became upset because they thought that Thornton was going to be an all-brick
community. It was feared that the frame houses would lower property values and
possibly bring undesirable people into the area. There was wide speculation that
Mr. Hoffman turned to building the frame houses in an effort to get 2,000
families in Thornton. It was rumored that 2,000 households were needed to
guarantee that a shopping center would be built.181
Not true, emphatically stated Sol Dichter. The primary owner of
Thorntons first shopping center, Mr. Dichter explained that the land had been
zoned commercial and the shopping center was a done deal. If it hadnt been
built in one year, then it would have been built the next. However, Sol did
state that Mr. Hoffman did want to increase house purchases to see Thornton
continue its amazing growth. Sam liked the frame houses because they could
reach more people since the Bonnie was a well built, but less expensive home.182
Thornton Becomes A Community In Spirit
For almost everyone, this was our first home so we all wanted to make a
success of not only our home, but of the community, so there was a lot of
181 Molter interview.
182 Dichter interview.
community feeling and effort that you wouldnt have found elsewhere, said Oyer
Leary, the first mayor of Thornton.183 There was evidence everywhere and in
different ways of the effort they put forth to become a community.
Traditional clubs were soon in place and working hard to improve life.
The Kiwanis were active in the community in many ways, from signs warning to
watch for children playing, to earning money to get equipment for the city. One
of the Lions Club main objectives over the years has been to provide free eye
exams and eyeglasses for children. Their primary method of fundraising in
Thornton has been a concession stand at the Little League games.184
The Womens Club started in 1954. One of the very first things that
they did was to create a city directory. With these directories a resident could
look up a persons last name and know what their spouses name was, what the
man did for living, the childrens names and ages and where the family went to
church. The directories were sold for $1.00 and were a highly successful
moneymaker. According to Sarah Jane Anderson, We made good money off it
because everyone bought it. If your children came home and talked about this
neighbor or that, you could just look them up in the Thornton Directory. The
club was able to give $1,000 towards the purchase of an ambulance and another
183 Oyer G. Leary, Interview with author. 28 September 1998.
lw Brown interview.
$1,000 towards the library fund. The Womens Club is actually responsible for
the construction of the community building at 95th and Gaylord. The women
raised the money, and their husbands did the construction work. The club then
gave the building to Thornton.165
Some groups, such as the Luncheon Clubs, worked in a more one-on-one
way to help people along the road to becoming settled members of the
community. Angela Loomis, Inez Ramirez, and Bernice Molter all belonged to
Luncheon Clubs. These clubs usually consisted of a group of twelve women. At
the beginning of the year, each would write down something they wanted, such
as, a vacuum cleaner or new curtains. This was an item that could be bought
with, or supplemented by the money the women contributed. Each month a
name would be drawn and that member received what she had requested. Every
month was a different winner who then hosted the luncheon the next month.
The hostess was usually in charge of coffee and rolls, and the other members
provided the rest of the meal. Max Loomis laughed as he remembered that he
always found an excuse to be at home when the potluck was at their house
because the food was so good.* 186
1S5 Anderson interview.
186 Loomis interview.
Every area in Thornton developed a sense of community that was unique
and different from the neighboring blocks. The Suitts remember a sense of
simply working together toward a common goal, while in the Molters area, giant
block parties occurred in all the neighborhoods around them. Each year
different families would host the event. They remember that it was the domino
effect, one block would have a party and soon the rest would follow.187 The
Ramirezs block never had parties, but all the men liked to get together after
work. During the winter, the neighborhood next to them would cordon off the
streets and let the children slide down the road.188 On the Loomiss block they
would also cordon off the street, then all the men brought their barbecue grills
out and lined them up along the street for a giant barbecue. A parachute was set
up as a tent for shade.189 Thomas Burke does not remember any organized
activities in his neighborhood; however, he does remember that during the
summer an unofficial competition always developed among the men to see who
could mow their yard the fastest. Afterwards, they would often all go get a beer
or food together.190
187 Molter interview.
186 Ramirez interview
190 Burke interview.
As I look back over it now, I probably didnt realize it, but the problems
were practically insurmountable. But, being younger and having other fellow
veterans, we felt we could solve anything and everything at the time, recalls
Oyer Leary. The problems were truly tremendous. There were no local public
schools. Children either had to be sent to the closest Catholic school, or be
shipped to public school at East Lake, a long-distance for the inadequate busses.
