The Castle

By Vic DeMaria
Golden High School Class of 1963 | Colorado School of Mines Class of 1968

The Armory building at 13th and Arapahoe – built in 1913 – enlarge

Hey, we’re going to live in a castle, my dad said, trying to convince 10-year old me and my sister that moving to Golden was a good idea. We were skeptical, but when my family arrived in Golden in 1956 we in fact did live in a castle, complete with tower and dungeon – my home until I was 19 and a Mines undergraduate.

The Armory Building in 1954 – Golden History Museum collection – enlarge

In the 1950’s what is known today as the commercial Armory Building was still serving its original purpose as the State Armory, home to the local National Guard unit. With the exception of a doctor’s office and a small shop in the first floor fronting 13th Street it was dedicated to its military function, headquarters for and supporting the monthly drill sessions of the Guard Unit. There was one full-time Guard officer on-site, responsible for the Unit records, equipment, and management of the building. That was my dad.

A perk of his job was the small 4-room living quarters on the east side of the 2nd floor, where we lived. His office was in the northeast corner overlooking Foss, commuting about 100 feet from the living quarters. The Unit CO used the opposite, northwest corner office during the monthly “drill” weekends, when there were 150-200 weekend warriors and numerous military vehicles surrounding us – training, drilling, and eating, all at a high decibel level. The rest of the time we were quite alone, lost in the cavernous space which featured long, dark hallways, cobblestone walls and periodic clangy sounds (which my folks insisted were caused by the steam radiators, but I was skeptical).

Vic’s parents – enlarge

Like a 10-year old would, I reacted to my new environment in two ways: on the one hand, it was spooky and threatening – on the other, spooky and inviting. Kind of like Halloween year-round. At the beginning, I carefully avoided some of the more questionable dark corners in my explorations; as time went along my comfort level increased and no place was off limits – it was my personal playground, even if it had its spooky moments. When I was old enough to stay by myself and my sister was off at college, my folks would leave me alone if I wasn’t interested in an overnight trip, and then I might get an uneasy feeling or two late at night but hey, it was just the radiators, right? One major compensation became apparent once I was of driving age – the Unit’s vehicles were sometimes stored temporarily on-site, and as the jeeps required no ignition key, is it possible observant citizens may have wondered what a high school kid was doing driving a military jeep around downtown? Just asking.

Tony DeMaria outside the Armory – Calvary Church in the background – enlarge

The 1st floor or basement level contained a large storage area for weapons and heavy equipment in the southeast quadrant, a mess hall in the southwest, and a sub-basement which had been the coal-bin in older days but was now a perfect dungeon, complete with large centipedes, other creepy-crawlies and a suspicious odor. This was an area I never got comfortable with. The sub-basement entry was adjacent to the back, or east door of the first floor which was where trash cans were kept. The area was dark, dank, and as designated trash-taker-outer the long trip down long dark hallways, basement stairs, more long hallways to this spot always ended up with a mad dash back home, never looking back. On special occasions, with a friend, I could force myself to actually go down the ladder into this dungeon, an uncomfortable face-your-demons moment.

School-aged Vic – enlarge

The 2nd floor contained, in addition to our living quarters, classrooms on the west side, offices, a large supply room and a large “latrine” with showers and the usual amenities required for 150 (male) soldiers across the hall from our front door. As I got older I gravitated to the latrine for my showers and such since my sister monopolized the one at “home”. I made extensive use of the classrooms with their blackboards, usually doing my homework there or in my dad’s office, where I taught myself to two-finger type on some pretty old machines. That was also a quiet place where I could use the Unit’s phone without the family noise and ears around. The supply room was a never-ending delight, with no end of cool and weird stuff stored there for me to investigate.

The 3rd floor was a full-width rifle range/drill floor that doubled as a basketball court, albeit one with restricted overhead due to the girders supporting the roof. If you spent much time on that court, as my friends and I did, you developed a curious “flat” jump shot that people would laugh at on a normal court. The target end of the firing range, backed by steel plates, was at the north end overlooking 13th St. We periodically collected the lead that accumulated there, compensation for having to listen to the shooting and marching directly over our heads. At the other end was the NCO Club, another quiet spot I relished due, I confess, to the large inventory of Playboy magazines, poker tables and the player piano. The liquor supply was usually, and fortunately, locked up securely

The Armory Tower – enlarge

The tower had two levels containing signal and communications equipment, was reached via a long and rickety set of wooden stairs, and had a door providing roof access. This was a place I liked because it was even more isolated than my normal haunts, and later on, I lived up there one summer. The tower collected the building’s heat, so I had to keep the door to the roof open for ventilation. A habitual sleep walker, I took the precaution of tying myself to my cot to avoid ending up on the roof in the middle of the night, gazing up at Castle Rock. One night I had the only paranormal experience of my life, lying on the cot with a clear view of the open roof door: a woman appeared in the door, looked at me silently for a few moments and then went back out. I had had many spooky moments in the Armory but I had never seen her before (or since).

Armory Porch on Arapahoe Street – enlarge

The main entrance to the Armory was on the 2nd floor west side; back then there was a huge tree on the north side of the “porch” and a low wall facing the doors rather than the flat porch of today. The porch, treacherous in snow and icy weather, was the embarkation point for my sister and I as we quickly mastered the art of walking around the entire building on the concrete ledge above the first floor – a feat I would not consider today as it reaches pretty high on the 13th St. side, though as my sister said, Doctor Goad’s right there below if you fall, dummy. And in truth that man did stitch me up many a time.

Vic with sister Carol outside the Armory – enlarge

In conclusion I can say, like everyone, my environment growing up in the Castle has had a great influence. My friends were divided into those who thought it was weird and fun, and those who thought it was just weird. It may have been unusual and I may have yearned at times for one more like my friends, but I treasure it 60 years down the road of life, as everyone should.