University’s Vetsville Housed Post-War Lifestyle

by Silvia Pettem (published in the Daily Camera, August 25, 1998)

After World War II, many young veterans married and started families. The GI Bill provided federal government assistance in obtaining a University education.

At CU, as enrollment soared, and so did the need for housing. Administrators scrambled to provide “temporary” homes for the married student veterans. Their community became known as Vetsville.

“The vets loved it,” said late professor Howard Higman when interviewed for an oral history in 1987. “It was a continuity of their Army experience in a campus setting.”

Wives formed their own suburban lifestyle. Most supported their husbands by working clerical and retail jobs, then staying at home and raising their children.

In 1946, one hundred fifty standard trailers, 50 “expansible” trailers, and 120 Quonset hut units were packed into the area north of Boulder Creek, west of Folsom Street, and south of Arapahoe Avenue.

Along Arapahoe, the Log Corner Service Station (now Rob’s Village Conoco) and the Timber Tavern (now Turley’s) formed part of the community’s eastern boundary. Lincoln Elementary School (now Naropa Institute) was to the west.

Newspaper accounts depicted a bleak existence. At first there was no electricity or running water. The standard trailers rented for only $20 per month and measured seven by 22 feet.

A Daily Camera reporter observed the increasing number of children and noted “there’s no room for twin beds in a trailer.” Families with a child or children could rent the larger 18 by 18 foot trailers for $25 per month.

The housing project claimed to have had more children per square foot than any other place in Boulder. Playgrounds were equipped with “teeter-totters.” Concerned parents made speed traps by digging ditches across the University-owned roads. The community’s motto was, “Better a driver with a broken neck than one hurt child.”

Soon the Red Cross moved in and provided free medical care and started laundry and child care services. Volunteer workers drove wives downtown to shop while their husbands attended classes.

In addition to the trailers, the University added 120 furnished Quonset huts. Each of the rounded prefabricated buildings was divided in half to create two separate 20-by-24-foot apartments. These 480-square-foot units rented for $36 per month and contained over three times the living space of the standard trailers.

After a few years, the mud and dust of the early years was replaced with grass, flowers, small gardens, white picket fences, trellises and vines. The reporter claimed that Iowans planted corn while the others built canopies to cover their lawn chairs for “after-class relaxation.”

East of Folsom (then 24th) Street and north of Arapahoe Avenue, 187 two-bedroom furnished steel Army barracks were moved from Dalhart, Texas, to provide even more family housing.

Vetsville elected a council and mayor. They published their own newspaper, the “Quontrabar,” named for a combination of the words “Quonset, trailer, and barracks.”

In 1957, on Vetsville’s tenth anniversary, the community included 379 families, down from more than 500 in previous years. Forty women competed for the title of “Mrs. Vetsville.” The queen received a free month’s rent. She and her court were judged on personality, poise, and beauty.

Men also could win a free month’s rent in the “best beard-growing” contest. A “Mrs. Typical Vetsville” contest was only for pregnant women who were judged diapering dolls. If they won rent or a prize no one bothered to record it.

By the late 1960s, married students could rent half of a Quonset hut for $50 per month. By then, new apartments had been built on Marine Street and, as housing, Vetsville was considered a “last resort.”

Even then, the wives who were left at home received recognition for their duties. On the same day that their husbands went through graduation, the wives held their own ceremony and received their own degree. It was called a “PHT” which meant “Putting Hubby Through.”

The last Quonset huts were removed prior to the fall of 1974 when CU’s Newton Court family housing opened on the same site. One and two-bedroom apartments now provide room for 292 families. Rents range from $485 to $602 per month.

The post-war community of Vetsville, and the lifestyle it created, have faded into the past.

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