Celebrating Service to Leadville
On August 29, 2020 the City of Leadville officially re-dedicated one of its public spaces, renaming it Tritz Park. A small but enthusiastic group gathered as the brief, COVID-respectful ceremony took place with City Administrator Sarah Dae cutting the official ribbon as honoree Howard Tritz looked on with several members of his family. While the official decision was made by Leadville City Council back in 2019, the work to the little known triangular shape at the intersection of US Highway 24 at E. 12th Street and the Mineral Belt Trail has now undergone a bit of a face-lift in anticipation of the park’s renaming.
In fact, when word hit the streets that city leaders were considering renaming Triangle Park to Howard Tritz Park, the idea saw little push back. And for good reason. If you know Howard, then you understand that it’s a worthy honor. But for readers who may not know him, and for the sake of posterity, Leadville Today offers you this post on The Man, The Legend and now, The Park: Howard Tritz!
Growing Up in Leadville
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
Howard Tritz has the kind of commitment, integrity, and loyalty that defines old-school Leadville leadership. So it probably comes as no surprise that he is a native son of Lake County, growing up on Leadville’s east-side. It was Leap Year, Feb. 29, 1936, when Howard arrived as the firstborn son of four boys (Howard, Kenny, Donny, Michael). His birth marked the 3rd generation of Leadville Tritzs, which boasts such notable as his Irish-jigging, saloon-running Great Grandmother who lived in “Finn Town,” east of Leadville. And a Great Grandfather arriving in 1879, the same year the Tabor Opera House, the old St. Vincent Hospital, and the Silver Dollar Saloon were built.
Tritz’s father was one of 8 children, so the Tritz family name grew with each generation. His dad worked at the Climax Mine as a re-grind operator. His mother suffered a stroke at 36, leaving the oldest Tritz to help his mother with the younger siblings.
When Howard was 10 years old he secured his first job as Leadville’s east-side newspaper boy. His faithful companion along the route was a pony name Muggins. Up and down, side to side they would go, making the door-to-door deliveries. Muggins was a well-known “free spirit” in the neighborhood, roaming as he cared, getting into mischief from time to time. This also made Muggins the “butt” of a practical joke or two. Tritz recanted one such gag attributed to childhood friend and neighbor, George Webster (yep, that George!) While it would be years before the prankster admitted to the feat, it was George who put those oversize pantaloons from the big German women’s clothesline, onto the back half of Muggins, sending that pony back home, and disgracing his young owner.
But growing up on Leadville’s East Side during the Depression wasn’t all bloomers and sunshine.
“There were some tough kids in the neighborhood,” recalled Tritz in an exclusive interview with Leadville Today. One such east-side bully was a boy by the name of Rupert, who had challenged Tritz to a scrappy after-school fight. Even back then, Tritz was a solid negotiator, and had managed to convince his opponent to re-schedule the battle with a more formal boxing match. He had even secured two pair of leather boxing gloves, ironically, from his cousin Don Moffett, who would go on to become a Lake County Commissioner. Hey kids, you never know what future leaders you could be going to school with in a town like Leadville!
The afternoon of the boxing match finally came. The east-side Irish kids gathered round to see the showdown between skinny Tritz and the more formidable Rupert. Then, in a first-one-out-of-the-corner, take-no-prisoners, punch, Tritz came at that bully, stiff-armed, and broke that boy’s nose, sending blood and snot flying everywhere! It was over, just like that.
The kids walked away one by one, disappointed in the brevity of it all as if they had a right to ask for a refund to a prizefight they never paid admission to. At the end of this battle, the victor’s trophy was worn by the loser, in the form of a metal nose guard, used in those days to stint broken nose. Needless to say, Tritz entered adolescence with a certain “don’t mess with Howard” reputation. Not a bad middle-school carryover for the torments of high school.
The Years in the Courthouse
It was 1993 and scandal was rocking the Lake County Courthouse, this time at the Assessor’s office. The Leadville attorney and eventual run-away Assessor had ignited a firestorm that would have every Colorado property tax division agency descending on the Lake County office, as audit after audit failed the state standards. Those who lived here during that time, might remember the long line streaming out of the courthouse as a record 3,000 protests were lodged against the Notice of Valuations (NOV) sent out in May of that odd-numbered valuation year. It didn’t take long for Lake County residents to see their property values had been disproportionately inflated, prompting the villagers to light their torches, and head down to the courthouse.
“I remember driving past the courthouse and seeing the long line of people, and thinking, ‘I wonder what’s going on there?’” recalled Howard Tritz.
So when the Lake County Commissioners made the initial phone call to Tritz, inviting him to come down and talk to them about the recently abandoned Assessor’s position, he might have had somewhat of an idea of what he was getting into, after all, he was born and raised here! However, nothing could prepare Tritz for what was about to unfold: his worst first-day-on-the-job!
