Vol. 33, No. 6
Specialty Law Columns
Real Estate Law Newsletter
Project to Protect Records of Historic Documents Could Use Volunteer Lawyer Help
Editor’s Note: The following letter was sent to The Colorado Lawyer in February 2004.
Last fall my brother and I were in Denver researching our father’s grave plots in a Denver cemetery, and wanted to see if the plots he had purchased for the family were a matter of record in the grantor/grantee indices in Denver. Being an attorney admitted to practice in Colorado, I figured I knew how to go about finding that out, and welcomed the opportunity to show my legal prowess to my big brother.
The main thing I wish to relate here is the woeful condition of those records that we found when we finally jumped all the hurdles and actually found ourselves in the basement archives where the grantor/grantee indices are kept. This is a relatively small room, no windows, with stacks in the center, and a counter designed for placing and reading the huge ancient leather-bound books. Some books go back, probably, to over 150 years! But the counter is stacked high with the books, all out of order, and the bindings are starting to fail. The aisles are also completely filled with carts with stacks of books. In a word, there is no possibility of finding any particular index without spending hours searching the unorganized mess.
The books are going to fall apart soon if something is not done to preserve them. When my brother and I were there, there was no librarian or keeper, and we were turned loose in this records room. We literally could have walked out with any of the books. If there is such a thing as a paper-eating silverfish or other critters that eat paper or old leather, they likely would have been in there, too.
So, why am I, a Grand Junction attorney, concerned about this problem in Denver? Well, for starters, Denver is the bedrock of Colorado developmental history. It is the place where folks like Tabor and the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown lived and built homes and hotels. There are signatures of those on the Titanic or who built the Brown Palace Hotel in those volumes. There are signatures of U.S. Secretaries of State who gave the first land grants to frontiersmen who developed those first buildings. One example of such a building is the now-extinct E & C Building in downtown Denver where my father, Foster Cline, and his brother Carl Cline practiced for over a century between them before it was torn down and replaced by a glass edifice.
The Denver land records are actually the only real proof that anyone has of title to an office building or home. They log the birth and growth of a small frontier town into the present megatropolis. They are as much a historical edifice as any old building they validate. It seems to me that a joint effort between the City and County of Denver and the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations is in order.
A fitting place for this priceless collection is needed. A curator or librarian is needed to organize, restore and protect the collection. Access is needed for lawyers and historians who need to reference the original source documents for Denver land ownership or other historical research. If we turn our backs now, this collection will soon be gone. This is a worthy cause for lawyers and others who care about the history and ownership of our Queen City of the Plains.
Grand Junction, CO
In February 2004, a newspaper article [Vaughan, Rocky Mountain News 35A (Feb. 13, 2004)] described a new project of the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s office that would address some of the concerns raised by Steve Cline. In that article, Denver Clerk and Recorder Wayne Vaden described a electronic filing (e-filing) fund established by the state that would allow Tim Paran, Records Manager, to convert documents to digital format, affording better accessibility to the recorded property documents.
However, the City wants to form a committee, including lawyers interested in protecting original historical records, to determine how to best preserve the archives. Interested volunteer real estate lawyers are encouraged to contact Becky Dow, CBA Real Estate Law Section, at: (303) 295-8413.
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