However, as Mr. Leary stated, There was a lot of talent in the community. In
1955, people from every walk of life and trade came together and as volunteers
built the first elementary school close to Eppinger Street and North
Washington. The first Thornton elementary school was a simple prefabricated
structure. Later, a permanent brick school was built in the same location.191 192
Everyday Life Of Women
Since most of the woman in early Thornton were stranded at home
without a car, groups would plan trips to get away from their homes. The
women would get together in a car pool with their neighbors and children in
tow, travel to Denver for excursions such as the movies, or an afternoon at the
192 Molter interview.
Often they would congregate informally, and sit and visit as they kept a
watch on each others children, of which there was an abundance.193 Virginia
Smith had a child care license and, therefore, always had a house full of kids
despite the fact that most women did not work outside the home. Mrs. Smith
was always amazed that her husband, who had a night job, could sleep through
the noise.194 Ruth Causey recalls that just about all the children on her block
were girls. Often, they would gather in one persons yard and play paper dolls all
There were many women expecting babies, but rarely a car available
during the day to get to a hospital. Thornton women couldnt even phone their
husbands at work since there were no phones. The man who ran the new
Conoco Gas Station at 88th and Washington saw the problem and was soon
running a maternity transportation service. When a neighbor would let him
know he was needed, he would then fetch the pregnant woman and quickly cart
her off to the hospital in his truck, which was soon christened the Maternity
193 Catherine Paulson, Interview with author. 24 September 1998.
194 Smith interview.
195 Causey interview.
196 Molter interview
Thornton's First Shopping Center
Development other than houses was gearing up the summer of 1954.
One newspaper took notice of the celebrations: A splash of champagne and a
flurry of shovels Saturday marked the opening of bus service for Thornton,
Colo., and groundbreaking for a shopping center and school in the new
community north of Denver.197 When Thorntons first shopping center opened
on Washington Street in May of 1955, it contained such stores as a creamery,
Woolworths, and Millers which was a grocery store. Ciancios Restaurant was
also in the new shopping center. It soon served double duty as both a restaurant
and a political meeting place.196
Originally called Hoffman Heights Shopping Center, the name soon
changed to the Thornton Shopping Center. The stores were not just a needed
convenience that would now make life much easier, but also a social center. The
place quickly developed as the location to check out the new people, make new
acquaintances and catch up on gossip with the more distant neighbors.199 Wes
Brown was the manager of the new Millers. He felt as if he knew everyone in
1,7 Thornton Scrapbooks. There are multiple unnumbered or titled scrapbooks assembled
roughly by time period. They are predominately filled with unidentified newspaper articles.
Thornton, since they all came to his store to shop, talk and get in the long line
that would form to get their checks cashed as there were no banks at that time.200
In the winter, the area of the parking lot that was to later become an
Albertsons, was blocked off. The fire department would flood it, and as soon as
the spot froze over, the community found itself with its own ice skating rink.
Diane Molter recalls that there was a man with an accordion who would
sometimes come out and play songs. After skating, people could go into
Woolworths, and for ten cents, purchase a cup of hot tea and a few Vanilla
In the summer, groups such as the Kiwanis Club hosted popular events
such as pancake breakfasts and bingo in the parking lot. The pancake breakfast
became an annual event with contests and entertainment. There was even a
pancake queen who was selected by the residents. At the breakfast she would be
crowned by Miss Colorado. It was all you could eat pancakes, sausage, coffee and
milk for 50 cents per person. The proceeds went toward recreational equipment
for the local children.202
100 Brown interview.
",1 Causey interview.
