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Winks Panorama

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February 2018 National Historic Landmark Letter of Inquiry – Rollinsville, CO

By Astrid Liverman, Ph.D.

  My own cottage built by my own hands, painted orange and trimmed in brown, nestled amid the evergreen trees, away from the smoke, noise and confusion of the city and where the air and the water are always pure, fulfills my every desire for rest and recreation (…) I appreciate my lots and my cottage so much I cannot but write you and express my appreciation of your efforts in supplying to me and our group of people the most wonderful mountain resort I have seen in Colorado and I have lived here for many years. 

  O.W. Hamlet to Lincoln Hills, Inc., January 24, 1928,

  Letter on file with the Blair Caldwell African American Research Library.

Winks Panorama was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on March, 28 1980 with additional documentation and a boundary increase approved on October 15, 2014. Obrey Wendell “Winks” Hamlet (b.1892) oversaw construction of the three-story Winks Panorama (Winks Lodge) between 1925 and 1928, operating it until his death in 1965. The Craftsman-inspired lodge sits on a forested slope overlooking Lincoln Hills Country Club, an African-American resort community platted in 1922, and for which it acted as the social heart. The area also hosted Camp Nizhoni for girls, sponsored by the YWCA’s Phyllis Wheatley Branch for Negro Children between 1925 and 1946.

Winks Panorama is nationally significant as the preeminent regional African-American resort of the segregation era in the Rocky Mountain West, welcoming vacationers with limited options for travel and leisure due to discrimination. By the 1930s African Americans had been forced to create their own opportunities for vacationing due to the denial of accommodations, danger, and frequent humiliation experienced in travel. Guides such as The Negro Motorist Green Book (1936-1963), Travelguide (1946-1955), and Ebony’s annual vacation guide (beginning in 1947) evidence the network established to map safe lodging, dining, and restrooms. The Civil Rights Act of 1964’s end to legal segregation contributed to the obsolescence of these alternate venues. Winks Lodge’s period of significance thus extends from 1928 to 1964.

SIGNIFICANCENational Pattern of History

Winks Panorama meets National Historic Landmark Criterion 1 for its significant association with African-American outdoor leisure during the segregation era. Winks Panorama is the most intact example of a rare type west of the Mississippi in the Intermountain and Pacific West regions of the separate network of safe recreational opportunities purposely created by African Americans to avoid the humiliation and dangers of discrimination between the rise of the automobile and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Architect and historian Everett Fly asserts that Winks was not only the major destination in the Rocky Mountain West, but a critical link in a national network.

Early twentieth-century African-American outdoor recreation, vacationing, and second-home ownership relates to mid-nineteenth century black exclusion and debates over slavery in the settlement of the West. As described by historian Patricia Nelson Limerick:

“Beyond actual armed conspiracy, white Westerners saw in black rights the first link in a chain reaction. Permit blacks a place in American political and social life, and Indians, Asians and Hispanics would be next. Western diversity thus gave an edge of urgency to each form of prejudice; the line had to be held against each group; if the barrier was breached once, it would collapse before all the various “others.”

By the 1880s, Denver’s black population exceeded even San Francisco’s. By the 1890s, the community gravitated to Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. By 1920, over six thousand African Americans, many of them business owners and professionals, lived in Denver, the largest black population center in the state.

Winks Panorama symbolized independence and perseverance in the face of discrimination, segregation, and the increasing political power of the Ku Klux Klan. African-American resort communities at Atlantic City, NJ, Newport, RI, and Saratoga Springs, NY first emerged beginning in the mid to late nineteenth century, when other resorts welcomed African Americans only as servants.[i] By the mid-twentieth century, as memoirist Robert Stepto recounted:

“I remember an occasion in the 1950s when the whole family had to sleep in the car because the motels we had tried all were mysteriously full. The next morning, the insult continued when the first place we entered for breakfast wouldn’t serve us. These things happened not in the deep South, but in supposedly less treacherous places, Ohio and Pennsylvania (…) If these were the perils of summer travel at mid-century, we should not marvel at all at how serious and determined early-century blacks were about founding their own summer enclaves, notably Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard and in the Midwest, Idlewild.”

