As of March 20, 2013 both Stranges Grocery and the Fruidale School were official listed on the National Register of historic places.
Carl L. Stranges immigrated to the United States, from Italy, in the 1880s at twenty years of age. After his arrival in the United States, he moved to Grand Junction and resided there until shortly before his death in 1942. Carl Stranges opened his grocery store in the southwestern portion of the downtown area often referred to as “Little Italy” due to the concentration of Italian residents and Italian-owned businesses in the area. Three other grocery stores and an icehouse were located within a two-block area of the Stranges store. Carl Stranges owned and managed the grocery until shortly before his death in 1942. He willed the store to his niece and her husband who continued to operate the store until 1963. Since that time, a variety of businesses under several ownerships have used the building.
The grocery store is an important remnant of the economic development of Grand Junction’s Little Italy area. A sense of community identity developed quickly in Grand Junction’s Little Italy as the Italians settled together and established their own neighborhood south of Main Street. The Italian immigrants purchased the majority of their goods within Little Italy and the stores stocked items that would appeal to the community. The commerce generated from the store helped develop the Little Italy neighborhood. Without successful business district within the neighborhood, Little Italy would not have been able to sustain itself in such a cohesive manner. Out of the four grocery stores that were located within the boundaries of Little Italy, Stranges Grocery is the only building that retains integrity.
The architect and builder of the Stranges Grocery store was Nunzio Grasso, born in 1873. Nunzio first came to America in 1881, where he lived with an uncle in Altoona, Pennsylvania. However, he returned to Italy for several years, then came back to America in 1901, with his wife, Concetta, and their one-year-old daughter, Nina. The three came through Ellis Island on September 11, 1901. When Nunzio returned to America, he went directly to Grand Junction. Soon after arriving, Nunzio had a contract job executing the stone work for the Schiesswohl building, which still stands at 131 S. Sixth Street. This building was the first of many buildings, bridge abutments, and highways built by Nunzio on the western slope that made him one of the best know masons in Grand Junction. Though an Italian family, the Grassos never lived in Little Italy in Grand Junction. Instead, Nunzio built his home at 924 North First Street, on the route for the Little Bookcliff Railroad, using stone from the same quarry that he used to build the Stranges Grocery Store. This was a convenient location for a family where stone quarried from the Bookcliffs was one of the most important aspects of their business. The stone was brought down from the Bookcliffs on the Little Bookcliff Railroad by the Italians living in Little Italy and working on the railroad. The train passed directly in front of the Grasso house and would stop so that the Grasso family could unload their stone from the train into the field across from their house. The family would then deliver the stone, at first by horse and wagon and later a Model T, to a project site.
The first generation of Italian immigrants in Grand Junction were able to survive because of their strong cultural anchors from Italy, through their sense of community and family. Because of the availability of land, infancy of Grand Junction’s social culture, and the general similarities between their homeland and the GrandValley the settlers were able to be successful in the area. The Italians who moved to Grand Junction were able to reestablish the most important aspects of their Italian culture. Listing the Stranges Grocery on the National Register of Historic Places is the first step towards working to ensure the future of this historic place. CPI will now be focusing on working with the current property owner to find an appropriate and sensitive adaptive re-use to help aid in the rehabilitation efforts of the space.
The Fruitdale Grade School was constructed in 1926 by architect Temple Buell. Seen as the center of the neighborhood since its construction, the community united behind the school in opposition to its closure in 1978. However, despite their efforts, the school was closed. After the closure, the school was used for Adult Education classes from 1978 to 1991, and as a language development preschool since 1991. After the school’s closure, the Custodian Residence was used as the Fruitdale Bonham public library during the 1950s.
The Fruitdale Grade School embodies a local level of social significance due to development over the course of a century in parallel with the farming community surrounding it, reflecting increasing population and economic growth. Land was donated by two pioneer farm families, Jacob Brown and James Lewis and the school was designed by noted Denver architect Temple Buell. Today, the Fruitdale Grade School stands as an example of one of Buell’s early public school works.
The school is located just two blocks north of Clear Creek, known in the early pioneer days as Vasquez Fork. This is the creek the early miners followed into Golden, Idaho Springs and Central City. At the time that the Fruitdale Grade School was built, it was the only school serving the community, and remained the only school until its closure in 1978.
According to those still living in the Fruitdale Community who remember the earlier years of the school, the Fruitdale Grade school was the heart of community. There were no other buildings in the community that were used for community gatherings in the way that the Fruitdale Grade School was.
Many of the families that were living in the Fruitdale Valley were descendants of the early pioneer settlers. These families were those who were sending their children to the Fruitdale Grade School. In addition to its primary use as a school, the building served as a community center until its vacancy. The school served as a polling center by the early settlers and was still used for elections in the late 70s. Over the years, in addition to school events, the school was used for a variety of community purposes including: Annual Community Picnic (started approximately in the1800s); Annual Carnival (started in 1933); Adult Education (begun in 1934); Girlscouts; Boyscouts; Halloween Festival; Founder’s Day; Boy’s Loan; Sew and Sew Mother’s Club (This club was an opportunity for mothers to gather to make handicrafts, which were then sold at the General Store); Adopt a Grandparent Program (Each student in the 6th grade class adopted at least one Grandparent from the Mountain Vista Nursing Home. The Grandparents were brought to the school once a week, to spend time with his or her “grandchild”); Hearing Handicap Program (This program taught the hearing children to communicate with the hearing handicapped students through the use of sign language); Volleyball program every week with the teachers and parents participating, implemented in the 1970s; Scouting Program; The Police Department used the school as a meeting place during the 1970s; Basketball Program; Hunter Safety Program; Advisory Board Meetings; the playground was used by the neighborhood children, and the school was used as the polling center for precincts 7502 & 7501.
Due to the growth of the community, the school became crowded, and a new school was built. The Fruitdale School played an important role in the community for the greater part of the 20th century, and was the nucleus of the developing community at the time. It is common for a community to grow from a center such as a school, especially when the school, such as the Fruitdale Grade School, houses most of the community functions. Not only does it stand as a testament to Fruitdale’s development, the school provides an example of one of Temple Buell’s early public school works.