In 1919, it was decided that to have a more complete athletic program, a gymnasium was needed.
Money for the gym was collected from pledges of students and interested citizens. Plays were given. All labor and much of the materials were donated. The townspeople figured that at the time it was built, the gym was worth about $8,000, of which only $5,000 had been put into it. The gym was to be finished in January 1922.
It was to be built on the land just west of the Cortez Union High School – now the Calkins Building. The front door of the gym was on First and South Ash streets. (Evidence of the concrete sidewalk can be seen now. It traveled to the end of South Ash and between the post office and Underwood Optical on First Street.)
In July 1935, when Sheriff W.W. Dunlap was killed in the line of duty, his funeral services were conducted in the Cortez Gym because of the amount of people expected to attend. The newspaper reported that “Hundreds Gathered to Mourn Passing of Sheriff Dunlap,” and some were unable to find a place in the gym.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, Sheriff Ray Smith was called to Denver by the FBI to attend and find out what his wartime duties were to be. Upon returning home, he held the first Defense Rally in the Cortez Gym on Dec. 16, 1941, and urged everyone to attend.
The newspaper reported the Cortez Gym was made available to hold an immense crowd that was expected to show their patriotism and willingness to help in any way. The high school band was asked to furnish music, and a program was being worked on by Ray Patten, G. O. Harrison and T. D. Wolford. The newspaper urged people to cancel plans for social gatherings and that the defense rally would have 100% attendance.
The Cortez Volunteer Fire Department held its March fund drive in the gym. The annual St. Patrick’s Day dance was always very well attended in order to have a good time as well as support the fire department.
Any organization could request to use the gym if it needed a large building.
At the gym entrance, there was a large balcony on both sides of the building where the spectators sat in bleachers and could look down at the gym floor. Kitchen and bathroom facilities were on the main floor, along with chairs placed in rows. On the south wall was a large stage used for plays and other events. Later, classrooms were made in the basement, with each classroom having separate covered entrances. The last entrance on the south were the shower and locker rooms. In winter, basketball, volleyball, tumbling and calisthenics were taught.
“Gym Circus” – featuring race relays, tumbling and pyramiding – also were held. Other related programs were band, orchestra, string ensemble, glee club, operetta, thespians, masquers, language club, Kilroy Club for returning servicemen, school dances and OPG, known as the “Old Panther Gang” or the Pep Club. All banquets, proms, and other school activities were held in the gym, and many civic organizations used this building.
The Cortez band held its recitals in the building. At the foot of the stage, the band sat with the people attending, in an area that went from the band to the front door and overflowed in the balcony. The acoustics in the building were good, and any place you sat, you could usually hear what was happening.
In the late 1920s, the Ute Mountain Study Club, a social club, felt the need for a library. Each member contributed a dollar to buy two books per month, and they were shelved in the Cortez Gymnasium.
A 1931 newspaper clipping referred to a “Formal Opening” when the collection had reached 1,908 volumes, shelved in the basement of the gym. A restroom was provided “for those who cared to remain there and read.” It was open at least three afternoons a week to start.
About 1943, because students outgrew the school, classrooms were added in two rooms in the gym and in churches large enough to house the students. In 1947, any senior girl who only lacked one or two credits to graduate, went out into the business community at the request of school officials and worked in various businesses – free labor – but they did get the needed credits to graduate. The gym and the Cortez Union High School had too many students. The new high school building was not completed until 1948.
In 1947, the last graduating class of 64 students, which was the largest class to date, held its Junior-Senior Prom, the banquet and the graduation exercises. The class numbers had been decreased by several young men who left high school before graduating to join the military forces.
This was a great building – used by the townspeople and the schools and many persons were sad to “see it go – it had served the community well.”
When the new high school was ready for occupancy the gymnasium was then dismantled, and only the sidewalk entrance remains.
June Head, historian of Montezuma County Historical Society, may be contacted at 970-565-3880 for information or comments. She was a member of the last class to graduate in the Cortez Gym in 1947.