Winks Panorama, which flourished because of the outdoor opportunities it offered, exemplifies how this national trend took hold in the Rocky Mountain West. In 1922, black entrepreneurs Robert E. Ewalt and E.C. Regnier formed Lincoln Hills Development Company (LHDC). Approximately forty miles west of Denver, the area was mined as the Pactolus Placer as early as 1863. In 1924, the Boulder Camera reported that Fred Dungan, professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, surveyed “640 acres of land located two miles west of Pinecliff[sic] and six miles south of Nederland which is being made into a cottage resort for colored people to be known as Lincoln.” Articles of Incorporation were filed on September 30, 1925. LHDC issued the Lincoln Hills Circular in 1928, extolling: “Nestled within the grandeur of the everlasting hills, bathed in perpetual sunshine and fragrant with the odors of wild flowers and the health giving pine forests, we are building a place that will attract thousands of people and at the same time show our genius and constructive ability.”

Affordable lots attracted the burgeoning African-American middle class from across Colorado, as well as investors from Kansas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas, Illinois, Florida, California, and other states. The Denver & Salt Lake Railroad stopped at Pinecliffe, making for an easy Denver day trip. As architectural historian Melanie Shellenbarger recounted, development occurred in four phases, with at least 470 lots sold of 1700 planned. Only 20 to 50 cabins were built, several of which are still held by the original families today. The Great Depression hit hard as owners struggled to keep vacation property. Gilpin County records show that between 1929 and 1945, 104 lots were sold for property taxes. Lincoln Hills, Inc. disappeared from the Colorado State Business Directory in 1932. Winks Lodge, however, remained in operation, as did Camp Nizhoni.

Winks advertised trout fishing, mountain climbing, a bridle path, and board for $3 daily. Hamlet was a carpenter, bartender, property owner, and business entrepreneur in Five Points. His wife Naomi worked and cooked at Winks Panorama until her death in the 1940s. Hamlet married again in 1952, with second wife Melba also cooking at the inn.

The Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association, located in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, established the camp in 1925. Young African-American girls were not allowed to use the camps of the Central Branch due to segregation, and encountered hostility when renting other facilities. Lincoln Hills developers leased land to the Branch on condition that it host a camp there for three consecutive summers; they deeded the land to the camp in 1930. Camp Nizhoni became the first dedicated camp for African-American girls in Colorado, emulating Camp Atwater, founded in 1921 and the oldest accredited African-American camp in the country. Camp Nizhoni typically hosted twenty to thirty girls at a time for two-week sessions each July. Campers slept in a dormitory, hiked, sang, discovered flora and fauna, and learned to “rough it.” In 1943, the Central Branch began integrating Camp Lookout. To save on maintenance, the YWCA sold Camp Nizhoni in 1946. The Phyllis Wheatley Branch closed in 1964, the last official segregated YWCA in the nation.

Winks Panorama is anecdotally connected with the Harlem Renaissance, being cited as a mountain stopover, venue, and literary salon graced by Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Langston Hughes, Billy Eckstine, Zora Neale Hurston, Diana Washington, and Countee Cullen, among others. Little is known of the movement’s influence and assertion of African-American cultural distinctiveness in the West; further research and oral histories should be conducted to uncover this rich history.

Architectural description

In High Country Summers: The Early Second Homes of Colorado, 1880-1940, Shellenbarger examined American second home ownership as an architectural and cultural phenomenon. She described Lincoln Hills as part of Denver’s so-called Recreation Fan, a marketing concept first introduced in Municipal Facts, the local Progressive-era booster magazine, in 1921. Therein, U.S. Forest Service landscape architect Arthur H. Carhart promoted the Western landscape as evocative of a national identity, complimented by the contemporary Rocky Mountain Rustic style.

