Friday, June 22, 2012

Life on Capitol Hill's History

LIFE… how it all began

The first 20 years of local newspaper Life on Capitol Hill.


     When I conceived of this publication I never envisioned it would continue to serve Capitol Hill this long. Those many years ago I was sitting at the kitchen table in my very small buffet apartment at 16th & Williams (now a residence for seniors), writing copy, assembling ads and preparing the layout for the first edition of Life on Capitol Hill, which hit the streets March 15, 1975.
     I had lived on Capitol Hill for a scant six months but had already observed that the people of the much-maligned neighborhood had a real sense of community. Regardless what others said about crime here, the varied and interesting peoples of this neighborhood had an especially strong pride in their community, a sense of living in a special place.
     A month before that first edition I visited the president of Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods (CHUN) and told her of my plans. She was pleasant, but she said something along the lines of, “You have spent the last dozen years living in Lakewood, and you plan to publish a newspaper for our neighborhood?”
     That was Rhonda Knop. She went on to become one of Denver’s top Realtors. Her question was well-founded, but I quickly immersed myself in the life of my new-found favorite neighborhood. I soon learned that Capitol Hill has more organizations (neighborhood, lifestyle, religious, education-related, civic, service, etc.) than any other community in the state.
     LIFE began as a weekly with a 15¢ price tag. I quickly learned that that wasn’t going to work. I needed to get as many readers as possible so I could sell ads. Ultimately, advertising is what was going to pay the bills.
     We started printing by 20,000 copies. My kids, the kids of friends, and several neighborhood people were our delivery crew in those early days. We delivered the papers to the doorstep of every home, apartment and condo we could get to in “Greater Capitol Hill” (a term we coined for the area between Broadway and Colorado Blvd. from Speer Blvd. to 20th Ave.).
     By the following July my new wife-to-be had arrived from rural northern Illinois. She and her daughters joined our door-to-door delivery effort. At the end of that weekend she asked how much money we had made. I had to tell her that we really hadn’t even made enough money to cover that edition’s costs, and I had a few thousand dollars of debt.
     She wisely counseled me to not put out another edition until I had enough advertising money in hand to pay for it.
     LIFE suddenly became a monthly publication.
     Over the years that followed a large number of writers, would-be-writers, photographers and cartoonists chose to contribute their work to produce a better neighborhood newspaper. I couldn’t pay them much, but they wrote, photographed and drew anyway.
     Early contributors included City Councilwoman Cathy Donohue, State Sen. Barbara Holme and State Reps. Jerry Kopel and Jack McCroskey.
     We covered the efforts of legitimate and less-than-legitimate developers as they sought to make their mark on our neighborhoods. Most importantly, we covered the diverse and wonderful people of Capitol Hill, and their efforts (big and small) to make this the best community in the state.
     I observed many people as they made a variety of personal contributions to our community, including: Colorado Free University (CFU) founder John Hand, former DA Dale Tooley, Mike Henry, Jack Robinson (former leader of Colfax on the Hill), Tom Knorr (long-time community activist & executive director of CHUN), Sally Kurtzman, Walt Young, and Grandma “A” (Anderson), who used her life to support many neighborhood efforts while helping numerous young people.
     They are just a few of the many special people I count it a privilege to have known and worked with.
    Capitol Hill has also always had its share of characters too, of course, many of whom I have known. One example: Sid King, who operated the Crazy Horse Bar years ago at Colfax & Marion. Most of the Capitol Hill characters I met over the years shall go un-named, however.
     When finances finally allowed, I hired editors to make their mark on our little publication. I always had other entrepreneurial activities that divided my time.
     One of the early editors was Dwight Filley. He went on to take a leadership role within Colorado’s Independence Institute, and continues to be a “Fellow” with them. John Kadlecek also spent a few years editing LIFE. He later edited a variety of other newspapers and magazines, including the once-successful glossy Peak To Peak.
     Pat Pasco followed John. At the time, Pat’s husband Monty was a Colorado legislator. After editing LIFE, Pat went on to make her mark on the political scene, too, first as a state representative and then as a state senator.
     Rory Seeber was my last editor. After working together for a couple of years, I sold LIFE to Rory and his wife Hilleary Waters in 1995. They are still LIFE’s publishers and continue its tradition of serving the people of Capitol Hill.

