As Sports Castle closes, woman hopes to save part of family history

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DENVER -- When you drive by the building at 10th Avenue and Broadway, it might look like just another sporting goods store. But it is so much more to Ann McNeill.

“Oh, yeah. That's definitely part of my family history,” McNeill said. “It makes me wonder how many people really ever thought about where that building came from or the history behind it.”

She’s talking about the Sports Castle, the flagship store of the Englewood-based Sports Authority retail chain.

The historic store is set to close sometime in the coming months as the company deals with financial hardships. The chain is expected to close 140 stores nationwide and could file for bankruptcy as early as next month.

“You know, it's not just your normal retail building,” McNeill said. “The spires and the stained glass windows, and it's just such a gorgeous creation.”

It's a creation that came from her grandfather, Ward Thompson, who first opened the building with a business partner in 1925 as a grandiose Chrysler-Plymouth dealership.

“I hate to say it, but it made me sad when it became the Sports Castle as opposed to my grandfather's castle,” McNeill laughed.

A few years after her grandfather died, the building was sold to Gart Brothers, and that later became Sports Authority. And the grand old store became the place people camped out every Labor Day weekend for SNIAGRAB ski bargains.

The place we rushed to for world championship gear when the Broncos won the Super Bowl earlier this month.

Now, this piece of McNeill's past has an uncertain future.

“Now that I know Sports Authority is closing several stores, I would love to see that building become part of the National Historic Register,” McNeill said.

She's starting the paperwork aimed at protecting the building. Her research shows the architect, Jacques Benois Benedict, designed some of the most iconic buildings in the area, from the Catholic Seminary to the Chief Hosa Lodge.

He even designed a proposed “Summer Home of the Presidents,” a mountain castle for the President of the United States to vacation in in the foothills above Morrison.

That castle might not have made it, but McNeill hopes her grandfather’s castle survives.

“It would be very cool for an event venue or a really nice restaurant or something like that,” she said.

McNeill said she's starting the paperwork to get the building listed as a Denver landmark and hopefully get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well.