Winks Lodge was built on a roughly rectangular plan with a local stone foundation with a concrete footer and balloon-framed and shingled walls above. The first-floor porch overhangs a walkout basement as the second floor sets back. The wood-framed, asphalt shingle roof features a high gable with three projecting dormers on each slope, projecting eaves, and exposed rafter ends. The western gable end features a shed roof extension. Stylistically, the building exhibits Craftsman principles related to the early twentieth-century Arts and Crafts movement. The design is a rustic vernacular variation common to contemporary Rocky Mountain architecture utilizing materials gathered from and reflective of its mountain setting.

Regarding African-American property ownership and racial identity in second home enclaves, Shellenbarger argued:

“Owning property and perhaps building a cottage were acts of racial uplift and solidarity, invested with shared purpose and higher resolve—important factors that set Lincoln Hills apart from summer communities in Estes Parks, the national forest, and the Denver foothills (…) Racial uplift was not, however, solely about assimilation or integration. It was meant to foster racial pride, cultural distinctiveness, and individual and collective identity in a society that had severely deprived African Americans of all of these things.”

Contemporary testimonials in the Lincoln Hills Collection of Denver’s Blair Caldwell African American Research Library support these themes.

PHYSICAL INTEGRITY

Based on historic photographs, the wrap-around porch may not date to initial completion of the building, but Hamlet likely made this addition soon after construction. Photographs in the Denver Public Library’s Gary M. Jackson Collection show campers dining there. The upstairs bathroom is another early addition. An interior stairway from the dining room to the basement was added by Rob and Martha Tomerlin, who owned the Lodge from 1985 to 2006. The Tomerlins also repaired the foundation, rewired electricity, and replaced plumbing in 1985. They added the rear carport after 1985.

Overall, Winks Lodge retains a high degree of integrity. Through careful upkeep and furnishing, it is easy for a visitor to the Lodge to imagine oneself during the lodge’s heyday. Winks Lodge remains in its original location as part of the historic African-American Lincoln Hills development, platted in the 1920s as a mountain retreat catering to African Americans during the era of racial segregation. Given the centrality of the mountain experience, the lodge’s Craftsman design qualities strongly support this significance. Obrey “Winks” Hamlet reputedly designed the lodge himself, with no plans or blueprints known to be extant. The Lodge is nestled into a hillside, emphasizing a harmonious relationship to its mountain setting. The viewsheds and vegetation at the lodge are essentially unchanged. Winks Lodge was built largely from local materials available on site. The use of local wood and stone speak to the lodge’s integration into its surroundings. The workmanship reflects the devotion of its builder. The lodge’s association with both important African-American cultural figures of the twentieth century and a broader African-American recreational movement contributes much of its historic significance.

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS

As the preeminent segregation-era resort in the Rocky Mountain West, and particularly long-lived among the few that existed, Winks Lodge highlights African-American outdoor recreation history and a central aspect of the twentieth-century civil rights struggle. Comparable historic properties include African-American resort communities, of which the preponderance were east of the Mississippi, as shown in the 1942 Afro-American Travel Map, published by the Travel Guide of Negro Hotels and Guest Houses. In The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South, historian Andrew W. Kahrl explored African-American land ownership and recreation from the Chesapeake Bay south.

Eastern Shore beaches and resorts welcoming an African-American clientele are best represented by the 1894-5 Douglass Summer House, designed for humanitarian Frederick Douglass and the oldest building associated with the black resort at Highland Beach, Maryland, established in 1893. Inland, Virginia’s Yellow Sulphur Springs operated from 1926 to 1929 as the largest contemporary African American-owned resort. The site’s earlier white resort closed in 1923 before African-American businessman from Roanoke purchased it. Private beaches in North Carolina existed, such as Eli Reid’s Chowan Beach in Hertford County, purchased in 1926 and featuring cottages, bathhouses, recreational facilities, and a restaurant by 1940s. The North Carolina Teachers Association developed a resort and meeting center for educators and other professionals at Hammocks Beach, now a state park, in 1945. American Beach, Florida attracted black vacationers from 1935 to 1964; its Hippard House was listed in the National Register in 2001. The Afro-American Life Insurance Company’s founder Abraham Lincoln Lewis developed parcels near the black enclave of Franklintown. The State of Florida purchased much of Anastasia Island’s Butler’s Beach in 1958 for the creation of a state park. At Bethune-Volusia Beach, south of New Smyrna, philanthropist Mary McLeod Bethune developed in the 1930s a residential community, which included by 1940 the Welricha Motel; a few residents remain.

