Marcus Shannon, a Denver security guard, had a dream in the early
1960s. He and a few business partners would develop America's most unique
franchise systemselling hot dogs
from a giant fast-food structure that replicated the real thing.
Shannon filed a patent, and he and his cronies,
most with backgrounds in law enforcement, private investigation and
security, formed a corporation.
They hired architect Lloyd Williams to design
the first building, and contractors hired Odin Neilsen and his staff
at Neilsen Plastering to complete the ironwork and stucco.
The Boardwalk at Coney Island opened its doors
at 4190 W. Colfax Ave. in July 1966. At the opening ceremony, six top
dogs announced plans to open 16 more eateries in the Denver area in
the coming months.
What happened next is a franchise mysteryor
at least it would seem so, based on the scant information salvaged from
documents that Estes Park restaurant owner Beverly Hill has accumulated
over the years (which also provided the introduction to this story).
Hill, who bought the hot dog stand in May 1970,
has no idea why the business closed less than two years after it opened.
By the time she purchased it, it had vanished from its original location
on Colfax near Aspen Campers, and was shuffled to the back lot of AK
Mobile Home Sales in Lakewood.
At the time, Hill and her second husband, Jan
Slager, managed a drive-in theater in Denver, and they lived with their
six children in a house on South Turkey Creek Road near Conifer.
Hill was noted in those days for her adventurous
spirit, being the first female in the nation, she said, to serve as
"assistant manager" at a drive-in theater that was also No.
1 in sales.
Intrigued by an ad in a Denver newspaper offering
a hot dog stand for sale, she traveled to the city to investigate it.
What she discovered was the same fast-food stand she had frequented
once or twice herself when it was still operational-a building she considered
"pretty and cute" on the outside, and "shiny" on
the inside, filled with expensive, custom stainless-steel equipment.
Hill bought it on the spot, offering a $200
deposit to hold it.
When she returned home, her husband asked what
she had done that day.
"I bought a hot dog," she replied.
"It's a pretty big hot dog," she continued.
"How big?" He asked.
Soon after, the couple bought the familiar parcel
of land in Aspen Park, where the dog has sat for the last 36 years.
They dug a hole for the foundation and ran utilities, but didn't tell
a soul what they were putting there for fear they'd be run out of town.
The first tow truck that attempted to pull the
14-ton wiener to its new location blew a head gasket and was stranded
on a roadside. By the time the second truck completed the move, its
steel transport beams were bent from the heavy load.
When movers attempted to shift the hot dog from
the transport vehicle to the new foundation, it slipped off the steel
beams, breaking the water and electrical lines and damaging the building's
"You could have heard it hit the ground
in Denver," Hill recalled. "It was like an earthquake. We
had to lift it back up and fix everything."
Coney Island Dairyland finally opened June 4,
1970, in Aspen Park. Hill changed the name from Boardwalk at Coney Island
to avoid hassles from the former owners who attempted but failed to
sue her for a patent infringement.
Hill was right about the community reaction.
Irate residents who woke up one morning and discovered the dog beseeched
the county to have the "ugly" structure removed. Even so,
Hill managed to sell 1,200 hot dogs the first weekend she opened there.
Fortunately, Hill had an important advocate:
the owner of the liquor store next door, the name of which escapes her
these days. The view out the liquor store window was that of a "big
turd" as Hill recalls it, yet the woman who owned the liquor business
continued to support Hill.
"She went to the town meetings where people
were trying to run us out of town and said, 'Look, those people are
honest; they are trying to make a living. If I can look out my window
and put up with it, you can too.' "
But Hill's stay would be short-lived. Her husband
demanded she sell thedog a year or so later-a fortunate twist of fate
for Hill's sister Vervia Goodwin.
Vervia, visiting at the time from Mississippi,
fell in love with Hill's weenie baby and built the next 28 years of
her life around it.
"She was a very successful businesswoman,"
said her daughter Karen Bott, who recently moved to Salida. "She
just had a feel for the business. She was quite accomplished with hot
The menu included hot dogs, ice cream, sausages
and other items that she insisted were made with the freshest ingredients,
including every single hand-formed thick and juicy hamburger patty.
Vervia worked at the dog six days a week. When
she wasn't working, she made trips to the city to buy food for the business.
