The former Smiley Junior High School in Durango was named for Emory E. Smiley, the superintendent of Durango School District 9-R between the years 1906 and 1943. Smiley, who is often noted for his ability to remember the first names of the 1,600 students that made up his district, protested the naming of the junior high in his honor. His protestations did not meet with success. With a design from Colorado Springs Architect Charles Thomas and funding from a $97,000 bond and an $86,198 grant from FDR's Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, the School District initiated work on the new building in 1935. The contractor, Raymond C. Whitlock, completed the work the following year for a price of $191,188. The School District declared the building surplus in 1995 when they abandoned Smiley Junior High for the recently constructed Escalante Middle School.
A new use emerged for the building in 1997 when three Durangoans succeeded at convincing the local community of the viability of their vision for the old Smiley Junior High. Brothers Charles and John Shaw and Lisa Bodwalk, Charles' wife, proposed to convert the school's classrooms into studios and workshops for a wide array of community arts, education, and crafts programs. The school district sold the building to the three partners, and they set out to realize their vision. A substantial amount of work was required to mend the damage caused by water leaks, vandalism, and years of deferred maintenance. The Shaw brothers' experience in the building trades and Lisa's experience as a dance instructor well equipped them for the thousands of hours they spent transforming the Smiley Building into a center of bustling activity. The Shaws and Ms. Bodwalk, however, were not alone. Many members of the community donated hundreds of hours cleaning, scraping, and painting the dingy walls of the old school.
In 1999 Smiley Studios, a nonprofit that operates many of the studios in the Smiley Building, along with the building's owners, applied for and received a grant of $129,889 to restore all of the building's wood double-hung and steel casement windows, as well as the third floor greenhouse. The Shaws set up a window restoration shop in the building's basement, which allowed the entire project to take place on site. The Shaws oversaw the entire project and provided a significant portion of the labor required to restore both the windows and the greenhouse. The finished work exhibits a high degree of craftsmanship and the Shaws deserve praise for their success on this project.
Jim Hall & Robert van der Hoeven, both of Atkinson-Noland & Associates, and Charles Shaw, President of Smiley Studios and Owner of the Smiley Building (left).
A second grant was awarded to Smiley Studios in 2001 to fund a Historic Structure Assessment of the Smiley Building. The building's owners chose Atkinson-Noland & Associates of Boulder, Colorado, to conduct the assessment and prepare the report. The building's distinctive blonde brick is showing signs of moisture-related deterioration and failure, and Atkinson-Noland was selected because of their expertise and experience working with historic masonry buildings throughout Colorado.