The Cultural Corridor banner program shines a spotlight on some of the diverse people and institutions that have helped shape our community throughout its history. Their photos are displayed on light pole banners along Pikes Peak Avenue between Cascade and Nevada avenues. There are countless other persons who have contributed significantly to the rich cultural history of our region, and although we cannot include them all, we strive to grow this program in the coming years.
Featured persons were selected in partnership with the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum and other local entities. Photo availability and quality were factors in the selection process.
The Cultural Corridor is an initiative of Downtown Ventures, the charitable nonprofit arm of Downtown Partnership, and is supported solely through grants, sponsorships and donations. To support this effort, go here.
SEPTEMBER 15- october 15 IS hispanic heritage month
paula "Mama" Vallejo
Primitivo and Paula Vallejo came from Mexico through El Paso, Texas in 1923 to visit relatives in Walsenburg, Colorado. Primitivo worked for a few years in the coal mines there before leaving for Longmont, Colorado to work on farms. The family eventually moved to Colorado Springs in 1927 and decided to stay in the area. While Primitivo worked in mines, mills, and railroads, Paula was a homemaker who cared for their large family. Eventually Paula began to work in the restaurant industry, including a job at the original Village Inn restaurant on East Pikes Peak Avenue.
But Paula “Mama” Vallejo had always dreamed of being an entrepreneur. She wanted to open a Mexican restaurant using her own treasured family recipes. On March 17, 1962, Vallejo’s Family Restaurant opened in a former neighborhood grocery store at 111 S Corona St. After Paula “Mama” Vallejo’s death in 1990, daughter Lydia continued to run the restaurant with the help of multiple generations of Vallejo family members. After 60 years in business, Vallejo’s Restaurant closed September 2, 2022.
Tomasita Ortega was born in Pueblo, Colorado in 1928. Both of her parents had tuberculosis, and her father died when she was a young girl. Her mother was hospitalized at Cragmor Sanitorium throughout most of Tomasita’s childhood, and as a result she and her siblings grew up in the Sacred Heart Orphanage in Pueblo. Tomasita moved to Colorado Springs in 1948, and after her divorce raised her five daughters as a single mother. She was deeply devoted to her family, her community, and her Chicano heritage. One colleague described, “Tomasita Ortega was an uncompromising advocate for Chicano culture.”
In addition to working for many years at Zebulon Pike Detention Center where she counseled young people, Ortega served as chairwoman of the Chicano Unity Council, a cultural and political organization; and chairwoman of Los Amigos de Pikes Peak, a senior cultural advocacy group. She also helped launch the Latino Youth Leadership Conference, and was a member of La Nueva Ola, a dance group dedicated to preserving Hispanic Culture. She began her college education at UCCS when she was a grandmother, and in less than four years graduated with a degree in Sociology and completed an internship with Colorado’s United States Senator when she was in her 60s. Tomasita Ortega passed away in 1998.
Victor Ornelas sr.
Born in Colorado Springs in 1932, Victor Ornelas Sr. and his eleven siblings grew up in the Conejos neighborhood. Their parents were Manuel and Beatrice Sanchez Ornelas. Victor married Mary Josephine (Josie) Sandoval in 1955 and the couple had four children. In 1976, Victor and Josie opened the Aztlan Restaurant and Lounge at 504 E Pikes Peak Ave. They were generous business owners who fostered a “sense of family” in the community by hosting holiday parties with toy giveaways, sponsoring baseball, softball, golf, and billiard teams, and offering local dance groups rehearsal space at Aztlan. They were also dedicated contributors and members of La Fiesta Bonita. In addition to their own children dancing in the festival, for years Victor and his wife Josie drove to Mexico to book talented musicians and performers for the days-long celebration in Acacia Park.
For many children growing up in Colorado Springs, Victor Ornelas was the “train man.” He was immensely creative and a skilled craftsman who built a miniature “children’s train” he drove through his family’s neighborhood near Prospect Lake and during parades in downtown Colorado Springs. Victor was young at heart, and beloved by many. Victor Ornelas Sr. passed away in May 2003.
Angela Garcia Avila was born in a small mountainous town in Mexico to Primitivo Garcia and Maria Olmos Garcia. One of eight children, she went on to study teaching and regional dance at university. While in college, she met Benito Avila, a U.S. citizen living in Mexico. After graduation the two were both assigned to teach in the same school and they married shortly thereafter. After their second child was born, Benito was drafted in the U.S. Army and served in World War II and the Korean War.
After arriving in the United States, Angela Avila shared her love of dance, food, music, and culture with everyone she met. When Benito was stationed at Fort Carson in 1958, Angela fell in love with Pikes Peak and announced that this is where she wanted to settle. As she did in other places the family was stationed, she introduced the cultural festival and traditions of Mexico to Colorado Springs. She taught traditional dancing for years and was a cultural influence and inspiration to generations of local residents.