In New England, Rock Rest, the Clayton and Hazel Sinclair House, in Kittery, Maine is most directly comparable to Winks Lodge in that it operated as a modest guest house, family home, and restaurant. It thrived largely on the recommendation of satisfied guests from 28 states between 1948 and 1977. Built as a residence circa 1870, Cummings’ Guest House in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, underwent alterations around 1923 to accommodate its new function. The property continued in part as a guest house through 1993. Another guest house with tourist cabins, Jewell Inn in York Beach, Maine, is no longer extant. Since the late 1890s, the summer retreat of Oak Bluffs at Martha’s Vineyard, known as the Black Hamptons, centered around Inkwell (Town Beach), a name with pejorative origins. Beginning in 1912 and continuing through generations of family stewardship, Shearer Cottage at Inkwell is a summer inn. Like Winks Lodge, the property offers room and board in an intimate setting and enjoys a national reputation. Its proprietors also ran the Twin Cottage as the Shearer Summer Theatre, demolished in 2003. Sag Harbor, New York, near the Hamptons, has several modest, post-World War II African-American beach bungalow neighborhoods now experiencing significant development pressure.

Idlewild in Lake County, Michigan, was known as the Black Eden. White investors formed the Idlewild Resort Company in 1912, hiring African-American salesmen to sell 25’x100’ residential building lots by 1915. By the 1970s, Idlewild experienced a gradual decline until recent preservation advocacy. Idlewild offered numerous amenities, organized entertainment (baseball, regattas, horseback riding, roller skating, lectures, etc.), commerce, and welcomed more than 20,000 people some summers. Idlewild’s smaller sister community, Woodland Park, developed in the 1920s. With four hotels, including the Royal Breeze (demolished), it was much larger than Lincoln Hills. Seasonal lake communities which warrant additional research are Paradise Lake, Cass County, Michigan, developed by the Quaker Bonine family and in the 1930s featuring dining and the Gray Hotel.

In the Midwest, white businessmen developed cottages in 1924 at Fox Lake near Angola, Indiana. Lowell T. Boyd, a black insurance executive, assumed controlling interest in 1932. The 1930s bathhouse and pier are no longer extant, nor is the 1950s Mar-Fran Motel, destroyed by fire in 1966. The 1913 Waddy Hotel in West Baden, Indiana, nationally known for its mineral springs, burned in 1951. Dr. P. C. Turner and J. M. Sojourner partnered to develop the residential community of Lake Placid, near Stover, Missouri in 1934; the residential enclave is comparable to Lincoln Hills, but did not possess the resort offerings of Winks Panorama or an organized recreational venture such as Camp Nizhoni. The Bransford Summer Resort near Mammoth Cave, Kentucky operated from the 1920s through 1934, allowing African Americans exceptional visitation to the geologic wonder, which became a National Park in 1926.

Chicago’s African-American elite developed Lake Ivanhoe, Wisconsin in 1926. Following the Depression, expansion ceased, but the community stabilized with the creation of the Lake Ivanhoe Property Owners Association. Residents now fear its character is being lost. George Gamble developed the southern shore of Lake Adney, Minnesota, as a seasonal community beginning in the 1920s; nearby Goggle Lake featured Patton’s Resort from the 1940s to the late 1990s, but the proprietors’ son, since demolished the inn to build a cabin.

