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City backs down on Theatre of Mankind crackdown

click to enlarge William Hutton listened to the concerns of a city code - officer who inspected his home last week. - MICHAEL DE YOANNA
  • Michael de Yoanna
  • William Hutton listened to the concerns of a city code officer who inspected his home last week.

Neighbors William Hutton and Jerry Greenker stood on the freshly raked lawn of Hutton's home last week agreeing with a passerby that Colorado Springs would be a much nicer place to live if more of its residents could learn to appreciate the unusual.

Then again, Hutton noted, there are lots of people in this city who are quite superb.

"You saved my life," a smiling Hutton told Greenker, shaking his hand.

The heartfelt overstatement from the verbose poet came as two city code inspectors departed Hutton's lawn. More than a month ago, someone phoned in, anonymously complaining about the massive, odd collection of paintings, busts, tapestries and other curios that make glitter of the entire faade of his house at 124 E. Espanola St., just north of downtown. He dubs his home the "Theatre of Mankind."

"Who would complain?" wondered the passerby. "This is magnificent."

Freedom of speech

Hutton's troubles began last month, when inspectors notified him there was too much clutter on his porch and that he'd have to move some of it. Inspectors said if there were ever a fire or medical crisis at his home, crews would be unable to get through his front door.

The hundreds of items adhered to the house in a tangle of twine and wire were not a violation of city code because they were securely fastened to his home, so Hutton wondered if the city was preparing to trample on his freedom of speech.

"I didn't know where they would ask me to stop," he said.

After careful consideration, he decided moving a few items wouldn't hurt. It might even make the porch look better, he said.

Approaching a final inspection by the city that occurred last week, he cleared dozens of plastic flowers, tiny figurines and vases, leaving hanging from his porch roof a 2-foot wooden, serrated "key" that he says opens the "cosmological eye," or creativity in those who endeavor to unstitch the metaphorical meanings of the items on his house.

Fork and spoon

But the two inspectors assigned to the case, along with city code inspector Karon DiPentino, still weren't satisfied. The key was OK. The inspectors continued to take issue with a painting with a large fork and spoon attached to the frame that hung over the key. It partially obscured the door, inspectors said.

So Greenker, a local attorney who became aware of Hutton's plight after reading the Oct. 18 Independent, intervened and negotiated a simple solution. Hutton had only to move the painting, which he ultimately removed from the house. The inspectors left without writing a citation.

"I'm hopeful that we're done with it," Greenker said. "But you never know."

The city can always respond to new complaints, DiPentino said. However, she said if Hutton's porch remains as it is now -- with a clear path to his front door -- the city is satisfied the home is safe and accessible.

"If we got a complaint and his house is pretty much the way it is now, we would consider the case closed and the complaint unfounded," she said.

Inundated by well-wishers

Meanwhile Hutton, a published author and Korean War veteran who has silver hair and wears a sparkling gold vest, says that although the complaint shook him up, good has come from the trouble. He's been inundated with well-wishers.

"The men come up and want to shake my hand and the ladies want to hug me," Hutton said. "Someone even drove down from Denver."

The proprietors of the local ARC Thrift Store, where Hutton is notorious for getting better deals than anyone else, asked him to sign the Oct. 18 article and then framed it for display. And letters from supporters "brought me to tears," he said.

"They were just beautiful."

Greenker, who lives a block from Hutton, smiled and fired up his red motorcycle. Hutton had Greenker flew to his aid on a "winged cycle." As Greenker pulled away astride his Kawasaki Vulcan, the "V" logo, which includes wings, turned to a blur.

-- Michael de Yoanna

  • City backs down on Theatre of Mankind crackdown

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