On a chain link fence at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Main Street, a banner bears the name of a Longmont woman with a storied legacy.
The sign advertises the soon-to-be Casa Lou Cardenas — a mixed-use commercial and housing development that is slated for completion in fall 2023. For Cardenas’ family, the building’s namesake is a chance to continue to inspire people with Cardenas’ work.
Over coffee at Ziggi’s on Main Street on May 4, Cardenas’ family shared stories of the “feisty,” ambitious and determined woman, who blazed a trail for an all-inclusive Longmont senior center and sparked the creation of a transportation system for the elderly. Joining in the conversation was developer Jennifer Peterson, of JSY Properties and Tom Moore, of Thomas Moore Architects.
Peterson is a Longmont resident and developer, who has been wanting to redevelop the downtown corner. She was captured by Cardenas’ story after doing some research with the help of Erik Mason, Longmont Museum curator of research.
“I knew from the start that I wanted to name the building to honor a woman who had been significant to the development of Longmont,” Peterson said. “I got to thinking about the Hispanic community in Longmont and the contributions that they have made to not only the cultural development, but the economic development of Longmont.”
Cardenas died in 2017 at the age of 99, but Peterson saw a way to keep her story going. She reached out to the Cardenas family to ask their permission to name the building in her honor and learn more about who Cardenas was.
“She was a visionary for her time and I want to carry on her vision of diversity … and inclusion,” Peterson said.
Construction on the 12,000-square-foot building will begin in August. Two older buildings, one constructed in the late 1950s and the other in 1919, located at the site were demolished Tuesday, Peterson said.
Casa Lou Cardenas will feature four commercial spaces on the first floor. On the second floor, there will be five two-bedroom apartments, each with a roof-top patio. A one-bedroom apartment will be located on the third floor.
Brien Schumacher, Longmont principal planner, said the next step in the process is for city staff to give final approval to the project’s site plan.
Who was Lou Cardenas?
Eloyeda “Lou” Cardenas was born in 1918. She first came to Longmont when her family migrated from New Mexico to work the sugar beet fields in 1929.
Rose Lontine, who was raised in Longmont and today lives in Pueblo West, said her mom was passionate and persistent about making Longmont a better place for people to live.
“She just wanted to know what was going on in the Longmont community,” she said. “She would attend City Council and talk to them about her ideas and what she would like to see. She was pretty successful in getting some of the things that she wanted done.”
Lydia Gomez, also one of Cardenas’ five children, said she believes her mom’s namesake on a building will honor her legacy and hopefully spark conversation about how Cardenas brought people together.
Cardenas became the 1971 director of the senior center, back when it was located on Fourth Avenue. She later served on the Senior Citizens’ Advisory Board, providing feedback to the city’s leaders on issues, such as making the senior center more welcoming for all.
“At first, the Hispanic people wouldn’t go to the senior center because they felt like they couldn’t participate,” Gomez said. “They felt like they weren’t welcome. She made that possible for those people to come there.”
In regard to her work with special transit, Richard Martinez, who was a longtime friend of Cardenas, said he drove for special transit for four to five years. He saw firsthand the difference the service made by giving seniors a transportation method to get to doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments and shopping trips. The service still exists today and is called Via.
“Lou was very feisty,” Martinez recalled. “When she made up her mind to do something, it was going to get done.”
For Cardenas’ grandson Michael Gomez, “Longmont is the legacy of my grandma.”
He recalled trips to visit his grandma from Arvada when he was a child. He tried to absorb as much of her family stories and knowledge as he could. Cardenas loved to laugh and talk about sports, especially when it was about her favorite football team, the Broncos, he said.
“Now that she’s going to have a building, it’s going to be amazing to see her name there,” said Gomez, who lives in Westminster today.
Julian Lontine, Michael Gomez’s cousin and a fellow grandchild to Cardenas, also recalled growing up learning from Cardenas and how hard it was when his family later moved to Pueblo West. Still he visited his grandma at the Peaks Care Center, always bringing her flowers.
“She loved us all in our own way,” Lontine said.
As an architect of the project, Moore said it’s Cardenas’ story that has given the new building “a soul that it didn’t have before.”
A courtyard where people can find information about Cardenas is part of the project’s design, Moore said.
“It’s a place in Longmont that honors a very important person,” he said, “who you might not know about if you didn’t see this building and ask. History is all about stories, and we don’t want to lose this story.”
More about Casa Lou Cardenas
Boulder Daily Camera
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