GJ HISTORY: This old Tope house
Special to the Free Press
The old house sits forlornly on a large dirt lot at 640 24 ½ Road. Gone are the days when it was surrounded by grass, shade trees and flowers; an active family taking care of it while going about their everyday life. This is the Tope House, home of former school superintendent Richard E. Tope, and it has an interesting history.
I first learned of the house from an article in the Daily Sentinel in December 1974 showing it being moved (the first time). It stuck in my mind all these years, because the man who had it moved (the second time) was Jim Grady, DVM, who became our horse veterinarian. His late wife, Sally Grady, had an enclosed arena built on the property and Jim had his clinic there with stalls, etc. I spent many interesting hours taking riding lessons. Their son, Roy, trained two of our horses. All of that is gone now, except the house.
According to the Mesa County Assessor’s Office, this house was built in 1910. Richard E. Tope moved here from Ohio in 1911 and old city directories indicate he and his family moved into the house between 1913 and 1916. Jim Grady told me the house had been built by a nephew of the founder of Grand Junction, George Crawford.
Tope was first the principal of Grand Junction High School, then superintendent of schools from 1918 to 1938, retiring as superintendent emeritus. He was very active in community affairs and helped establish Mesa College (now Colorado Mesa University). Tope Elementary was named for him while he was living. He died in 1962.
Tope’s house sat at 635 Grand Ave. until November 1974. In July of that year, it was given away by Mesa Federal Savings and Loan to three local businessmen — Mesa County Senior Planning Director Pat Hurley, Robert Gerlofs and William Reed. A parking lot was planned for that address. These men didn’t want to see this piece of Grand Junction history torn down so they transplanted it to a vacant lot at 244 Independent Ave. that November, in the hopes of selling it there.
The house’s new neighborhood was not happy with its presence. Seems there was a height restriction in the zoning of that area. Tope’s house was 5 feet too tall. So, Gerlofs petitioned the Grand Junction Board of Adjustment for a height variance from 25 feet to 30 feet.
When the board met, there wasn’t a quorum present and no action was taken. Because the mover, Syl Thomas, was ready, the house was moved anyway.
The variance in question could be granted in a hardship case where the hardship wasn’t created by the appellant. In December, then City Attorney Gerald Ashby felt the appellant had created the problem by moving the house. Others present felt the appellant had not created the hardship. It went round and round, and it finally was stated that the inspector who issued the moving permit had done so in error. After neighbors testified about not wanting the building at that location, the Board of Adjustment members voted to deny the request for the height variance. If you drive down Independent Avenue today, you will see why a large two-story house would look very out of place.
The two-month long “Comedy of Errors” as the Daily Sentinel of Feb. 9, 1975 called it finally ended with Jim Grady’s purchase of the Tope House, saving it from possible destruction. The neighbors on Independent Avenue were happy, the three former owners were happy and Jim Grady and his family were happy.
So, in March of 1975, this fine old historical home was moved again to its present location on 24 ½ Road. Syl Thomas was again the mover. While the house was being moved, a low power line had to be cut for clearance. That took KQIL radio off the air for an hour or more. Sally Grady happened to work at the station and the manager was really upset by the situation.
Now that the house was safe with the Gradys, remodeling was done by Eldon Manry, an interesting older gentleman who loved mules. My husband and I knew Eldon because we had horses and went trail-riding with him and friends on several occasions.
During the remodel process, Sally Grady heard strange and unusual noises quite a few times and felt it was the ghost of the home’s builder checking up on the changes. They named the ghost “Crawford.” Several people I know who visited and also rode horses there recalled being aware of a presence when strange things happened.
Jim Grady sold the property about 1998. A church was there for a while and then Caprock Academy, before their move further northward on 24 ½ Road. The lot is now owned by Royce Carville, according to county records, with future development planned.
Recently, I learned that an educator, Patrick Ebel, signed a land lease to start the Juniper Ridge Community School, a Waldorf-curriculum charter school. The opening is planned for the 2013-14 school year. The old Tope House will be their administration building, as it was for Caprock Academy. Then, they too, will move on to more permanent quarters. The old house will once again be looking for an owner and possibly another move.
Sue Benjamin is a 40-year resident of Grand Junction and amateur history buff. She thanks local historian Priscilla Mangnall for inspiring and encouraging her to investigate and write the Tope story. Also, thanks to Garry Brewer for helping to find information and pictures.
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