Culture Vulture 

The Starr Kempf fiasco: A modest proposal

Last Friday, Fourth Judicial District Judge David Gilbert ruled that Starr Kempf's gorgeous, monumental kinetic sculptures be removed and/or set back from the property line at the historic home (which he built with his own hands) in Cheyenne Canyon near The Broadmoor.

Let us now consider the history of events that led up to the current stand-off between Lottie Kempf and the City of Colorado Springs:

A brief history

In 1980, when the Broadmoor neighborhood was annexed into Colorado Springs, the City never asked Kempf to move or remove his sculptures. Lottie Kempf, Starr's daughter and executor of the estate, claims the property and the property was grandfathered out of city zoning laws. "They never came after my dad until 1994 when he put up his tenth sculpture," says Lottie. "The City acknowledged that Starr had grandfathered rights, but claim that those rights are no longer in effect." City Attorney Tom Marrese, however, rejects that notion, pointing out that in 1980, when the Broadmoor neighborhood was annexed by the city, only one sculpture had been erected, and that sculpture was already in violation of El Paso County zoning codes. Marrese admits, however, that the City did nothing until neighbors began to complain.

In a total bonehead maneuver, in the late 1980s, the City of Colorado Springs City Council balked at Kempf's attempt to donate his sculptures to the City before he died because they wanted his estate to pay to maintain them.

Kempf made plans to donate the property and his sculptures to UCCS before he died in 1995, but later changed his mind and willed the estate to his family. Within two years of Kempf's death, Lottie Kempf applied for historical designation, then she turned it into "Starr Kempf's Sculpture Garden and Gallery." Because the estate wasn't at least 50 years old, however, the Historical Preservation Board denied Lottie's request.

After Kempf's death in 1995, Lottie Kempf also began advertising tours of the gallery, which brought large amounts of traffic into the area, further exacerbating neighbors' complaints.

In 1999, the City clamped down on the organized tours, banning tours of the house and tour buses from the area. Two years later, the City sued the Kempfs for violations of city zoning codes.

The Kempf family has 90 days to comply with Judge Gilbert's orders before the City begins considering options to remove the sculpture from the property.

So what to do?

Let's face it: Lottie Kempf has chosen a fairly rugged legal road, often stubbornly refusing to negotiate with the City and the few crotchety neighbors who've raised complaints. Though many neighbors also support her and aren't bothered by the traffic, it's clear that some kind of compromise will have to be reached. I submit the following proposal:

The City of Colorado Springs should immediately allocate the funds necessary to pay for reproductions of at least three of Kempf's sculptures. Those sculptures should then be installed around the planned fountain at the future Confluence Park. The addition of the sculptures could transform the otherwise fairly modest fountain into one of the greatest spectacles and tourist attractions in the West, and draw much of the unwanted tourist traffic away from the Broadmoor neighborhood.

Colorado Springs should not miss this chance to highlight and preserve the work of an artist who should be recognized as one of the great sculptors of the 20th century.

By the way, Lottie Kempf says that CBS has expressed interest in doing a story on the sculptures for the national newsmagazine 48 Hours. National spotlight, here we come.

-- nblack@csindy.com


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