Friday, August 29, 2014

National Carvers Museum whittled down to splinters and memories





Ornate totem poles, jutting skyward 20 feet in air, once marked the turnoffs from the field at the corner of Baptist Road.
Tourists, from all over the nation (and in fact the world) would stop to view the carvers' craft gathered on 11 acres — and more than 7,000 wood carvings from every state in the union.
Then one dark day in April, 1990, the ornately carved doors were closed to the public, forever.
"The National Carvers Museum, which hosted carvings from around the country for 15 years, is probably closed for good," leads the Tribune, in the April 26, 1990 edition.
"Unless we can find a rich widow willing to give us a million dollars, I don't see us opening again," the Tribune article quotes Rich Wetherbee, president of the board then.
Board members and those associated with the museum, said that bonds and loans issued to build and maintain the facility south of Monument, and high operating expenses drained the museum's treasury.
The board also canceled the May printing of 'The Mallet,' the museum's monthly publication that went out to 3,200 members. There are also 1,200 honorary life members, according to the Tribune article.
The museum had grown from its incorporation in 1969 to one with 7000 articles in it worth nearly $1 million, according to one of the founders.
Harry Meech, who was one of the founders of the museum, reacted with bitterness toward the move.
"I ran it for 15 years, and then in six months they file for bankruptcy," said Meech who had retired in the previous October. 
However, John Corff, the museum director at the time of closing, indicated after taking over for Meech, the museum faced a long financial road.
"He cited $800,000 in bonds that needed to be paid off in 10 years, omitting at the same time any interest payment. Interest on the bonds run as high as 16 percent on some of the bonds that are unsecured with any property, the paper reported.
"Bond holders are already getting uneasy, with two suites against the museum, one for $35,000 and the other for $7,000. There is also an $185,000 mortgage on the building that costs the board $2626 per month," Tribune said.
"Corff told the membership that the board needed over $400,000 in income to 'keep the doors open."
Revenues in 1988 were just over $280,000. In addition, the board has just over $300,000 in notes that were secured by certificates of deposits, or CDs, reported the paper then.
In taking the bonds and notes, the board is facing payment of $1.4 million though 1994 if it paid off bonds and interest on notes, a reconstruction of records showed. Even with payment of the $1.4 million, the $300,000 in notes would remain after 1994.
In trying to keep the doors open, Corff and the board devised subscription plans that changed the life-time membership arrangement of many members who paid $100 a few years ago to assure them a free mallet subscription.
Life membership went to $150 with the Mallet subscription going to $15 per year after the first year. Life member were required to pay an additional $50, but less than $1,000 paid the additional amount, said one board member at the time.
"There is just not enough carvers to go around to support a national museum," said board member Fred Clark, who moved to Monument from New York to be near the museum.
But there was some bitterness from some of the board members, too, citing bad business practices of selling bonds and getting the museum in over its head. 
Meech said the bonds were sold before the museum opened as a way of financing a dream. 
"People kept telling me it was possible to sell bonds. We got an attorney and received a license to sell the bonds," he said.
Meech and Lawrence Martin of Chicago, acquired the acreage just off Baptist Road and said at one point, he personally acquired 600 of the carvings. The museum building was built in 1973. Later, an educational building, named in honor of Meech and his wife Vivienne, was also constructed.
Meech was working at a Chicago electric utility until he moved to Colorado to work at the museum, according to an earlier Tribune article six months prior to the closure. 
"He served as administrator, publisher-editor of "The Mallet" and elected to the board seven times. His wife worked as member director for nine years without compensation," the article about Meech's retirement said.
"I just feel personally sad, After all these years, now we tear it down." 
But they didn't tear it down. 
Today Wood Carvers Properties houses NavSys and the Tri-Lakes Business Incubator. Alison Brown is the CEO of NavSys and president of the Incubator, and said the property was purchased from the banks in the early 1990s using a special loan program though the Pike Peak Regional Development Authority.
Brown donated the ornately carved doors to the city of Monument, and several years ago, when the new town hall was constructed, the doors were used in Board of Trustees Chambers.
Brown said for about 10 years, after the closure of the museum, people still came by asking about it. 
"It didn't help that the Denver Post listed it for several years following in the Top 25 Things not to Miss in Colorado. "
For many years, a sign designated the National Carvers Museum, along with the altitude, though Brown, who is an international expert in GPS systems, noted that altitude was wrong. "I think it was several thousand feet off," she said.
Today, editions of "The Mallet" and memorabilia of the long-lost museum are sold and traded on E-Bay, and a photographic tour of the facility as it was in 1984 is available at http://www.richardstamats.com/NCM/index.html.

Photos 1,2, 3:
Alison Brown donated these hand-carved doors to the city of Monument when she purchased the the former National Carvers Museum property in the early 1990s. The doors display carvings of all 50 states and open into Council chambers at City Hall. The carver's signature, Tim Weberding, of Batesville, Indiana, is on one corner.

Photos 4,5,6,7
The gazebo at the former National Carvers Museum, though weathered by the years, still sports various carvings from the heyday of the internationally-known attraction.








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