Meanwhile, as the subject of a television genre captivating the country at midcentury, the West was exploding in popularity. Mountain Studio Lodge in Dumont, Colorado, destroyed recently by fire, offered cottages available from $4 daily. The Rolla Lodge and Phalanx Club appears in the early Lincoln Hills Circular as housed in buildings later occupied by the camp; no other information has yet been uncovered regarding its brief operation. Beginning in 1928, Eureka Villa, California offered respite from Los Angeles through the 1960s.  Renamed Val Verde in 1939, it was known as the Black Palm Springs, although little remains due to subsequent redevelopment. Murray’s Overall-Wearing Dude Ranch near Victorville, California boasted cottages, stables, tennis, and a swimming pool and reportedly welcomed more than 15,000 visitors between 1937 and 1947. The weekly rate was $30 for a Western experience. The ranch operated through 1955, when it became the Lazy B Ranch under actress Pearl Bailey and her husband Louis Bellson. Later becoming Murray’s Desert Heart Motel, by 1988 the property was in receivership and, due to an infestation of brown recluse spiders, was burned as a fire-training exercise. Most buildings associated with Lake Elsinore, California, an African-American recreation community beginning in the 1920s, have been demolished or severely altered.

Architect Everett L. Fly’s ongoing work on Black Settlements in America, identified only eighteen African-American resorts in 1928, when Winks fully opened. The June 1, 1952 Ebony vacation guide listed 44 resorts, including Winks. A1962 Ebony spread listed numerous resorts of all types, with Colorado the only state advertised in the Rocky Mountain West in any category. In summary, Winks Panorama is a rare, extant regional example of its type also exhibiting an extremely high level of historic integrity. With the exception of some public accommodations in national parks, Spruce Tree Lodge at Mesa Verde, Winks Panorama is the only known extant historic African-American resort of the segregation era in the Intermountain and Pacific West regions. For nearly forty years until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it advertised and enjoyed a national reputation and clientele, to whom it offered a unique Western mountain experience and key regional haven from humiliation in the broader safe travel network established by African Americans in the face of discrimination. Further, Winks Lodge acted not only as a vibrant social and cultural center for the immediate Lincoln Hills and Colorado African-American communities, but embodied connections to the Harlem Renaissance movement and broader goals of racial uplift and cultural distinctiveness. There is no other property west of the Mississippi that speaks to these themes.

OWNERSHIP AND SUPPORT

Following Hamlet’s ownership, in 1971, Eileen and Guy Dart bought the property, which was in turn purchased in 1978 by longtime Lincoln Hills’ resident Jennie Rucker’s sister, Bertha Calloway, a Camp Nizhoni alumna. In 1985, Rob and Martha Tomerlin purchased and used the property as a religious retreat. The James P. Beckwourth Mountain Club purchased the property in 2006, transferring it to Historic Winks Lodge LLC in 2017. Entrepreneurs Robert F. Smith and Matthew Burkett founded the related Lincoln Hills Cares in 2010, which: “creates unforgettable Colorado experiences for youth by forming a connection to cultural history, science, technology, art and environmental conservation. The program imparts knowledge, encourages thinking and empowers youth who would not otherwise have the opportunity, due to economic, social or family circumstances.” In part, Lincoln Hills Cares developed the area south of South Boulder Creek into a fly fishing resort and equestrian facilities for youth programs in the spirit of Camp Nizhoni. Managing director J. R. Lapierre strongly supports nomination, as does the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (Colorado SHPO).

As possible, it would be helpful to seek oral interviews as soon as possible with individuals with historic knowledge of Winks Panorama and Lincoln Hills, including: former neighbor Juanita Wayne; Hamlet’s stepson, artist Jess Dubois; Judge Jackson and Nancelia Elizabeth Scott-Jackson of nearby Zephyr View Cottage; Camp Nizhoni alumna Marie Greenwood; Frances Kearn; and Winks Hamlet’s great-niece Linda Tucker Kai Kai. Special thanks to Annie Nelson, Reference Librarian, and Charleszine “Terry” Nelson, Senior Special Collection and Community Resource Manager, of the Blair Caldwell African American Research Library of the Denver Public Library, for their assistance with research in preparation for this Letter of Inquiry.

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