Worst First Day On The Job
Much like Leadville’s Unsinkable Molly Brown, Tritz’s iceberg was concealing a much bigger set of problems below the surface, which would merge together into a sizeable storm on his first day on the job: June 19, 1993. Twelve people from the state were camped out at the Assessor’s office when Tritz first arrived. After the record number of protests, the state brought in a clean-up team, along with some bad news. Lake County had failed ALL of the different property valuation classifications in the audit. They flunked them all: residential, vacant land, agricultural, natural resources, mining, AND commercial.
“It was good training, to come in and get your ass kicked right off the bat,” said Tritz. “You’re definitely going to learn from that experience.”
But in true Leadville fashion, that wasn’t the only drama unfolding that day. Just as Tritz got the state people settled in, the Denver media showed up, TV cameras and all. But it wasn’t the failed audit that brought up the Front Range media, but rather a gruesome murder at a top law firm in San Francisco. The gunman, who took 8 lives and wounded six in California, was a John Ferri, who was taking vengeance after a bad business deal, which happened to include some Lake County property. The reporters wanted to know where the property was located, so they could go and roll some film, for the Colorado angle to the story. LINK
“I came in here really not knowing what I was getting into,” said Tritz about his worst first-day-on-the-job as Lake County Assessor. “But, I never even thought about walking away.” And while the tongue-in-cheek Oath of Office that the Board of County Commissioners jokingly required “Coward Fritz” to sign that first day on the job, may have helped during some of the trials, in the end it comes down to personal integrity. And so, like gold, refined in the heat of a fire, Tritz turned that first day into a solid 20+ years working relationship with the state folks and re-established trust to the Assessor’s office for Lake County residents.
Believe it or not, sandwiched in between his Leadville childhood and decades of civil service, Howard Tritz also worked at the Climax Mine for about 30 years, starting in 1961 as a laborer in the mill. Tritz would eventually work his way up to Mill Superintendent, until the mine finally laid everyone off, and went into “fire watch” status in the early 1990s.
Since his retirement in 2015, Tritz has stayed busier than ever with a variety of projects, most of which include wood. A woodcrafter since high school, including the few years he owned and operated Matchless Woodcrafters, a custom cabinet-making business, Howard’s projects include framing the historic pictures that line the courthouse hallway. He calls it his Labor of Love. Then, there’s the oversized Sixth Street Gym historic photo, which he created a frame with some of the old gym flooring. Now at 83, things have slowed down a bit and a heredity heart issue has Tritz monitoring his activities a bit more, but you can still see his smiling face all about Leadville Today.
“I have enjoyed it all,” stated Tritz, sharing too many tales to include in this two-part story. But should you want to hear some of them yourself, get in touch with Tritz and ask him to meet you at the newly dedicated park at the corner of Highway 24 and E. 12th Street: Howard Tritz Park.
Park News: From Triangle to Tritz
“It’s embarrassing, but I do really appreciate it,” said Howard Tritz during a conversation with Leadville Today (LT) concerning the city leaders’ decision to rename the municipal property situated at East 12th Street and Highway 24 from Triangle to Howard Tritz Park. It’s not an unusual response from a man whose life seems to represent the perfect balance of humor and humility. Ironically as a trusted local news source, it is Tritz himself who tells the back story about the park which now bears his name.
For many years, it was simply an unkempt triangular piece of land owned by the city, but then an underground accident at the Climax Mine which left a laborer with only one arm, would bring the property to life.
“I’d see him out there every day,” Tritz described the one-armed park tender. “I guess it was part of his therapy in recovering from that accident.” That man was Kenny Jackson. Many Leadville long-timers can recall the hours, days, and weeks Jackson worked that triangular piece of land turning it into a tree-lined picnic area that had been used but had seen a decline in recent years. Some say his work was a self-prescribed therapy to recover from his mining accident. He has not been forgotten, especially by Tritz.
“I always thought they should name that park after Kenny, after all the work he put into it,” recalled Tritz on his efforts to do so. “But nobody seemed interested at the time and it never went anywhere.”
The park came back into the spotlight when the Mineral Belt Trail (MBT) plans began in the late 1990s. While the area never truly developed into a heavily-used stop-point for MBT users, it did see a slight upgrade in the late 90s. But in late August 2020, the newly design Tritz Park was revealed providing a safer passage for MBT users to cross from the east to west side over Highway 24 with a new pedestrian signal, park bench, and bike rack. In the end, the area would be properly named – Tritz Park – after a man who put in more than a few hundred volunteer hours towards the creation and maintenance of the popular recreation trail, as well as years in public service as Lake County Assessor, Leadville Lion, and the Leadville Elks, to name a few.
Congratulations, Howard. You did pretty good for an eastside Irish! Slainte!