Born in Janson, Colorado in 1935, Luis Cortez graduated from Trinidad Catholic High School before serving in the United States Air Force. He went on to earn a master’s degree in education from Adams State College and worked as an elementary school teacher, an academic advisor at Pikes Peak Community College, and for the Urban League of the Pikes Peak region. In 1974 Luis Cortez was the first Latino elected as a Colorado Springs Councilmember. Additionally, he co-founded the Latin American Education Foundation and served as president of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. He was a tireless community advocate and participated in the G.I. Forum, La Raza, and the city planning commission. After retirement, Cortez founded the non-profit WaysOut Academy to serve at-risk youth and their families. Former Councilmember Luis Cortez passed away in December 2015.
Robert “Bob” Armendariz was born in Sugar City, Colorado in 1942. After graduating from Sugar City High School in 1960, he attended Otero Junior College on athletic scholarships before enlisting in the U.S. Army. After proudly serving for twenty years, he retired from military service at Fort Carson.
His business career and advocacy work flourished in Colorado Springs. In 1987, Bob founded Hispania News, “the Hispanic Community’s Newspaper” and served as the Colorado Springs Press Association president for many years. He served on numerous community boards and associations including the Colorado Springs Red Cross and the Life Skills Center. He was devoted to his family and was a tireless advocate for veterans, farmers, immigrants, Latinos, and the people of Colorado. Robert “Bob” Armendariz passed away in May 2012.
Severiano “Sam” Melena was born in Santiago, Michoacan, Mexico, on February 21, 1895. At fourteen he was forced to serve in the Mexican Army and later fled the country during the Mexican Revolution. He arrived in Colorado in 1910, working on ranches in Trinidad and Walsenburg, as a miner in Georgetown, at the Pikeview Coal Mine, in the Pueblo steel mills, and for the Denver and Rio Grande Railway and the Golden Cycle Mill in Colorado Springs. Sam married Rosario “Rosa” Avila on January 8, 1925, and the couple had three children, Teresa, Ismael (Ish) and Rudolph (Rudy).
After the Memorial Day Flood of 1935, Sam worked replacing railroad tracks washed away by Monument Creek. As granddaughter Becky described, “While working near Conejos Street he noticed some empty houses. One was next to an alley. Someone had told him that to have a successful business, it should be situated on a corner of a street. He bought the property at 320 S. Conejos and on Oct. 1, 1937, opened the Rio Grande Grocery and Market.” After Sam’s death in 1978, Rosa ran the store with son Rudy by her side. After Rosa passed away in 1982, Rudy Melena operated the store until it closed in 1998.
Margaret “Marge” Manuelito Manzanares was born in Redwing, Colorado, in 1938. In May 1959 she married Joe D. “Lolo” Vasquez. The couple had two children, Derek and Darin, and moved to Colorado Springs in 1966. They owned and operated the Bean Bandit Mexican Restaurant, originally located at 1919 East Boulder, which then moved to East Platte, and eventually opened in their permanent location of 320 N Circle Dr.
Recognizing her significant contributions as an entrepreneur and community advocate, in August 1976 Marge Vasquez was appointed as Colorado Springs’ first Latina councilmember, serving District 4. The next year, in April 1977, she won re-election by defeating two male candidates. Vasquez was involved with numerous community organizations including the Latino Chamber of Commerce, the prestigious United States Service Academy Board, the United Way, the St. Mary’s Booster Club and many more.
Jose Alvarado and his wife Corina Pacomia Alvarado founded La Fiesta Bonita in Colorado Springs in 1956. Iit was a phenomenal success – drawing thousands of residents and tourists to Acacia Park to see authentic dancing, hear Mariachi music, visit booths and games, and enjoy delicious food. The three-day festival began with a colorful parade and was capped off by the La Fiesta Bonita Queen’s Coronation Ball at the City Auditorium.
Jose Alvarado was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico and was five years old when his family moved to Colorado Springs for his father’s job with the railroad. As an adult, Alvarado was determined to share the culture, language and religion of Mexico with young people in Conejos. As he stated, “If you have respect for your own heritage, you’re going to respect someone else’s heritage.” To do so, Alvarado organized an extensive array of dancers, musicians and volunteers from a variety of backgrounds and recruited sponsors for the event. Monies raised benefited the National G.I. Forum, providing college scholarships to talented students. Multiple generations of the original La Fiesta Bonita participants including the Alvarado, Ornelas, Archuleta and Avila families have kept the rich traditions of Mexican music, dance and culture alive in our community. Jose Alvarado passed away at age 88 in 2016.