202 Thornton Tribune, (vol. 2 no. 34 August 23, 1956), pg.l.
Thorntons Volunteer Fire Department
The fire department and police department both began as volunteer
groups where the men served without pay. Many residents such as Max Loomis
felt it was their civic duty to help out.203 The volunteer fire department was
supported by subscriptions of one dollar per month for each residential home
within the community.204
A Mr. Bell was contacted and agreed to lease a truck, hoses and related
equipment to the growing community. However, no one had thought about
where the money was going to came from. Mr. Bell came out one Friday night,
and since nothing had been paid, and repossessed everything. The community
was once again left without any fire protection. The closest fire department was
15-20 miles away, certainly too far away for any of the residents peace of mind.205
Wes Brown called the downtown Millers Grocery office to inquire about
a donation to assist Thornton in its quest for fire protection. Millers was
agreeable to helping and donated $250. This inspired Mr. Brown who then went
to other businesses to get cash donations. In the end, he gathered $1,385 for the
^Colorado State Planning Division, Colorado Year Book: 1962'1964. (Research and
Publications Section of Colorado State Planning Division), pg.882.
fire department. With that money Thornton was able to purchase a second-
hand fire truck.206 Through the Kiwanis club, a 750 gallon-per-minute used
pumper was purchased from Denver for $750.207 208
According to Harold Valasek, also a former Thornton fireman, the men
took turns keeping the fire truck at their homes until the community had
facilities to store it. The truck was a 1924 American La France that used chains
to guide the rear wheels. It had a siren that was hardly ever used, it wasnt
needed. Yes, I remember that old fire engine popping and banging and
clanging, you always knew when the fire truck was coming, Mr. Valasek went
on to explain that Thornton was also still quite small and empty. You could
have had someone lean out and whistle and people would have got out of the
It was arranged for the phone company to set up a special telephone
system. Every time an emergency call was placed, the phone would ring at all
the firemens houses. They all listened for the address and then met at the fire.209
2C! Brown interview.
Colorado State Planning Division, Colorado 1959-1961: Year Book of the State of Colorado.
(General Assembly in the State Planning Division), pg.726.
208 Harold Valasek. Phone interview with author. 28 April 1997.
The Local News
Thornton residents were determined not to be simply a bedroom suburb
of Denver. They instead wanted to be a city in their own right with a true sense
of community. One way to do that was to have their own newspaper. Town
Talk, Thorntons first paper started just a few months after the first residents
moved in. The paper soon had several competitors.210
Gerald Carley was very active in the new community. After writing an
article about a fundraising raffle, the publisher of the Thornton Thunder asked
Gerald to be his editor. Mr. Carley did this for several months. However, the
publisher had problems paying his bills so Mr. Carley quit. Then the publisher
of the Thornton Tribune, Ken Armstrong, called Gerald and asked if he and his
wife would like to be associate editors.211 So the Carleys entered the newspaper
industry and took charge of the paper. Gerald was the editor of the general news
and his wife Jo was the social editor. Mr. Carley remembers:
She told me before she started, I dont know how to write a
column, and I said to her, you write a wonderful letter just
write it like youre writing a letter. So she wrote Dear Sue
and Sam and then she wrote what was going on in Thornton
for the past week. It went over really good. The column was
210 City of Thornton Scrapbooks
211 Gerald Carley, Interview with author. 21 September 1998.
called From Over The Party Line by Jo Carley.212
In 1955, the Carleys were always out and about in the community as
they went to meetings everywhere. Their job as associate editors was to gather
all the news, edit it, and then type it up in their home. Tuesday was the due
date; therefore, they were always up to two or three in the morning, typing and
putting the news into columns. The publisher would pick the material up in the
morning, and then take it to the printer. The printer would lay it out on the
paper, print it and bring it back to the Carleys house. They then had carriers
distribute the weekly newspaper to the houses.213
After about a year the newspaper was sold and the Carleys were able to
take a bit more of a rest. However, the new owner, Keith Tennal, had trouble
adjusting to a different style and attitude towards newspapers. Mr. Tennal was
used to businesses always advertising in the local paper, but Thornton was a
community where you had to go out and work to get the advertising It was not
long before he sold the paper to Elroy 1. Fitzsenry.214
At fourteen, Elroy 1. Fitzsenry, started a miniature magazine to be used in
motels for the room televisions. After publishing this for two summers, he
opened a duplicating and letter shop in his home while he was still in high
school. At sixteen, Mr. Fitzsenry was operating a business that grossed $2,000
for the year. In 1956, he took a job as editor and advertising salesman for the
Thomcon Tribune. After only a month on the staff, he was asked if he would
like to purchase the newspaper. At seventeen, Elroy used his print shop savings
and purchased the paper. Only two months had elapsed between joining the
papers staff and becoming its owner and editor. He was the youngest editor in
Colorado at that time.215
Mrs. Molter worked for Elroy Fitzsenry for a while. She remembers that
at first they used a hand crank mimeograph machine to print the news.216 Since
Elroy was only seventeen, his mother had to sign the company checks.217 The
Thornton Tribune became a six year career. Mr. Fitzsenry intended to study
journalism at the University of Colorado, but he instead entered the military
service in September, 1962, and never returned to journalism in Thornton.218
215 Walter Stewart, Young Editors For a Young Press. (Journalism Center., 1994), pg. 2.
216 No one else has mentioned the mimeograph. Gerald Carley spoke of a printing business being
in charge of that aspect of the paper when he ran it before Fitzsenry was involved.
217 Molter interview.
'IS Stewart, Young Editors For a Young Press. Pg. 2.
The Non-Issue Of Race
Race relations have never been a substantial issue in Thornton. The
community has always tried to embrace an attitude of racial tolerance.
According to the Citys current mayor, Margaret Carpenter, the incidences of
racial tensions and violence were very low in Thorntons past andtemains low
The low rate of racism is generally attributed to the fact that the first
people to move to Thornton did so at the same time, and were predominately
ex-GIs with families. Thus, all were starting out at the same level, in a place
that did not have any other close pre-established group which could have set up
an instant class system. Everyone was moving into similar houses and had
similar money situations to deal with along with their new families. A persons
race did not seem to matter much as everyone banned together to create a
community, explained Gerald Carley, a veteran and early resident. Veterans
liked to live in close proximity of each other because they had shared
experiences and thus a pre-existing foundation for developing community spirit.
Also, as Mr. Carley said with a smile, We could swap lies about World War
219 Margaret Carpenter, Interview with author. 12 October 1998.
Most people moving into Thornton were either Anglo or Hispanic.
Today there is a growing population of Vietnamese calling the area home.
Although black families move to Thornton today, their numbers remain low for
an unknown reason.220 Catherine Paulson stated that in 1953, a Hoffman Homes
salesman told her that when black families filled out papers to get a house, it was
policy that they would be told that they did not qualify.221 However, there was a
small percentage of black families moving into the neighborhoods in 1953 and
This mixture of racial groups in Thornton is interesting because
Thornton home owners sometimes depended on the Federal Housing
Administration for loan approval. However, the FHA would often work hard to
keep different races segregated. The 1939 FFLA Underwriting Manual taught
that Crowded neighborhoods lessen desirability, and that Older properties on
a neighborhood have a tendency to accelerate the transition to lower class
occupancy.223 The FHA was extremely concerned with Inharmonious racial or
national groups. It supposedly feared that an entire area could lose its
221 Paulson interview. In no other interview was anyone aware of any policies of discrimination
toward any ethnic group.
222 Margaret Carpenter interview.
223 Jackson, Crabgrzss Frontier, pg.207.