Monday, April 16, 2012
Who would have thought that this small Western Colorado town was one of the first cities in the nation and world to have electric lights and grid powered by Alternating Current (AC.)
In 1892 the Durango Light and Power Company built this structure (the first known Mission-style architecture for a commercial building outside of California) to house a coal-fired electric generator. At the time, AC was deemed to be too dangerous and was outlawed in most Eastern cities. It is because of this plant that Durango had AC powered lights available before the Great Cities of the East such as New York and Boston.
In the mid 1940s, the plant was converted from being a coal-fired plant to a gas-fired one, reflecting the West's changing emphasis on raw energy sources . Its size and adaptability made it useful long after other early power generating plants had been torn down and replaced. It eventually was acquired by Western Colorado Power, which supplied electricity to Colorado's Western Slope Grid.
The Powerhouse was shut down in the mid 1970s and was boarded up. The site, which sits on the banks of the Animas River became an eyesore and the City of Durango was trying to decide what to do with the building after acquiring it. Finding a viable use was compounded by the expensive and daunting task of removing asbestos and decades worth of pigeon droppings. Demolition was considered. The Durango Powerhouse was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and became one of Colorado Preservation, Inc.'s Most Endangered Places.
In 1999 the Children's Museum of Durango (Est. 1994) was outgrowing its current space and the Museum, needing space to accommodate older visitors and yearly growth, wrote up a plan to renovate and restore the Powerhouse into an interactive science museum. The City of Durango passed a resolution supporting the rebirth of the Powerhouse as the Durango Discovery Museum. Work began in 2002 and renovation on the exterior of the building and cleaning of the site was complete in 2006.
The Durango Discovery Museum opened to the public on February 23, 2011 and the Grand Opening was held on July 17, 2011.