The Attic: Boulder, Colorado Folk

The Attic was a small room in a basement, more of a cavern than an attic. The acoustics were good, and it was intimate, seating only 50 people so the performer was right on top of the mostly student audience. It was like singing in your living room. Folk music was in the midst of its most popular period. – Joe Loop, Owner

The Attic was a coffee shop and folk music venue owned by Joe Loop from 1961 through 1963. The club was in the basement of the Campus Shop building located on a triangle plot of land at 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue in Boulder, Colorado, between 13th Street and Broadway.

History of 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity was living in the house on the northwest corner of Thirteenth and Pennsylvania, and had believed that the grass plot directly across the street, east of them, would not become the site of any kind of a building. Yet, the next fall, when its members returned to school, they found a new store building occupying the grassy area they had claimed as their own.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon House

McConnell and Crane’s drugstore was the first commercial building erected in what became the University Hill Commercial District. Built during the period 1906-08 in the triangular block bounded by Broadway Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and 13th Street, the brick building featured a stepped parapet reflecting its Mission Revival style and had a trapezoidal shape conforming to its parcel. The building was situated at the north end of the streetcar loop serving University Hill and Chautauqua, with one portion of the line jogging west on Pennsylvania and south on 13th Street and the other proceeding south on Broadway Street and 14th Street.

Listed in the 1913 city directory as McConnell and Crane Drugs, by 1916 the business was known as the Co-op Drug Store. Thomas E. and James F. Quine purchased the business in 1923. Thomas was a pharmacist and James managed the rest of the store. The Quines changed the name to Quine’s Campus Drug Store, later Quine’s Drugs. The university campus offered few options for meals, so students gathered at the Hill’s drugstores to eat at the soda fountains. Quine’s proximity to campus made it a favorite place for students to dine. The one-story addition to the north, presently occupied by Fruehauf’s, was built after 1931.

In 1938, Quine’s became a site of civil rights protests. According to CU archivist David M. Hays, a Faculty Senate committee found that the Hill drugstores had a policy of not serving African Americans who came through the front door. After quiet efforts to persuade the owners to change their policies, students began
staging protests in the businesses. In 1943, both Greenman’s and Quine’s experienced stand-in protests by black students. Quine reportedly stated he would not even serve bass singer, actor and Civil Rights activist Paul Robeson in his store, and someone responded by painting a large white swastika on the business’s Broadway-facing wall.

CU President Robert Stearns wrote a published letter indicating that the university community had tried for five years to end discrimination in the Hill businesses. Within the next ten months, restaurants and drugstores of the Hill opened their doors to blacks and other minorities. In the same year, Quine’s was sold to Fred L. Jenkins, who had come to Boulder from Columbia, Missouri, in 1932 to work as manager of the Colorado Book Store. Thomas Quine apparently managed the store until 1949.

The Daily Camera described the pharmacy as “one of the favorite meeting places of C.U. students.” The store contained a soda fountain, prescription department, and “over 1,000 items for the student and home.” Jenkins continued to operate the store as Campus Drugs until 1960, when he discontinued the prescription department and changed the name to the Campus Shop. The following year he sold the business to August R. Liese. The Campus Shop continued as a drugstore until the late 1960s.

During the 1960s, a folk music venue known as the Place Upstairs was located in the upper floor of the building. From 1969 through the 1980s, the Spoke, a new and used bicycle firm owned by Jeff Finnoff, occupied the building. Buchanan’s Coffee Pub operated in the building in the 1990s-2000s. The present occupants are the Innisfree Poetry Bookstore and Café, The Mac Shack, and K&K Piercing. – National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 2017.

History of The Attic by Joe Loop

The Attic was a small coffee house across the street from the University of Colorado in Boulder that I operated for a couple of years from 1961. I went to Colorado from Bloomington, Indiana, my hometown where I had been attending Indiana University. After reading “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac, I decided I wanted to see some more of the country.

I’d been to Chicago a few times and once to St Louis, but this was my first long trip. A former roommate of mine had moved to Boulder some months earlier. I was going to stop and visit him on my way to San Francisco, California. I knew a percussionist at IU who played in the Aspen symphony orchestra in the summers. I hitched a ride with him to Boulder. He was glad to have company and someone to share the driving.

