Mark Jones thought he was having a leisurely haircut in the small Colorado town of Del Norte that he and his wife had chosen for their retirement. It was 1998, and Jones was due for time off after heading the capital facilities department at Stanford University, where he had overseen the restoration of several major buildings.
He thought he was done with “all the craziness,” he admits, but in the next barber chair was Dr. Ray Culp who owned a building that needed restoration. “By the time my hair was cut, I was hooked.”
Ever since, Jones has been leading the community in restoring the Windsor Hotel. “The first time I saw it, I realized it was the centerpiece of the community and, by far, the largest building in town,” he says. “It had been a building of dignity and integrity, but it was in horrible condition—it was about as far gone as any building I’d ever worked on.”
When Jones found out the building’s important legacy, well, like the frosting on a cake, it was the plaster on the wall.
Built in 1874 in the midst of Colorado’s gold rush, the first-class hotel was the only brick building in town and covered a fourth of a city block. “It was a big deal to have this in the rickety-tick mining town of Del Norte,” Jones says.
The hotel remained the center of social and cultural life for a century, until the late 1970s, when it was abandoned. After the roof collapsed from a snowstorm, snow and rain poured in and ruined the tin ceilings, maple floors and wooden stairway.
By 1993, someone had bought the building to tear it down for a burger stand. The demolition equipment was in the street when Dr. Culp’s wife, Barbara, came by and told the wrecking team, “Not so fast, boys.”
She put herself between the building and the wrecking ball, then she and her husband bought the building for $75,000 (“Too much,” Jones says) with the intent to restore the hotel.
But nobody in town had ever restored a building like theirs. Until 1998, when Dr. Culp just happened to meet the man who has a “long suit as an architect in historical preservation,” as Jones puts it.
Jones is now vice president of the Windsor Restoration and Historical Association, which raised more than $1.5 million to restore the L-shaped, two-story building. Some of the money came in from historical grants and rural development funds, but most of it was raised from 836,000 people who have donated from $5 to $75,000, Jones says.
Today, the 23,000-square-foot complex is pretty much restored. It houses three small businesses, a bar, a dining room and a banquet room. The second floor offers 20 historically-themed hotel rooms that opened in May 2012.
“It’s been a 15-year battle against seemingly impossible odds,” Jones says. “We kept asking ourselves, ‘How the hell are we going to do this,’ but we did. Now we expect it to last another 200 years.”
Jones has spent so much time on this— “I’ve put more of myself in this building than any I ever did”—that his wife jokes she’s the “Windsor widow.”
A thankful community named Jones, who donated every minute of his time, as “Citizen of the Year” in 2012. With the Windsor project behind him, Jones has bought three small buildings in downtown and intends to restore them too.
So much for retirement for this Old West Savior.
Jana Bommersbach has been Arizona’s Journalist of the Year and has won an Emmy and two Lifetime Achievement Awards. She is the author of two nationally-acclaimed true crime books and a member of Women Writing the West.