1995 to the present


    Like Stu before me, I am astounded at the rapid passage of time since my wife Hilleary Waters and I took over LIFE’s operations.
    At the time, we were both working two jobs and I had to convince her that we could eventually make the business support us and our then six-year-old son.
    I moved to Colorado in 1972 and to the Hill at about the same time Stu was founding this publication. My wife-to-be followed in 1983. (I met her later when I rented her an apartment. We married in 1985).
    When we took over LIFE, Hilleary’s experience had mostly been in retail sales, while I had been somewhat of a ne’er-do-well freelance writer for the better part of 25 years. I had supported my creative habit by a variety of vocations, including bartender, cabbie, chauffeur, apartment manager, bookkeeper and theatre business manager, among others.
    I had published perhaps 250 articles, mostly in magazines and almost all local, and considered myself to be a “garbage man,” able to write convincingly on most any topic.
    In addition, with my identical twin brother Rick I had written and produced 14 stage productions, including children’s musicals (mostly presented at the old Bonfils Theatre cum Lowenstein cum Tattered Cover) and a variety of musical revues and comedies.
    We even managed to produce an Off-Broadway play, The Singular Dorothy Parker, a one-woman show.    (Every critic loved it... except for Mel Gussow of the New York Times.)
    I got the job as a writer for LIFE when I picked up a 12-page issue and couldn’t help but notice more than 200 errors, mostly typographical and grammatical. I marked them all in red and sent the paper to Stu, whom I didn’t know, telling him he needed an editor.
    Not the best way to apply for a job, but it worked. I became a part-time contributor to the paper (he wanted an ad salesman too, but in the works of Tommy LaSorda, I “included myself out” of that part of the biz) and over a period of five years or so I became the managing editor.
    I didn’t earn much, but it was certainly a learning experience.
    When I started with the paper we didn’t still use hot lead linotype, but the production process wasn’t much more advanced than that until just recently. We’d submit our copy and it would be entered by a “typesetter” using some odd software on a monster of a machine. Then we’d pick it up, cut it into columns and begin the laborious one- or two-day task of actually cutting and pasting together an issue on cardboard flats.
    Today I wonder how we survived those pre-PC & MAC days. Now of course, a mere 14 years or so later, it’s all done on computers.
    We’ve both learned by doing. Everything. Layout, ad design, pricing, distribution, bulk mailing, reporting, assignments, personnel management, and accounts receivable & payable.
    After a year of ownership, we changed the layout of LIFE... creating a new masthead, utilizing different fonts, altering add sizes, and adding more color... almost completely under Hilleary’s and graphic designer Tim Berland’s hands. We did that again in 2006.
    I slowly changed the focus of the paper, increasing the number of photos and illustrations and enhancing the coverage of news from the neighborhoods.
    One of the benefits of publishing a monthly is that I normally have more time to research the news articles, which allows for fuller coverage of distinctly neighborhood news than that provided by the dailies.
    I’ve also strived to really just report news stories and not just pay lip service to objectivity, accuracy, fairness and a lack of bias, preferring to cover every “side” of an issue so LIFE’s readers can draw their own conclusions without the benefit of my opinion, or that of the reporters.
    We hope you continue to enjoy LIFE, and, if you live north of Colfax up to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., its sister paper, the eight-year-old Neighborhood Life.
    The “experts” (probably the same folks who predicted flying cars) say that the future of the newspaper business is in small, community-based coverage both in print and online.
    We’ve got 33 years of experience with the print version and with the assistance of our readers we plan on making our online version just as complete, helpful and well-read.
    Thank you for reading LIFE.

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