We loaded our gear in his 1958 Volvo and headed west, straight across the middle of the country. My excitement was sky high. Nothing, however prepared me for what was about to happen to me. When you first see the mountains they look small. The mountains grow ever so slowly. By the time you get to Denver the mountains have turned into spectacular snow covered peaks. Then I saw Boulder. A jewel of a small town nestled at the bottom of mountains that rise almost straight up for hundreds of feet. It was the most fantastic place I’d ever seen.

I decided to stay there and look for work. A few days after I landed a job working for the Johnson Publishing Company. The only thing was I didn’t start working for two weeks. I was staying with my former roommate, Gene Fine. We had been hanging out at this little coffeehouse called The Ten O’clock Scholar. It was a quiet place to hang out play chess and converse with interesting people. I really needed some way to make a little money to tide me over until my job at the publishing company started. I asked the owner of the Scholar for a job and he said he could only pay 50 cents an hour. I took the job washing dishes.

The owner had finished school and started working full time as a realtor and no longer had time to run the Scholar. About a week after I started working there, he hired Doug Myers, a singer who was performing in Denver, to manage the Scholar. Doug was the one who changed the name of the place to The Attic. He also changed the seating and lighting giving the place a nightclub atmosphere. He started doing shows every night charging a cover charge. He was a polished nightclub singer and was soon filling the place every night. The Attic had become the in place.

Doug Myers playing guitar

I stayed on as dishwasher after I started my job at Johnson’s. Working two jobs was not bad because The Attic was the place to be. Things were going very well for about a month when one night Doug told the owner he wanted 50% of all income The Attic produced. The owner said no. The next day Doug didn’t come to work. In fact we never saw or heard from him again.

I was left running the place (for the same amount of money, 50 cents an hour). Doug had been doing all the shows, we didn’t have any other performers lined up and no one really knew what was going to become of the place. I started hiring local amateur folk musicians to play there on a nightly basis.

The guy who owned the place put it up for sale. He started bringing potential buyers to The Attic. My partner and I, along with a few other people who hung out there, were worried that he would sell to someone that would not appreciate what was going on there and would ruin what we all thought was a great scene. He did bring in a couple we felt would be terribly wrong for the place. My roommate Gene, Larry London, a guitar player who had recently arrived from North Carolina, and I convinced the owner to sell to us. None of us had any money, so we each borrowed as much as we could from family and friends. He accepted the $900 we had come up with as a down payment after we agreed to a rather large monthly payment. Suddenly we were business owners.

Larry London left after he realized The Attic would not produce a profit for quite some time, leaving Gene and I to run the place. Within a few weeks we had an abundance of players. About the same time we took over Harry Tuft opened the Denver Folklore Center.

Harry Tuft

Harry heard about The Attic and came up to Boulder to see what the place was like. We hit it off right away, he was a great singer and player, knew hundreds of songs and he sold guitars and all the accessories. We closed The Attic on Monday’s so Harry rented the space for that night. He would load his panel truck up with guitars, picks, strings, kazoos and other related items, haul them up to Boulder and open up the Denver Folklore Center in The Attic on Monday’s. No one in Boulder was supplying the growing numbers of folk musicians with guitar strings and picks and other accessories they needed. Harry’s arrival on the scene was a blessing indeed. When friends of Harry’s would come through Denver, he would send them up to The Attic.

The Journeymen

There were a lot of folk singers traveling from one coast to the other at that time and they were all looking for some place to make a little money. Jim and Marilyn Kweskin, Marc Saber, Artie Traum, Michael Cooney, Michael Bloomfield and David Crosby are some of the people who played there. Harry would bring his friends John Phillips and Dick Weissman up to party with us when The Journeymen played in Denver.

David Crosby performing at The Attic

The regular performers at The Attic included Judy Roderick and Ed O’Reilly. Judy would go on to distinguish herself as one of the finest blues singers of the folk music era of the 60s and 70s. Ed O’Reilly’s guitar picking style, based on Dave Van Ronk’s style, was an influence on Judy Roderick’s playing as well as an influence on the picking style that David Crosby used later with The Byrds. 

Judy Roderick performing at The Attic

The Attic closed in January 1963.