By Kevin Strong
GENOA, Colo. (CBS4) – In 1927, Highway 24 in Genoa was little more than a dusty road cutting across the Colorado plains. The automobile was beginning to come of age, and people were anxious to explore the world around them.
Charles Gregory found a piece of land on top of a hill. He could see quite a distance from there, but what he saw clearest was opportunity. This spot had always attracted the attention of travelers.
“There was a stage stop along here. Indians used to camp here. Charles Gregory camped here in 1877, because that’s how he knew about the spring,” said Patty Calhoun. She’s the editor of Denver’s Westword weekly newspaper, and has over the years written many stories about Gregory and his legacy.
“He was definitely the first visionary. People used to refer to him as the P.T. Barnum of Colorado.”
Gregory’s vision included a 60-foot tall tower, from which Gregory claimed one could see six states: Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and New Mexico. Visitors could stop, get gas for their cars, a bite to eat at the adjoining cafe and climb the narrow, winding staircase to the top of the tower to see if they could see all six.
It’s a claim which caught the attention of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” whose endorsement graced the side of the tower for decades.
If words on the side of the tower weren’t enough to catch the attention of passers-by, Gregory’s own words would often do the trick, according to Calhoun.
“He would stand on this tower with a megaphone, read the license of the passing cars, and say ‘Hey Ohio, get over here! Get a drink! Get some Gas.”
Folks who stopped for refreshments found them in Gregory’s “Indian Cafe,” an experience every bit as unique as the tower. It was built entirely out of stone and concrete, from the inside out.
“He built wooden forms, then put the rocks into the forms, then poured the concrete,” said Reed Weimer, a local artist and friend of Calhoun. “He had a vision for it. He wanted it to be this visual overload of stuff.”
To create that overload, Gregory sought out interesting rocks to use for his walls.
“There’s oyster shells, geodes, big chunks of mica worked in,” Weimer said.
To further stimulate the visual overload, Gregory called on a friend — a Souix princess named Ravenwing, to hand paint images on most of the other rocks inside the cafe. Charles Gregory would also add a small dance hall with a stage, which not only entertained travelers, but the local population for decades.
Charles Gregory operated the World’s Wonder View Tower until his death in 1947. From there, the site changed hands a few times, eventually ending up in the care of Jerry Chubbuck, who purchased the property in 1967.
Chubbuck — like Gregory — had a flair for showmanship, and enjoyed showing off the tower. More than that, though, Chubbuck was a collector. It started with arrowheads which he’d find scattered throughout the property. It continued with, well, pretty much everything. “Everything” included such things as rooster glasses (used to keep roosters from pecking each other), a two-headed calf, a saddle with a working compass on it; collections of this, that, and the other.
When you’ve got that much stuff, you’ve got to put it somewhere, right?
“He pretty much ran out of storage, so he was looking for a place to store stuff,” said Allen Chubbuck, Jerry’s son. The tower and its adjoining buildings provided the perfect place to display Jerry’s collections.
“He just started collecting things, and turned it into a museum.”
When the shelves filled up, Jerry started nailing things to the ceiling. His esoteric collections became as much of an attraction as the tower itself, and Jerry loved to talk about them.
“People from all over the world would stop by. Some of them didn’t speak very good English, but I guess dad laughed and they laughed with him. I don’t know if either understood what the other was saying,” Chubbuck quipped.
Jerry Chubbuck died in 2013, and the tower and museum closed down. It sat dormant.
Chubbuck’s family tried auctioning off the collections to raise money for upkeep, but the revenue earned fell woefully short of expectations.
Patty Calhoun wrote about the situation for Westword, but after all the years writing about the site, she realized she had developed a strong personal connection to the site, and something needed to be done.
“So I talked to some of my smartest artist, real estate friends, and we all decided it was a good thing,” she said, describing her decision to form a coalition to purchase the site themselves.
“Depending on who you tell, they think you’re crazy, they think it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever seen. It’s impossible to come out to the tower and not have a very strong opinion of it.”
Now, Calhoun, Weimer, and a handful of other friends face the age-old question; now that you have it, what do you do with it?
“It will never be a museum in the same sense of the Jerry Chubbuck museum because that stuff’s gone. But the old roadhouse, the cafe that existed before, which are stunning on their own. We’d love to get some use there,” said Calhoun, adding that the site’s uniqueness has an artistic quality about it that will definitely play well into its future.
“Anything we do will involve art. We may do art shows out here. We may do music shows out here. Make it as open to the public as we can.”
Reid Weimer said the artistic vision of those who came before will be continued.
“Nobody ever messed this up. Everyone who came in here respected the vision of the people who came here before them, and that’s what attracted them to this place,” he said.
The group says they’re still a ways away from opening up to the public. There’s a lot of cleaning and restoration which must occur first. But, Calhoun says, the site has always inspired grand visions, and they hope to continue that well into the future.
“I think the history of it — 90 years, an iconic piece of architecture, but also an entry point into Colorado — it’s just a great story,” she said.
Visit a special section of Colorado Preservation, Inc. to learn more about World’s Wonder View Tower. The organization has declared it one of their Most Endangered Places for 2017.