There were days when she and the employees just
sat there wishing someone would come in, but as the dog's reputation
grew, those days were replaced by busy, grueling ones when tourists
and locals lined up out the front door.
Bott and her sister Vicki Roberts helped at
the stand over the years, along with the hundreds of other employees,
local teens and adults that worked for Vervia for nearly three decades.
"I can't tell you how work-intensive that
business was," said Bott. "They chopped 50 pounds of onions
in a day to get through the weekend."
One day, during an especially busy shift, Vervia
heard a large crash outside. She would learn that the east end of the
hot dog had literally broken off and fallen to the ground. But she was
so busy preparing orders that it was several hours before she grabbed
a cigarette on her break and braced herself for a peek, Bott remembers.
A young mason restored the structure, Bott said.
And cleanup wasn't difficult. People who had seen the disaster that
day had already asked permission to keep the shattered pieces.
Vervia's success allowed her to purchase several
other businesses along the corridor, including a joint venture with
Beverly at Windy Point, where an old restaurant known as the Rustler
once stood. She owned the Bailey Motel in Bailey and the old Brynmar
Inn in Pine that burned in the early 1990s and later became the Elk
Creek Station Restaurant under new ownership.
She was known to carry thousands of dollars
with her stuffed in hot dog bags, unable to find the time to deposit
the money in her Lakewood bank.
"There were times we had to Dumpster-dive
to retrieve hot dog bags with money in themmoney
was flying everywhere," Bott said.
Somewhere along the way, Coney Island appeared
as a centerfold for Frontier Magazine and once appeared on the cover
of a songwriter's album featured in Rolling Stone, Bott said. After
that, people came from around the country to see "The Dog."
When the Dairy Queen moved in two doors down
in the 1980s, Vervia outpriced the first business owner. When he sold
the business, she outsold the next owner, too, forcing the larger, more
modern eating establishment out of town.
In her last years there, Vervia was grossing
Beverly paid about $10,000 for both the Coney
Island structure and the land. She sold that to Vervia for a little
more. When Vervia put the business on the market in 1999, she imagined
it would take a long time to get her asking price of $1 million.
As it turned out, three offers surfaced a few
months later, and Lisa and Taylor Firman snagged the dog for a little
less then the million-dollar price tag.
Admittedly, the Firmans bought the property
for a real estate investment, though they did have a background in the
restaurant business, and had previously owned the Donut Shop in Evergreen.
The Firmans beat out two others also interested
in the land, a Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers, and a Conoco, Lisa
"We were the only ones when we bought it
that wanted to keep the dog," she said of that May 1999 purchase.
Keep it they did, for six and a half years.
The Firmans sold the food business and The Dog" to Diane Wiescamp
and Ron Aigner last November and closed a land deal with Colonial Bank
this month, which soon plans to build a structure at the site. Wiescamp
and Aigner will move the hot dog stand March 18 to a new location in
Bailey. The History Channel will film the event, and SEMA Construction
will move it.
Firman believes it was "time to sell"
due to the influx of food-chain competitors coming to the Conifer area.
"Business does better when it's only
the Coney," she said. "Loyalty only goes so far."
Programmatic architecture, when a building
is designed to resemble the product sold inside, reflects a time when
America was being shaped by the automobile.
As car culture burgeoned, commercial enterprises
needed new ways to capture the attention of the newly mobile public
who now passed storefronts at 35 mph.
The literal, humorous style that emerged
in the 1920s flourished during 1930s and '40s and lingered to the 1970s.
Solutions during the heyday of the style
included shoe-repair shops in the shape of a shoe, a camera facade on
a camera store, a hosiery store topped by a 35-foot-tall hosed leg,
giant milk bottles and ice-cream buckets lining the roadsides. There
were whimsical buildings in the shape of a lemon, a hamburger or flowerpot
and diners shaped like dogs; gas stations fashioned after airplanes
and offices built to look like the Great Sphnix of Egypt. Two books
that explore the topic are "California Crazy & Beyond:
Roadside Vernacular Architecture" by
Jim Heimann and "Roadside Giants" by Brian and Sarah Butko.
(resources: USA Today article dated Nov.
21, 2005, and a Los Angeles Times Weekend Weekly dated Aug. 20, 2000.)