Anthony ILacqua, Editor-in-Chief


The fading bricks and graying mortar of the ancient warehouses and factories along the Platte Valley and rail lines in Denver's Lower Downtown once held endless fascination for me. In strange nightmare settings of dirt, broken glass and an abandoned district, it was too derelict a neighborhood even for ghosts. Wading through the junk heaps and rusting rails on decaying creosote ties, I remember being lost on thoughts of what had happened there, and furthermore, what would happen? In the impetuous afternoons from my college days, long after the decline of Denver's industrial heyday, but before the end of its decay, I spent every chance I got running around in those old rail yards. Most of the trains had stopped running along there, nearly a half mile wide stretch of parallel lines between Union Station and the Platte River. Those were the days when urban sprawl was the typical order of business and things near the center were left unattended, and became slightly suspect. Among the shanty towns on the river's edge, homeless communities were spotted here and there with trashcan fires. The scene made Denver seem like the haunted shell of a place where prosperity once flourished.
This is not the epitaph it could be, not to the Mile High City of today. It is a different place here entirely, different from the place of my youth, different from the industrial giant of the Rockies that predated my existence altogether. Rather, this recollection is a symptom of what so much has become, so many funny and peculiar steps that looking at the state of affairs, it is almost impossible to know when life as we know it evolved into what it is.
I suppose the city centers the nation over slid into disrepair only after people thought to build low buildings outward—the sprawl—houses, cul d' sacs, strip malls, franchised restaurants and drive-in churches. The sheer speed and swiftness of it made the homogenized culture we all know and love. If entire municipalities are built overnight, of course, the stores and restaurants, coffeehouses and supermarkets are going to be corporate, who else can fund a sprawl neighborhood before the tax base begins? Who else can afford to move in so fast? The last fifty or sixty years has done just that, developed a corporate culture of food and media and cheap consumerism. Now, who can say that's ideal? Efficient, yes, but not ideal. This leads me to think that as things move outward, quality and uniqueness is bleached out.
In the last several years, at least in Denver, there has been a resurgence of interest in the old city center, our rusted, abandoned and defunct industrial district. Buildings and blocks of historical distinction have been reborn. The Hoovervilles (I learned that term in 20th century American history class) have been leveled to make way for parks, and the trashcan fires extinguished for street lights. The buildings that slept fifty years fallow have become fancy restaurants, fashionable bars and multi-million dollar lofts for city-dwelling residents who have imported a higher class and hopefully a higher culture to these old haunts born anew. How strange is it that the upper echelons now live in factory buildings their great grandfather immigrants once worked in, assembling durable consumer products? How odd is it that in a building that once housed the manufacturing of the same goods that are now manufactured abroad?
The beginnings of Umbrella Factory began as a supposition, about the manufacturing of something—an umbrella, in fact. As far as I know, and I hope I'm wrong, but there isn't a single umbrella manufacturer in the United States. We buy them all from foreign makers. I thought, if there was one company who made American umbrellas and marketed to all 300 million plus Americans, then a resurgence of American manufacturing, craftsmanship and pride would become again of interest like the old factory buildings. I realize that building umbrellas may not be fashionable work, but if everyone in our country wanted and needed this domestic umbrella, don't you think those who build them would become super stars? Who knows? In this daydream I always wish I knew something about manufacturing. Hell, I wish I knew something about umbrellas, it just doesn't rain enough in Denver for any of us to be experts on them. However, this Umbrella Factory, as the thought grew, was the way to employ our people and our community. It wasn't until much later that we realized we can still manufacture something, and do all the things a factory should do and be able to create something wonderful. Oddly enough, the next concept of development happened on a sunny day. The development of a small press was that next stage. Why? It was something in our skill set and in our aptitude, something worth building, some way to employ our friends and develop our community.