LS: History Here and Now Column April 03, 2009

Daily Sentinel press room destroyed by fire in 1974

Museum of Western Colorado Loyd Files Research Library Daily Sentinel collection photo
IN 1974, a fire destroyed The Daily Sentinel’s Harris press and mailrooms shown here before the fire. The Sentinel was printed in Glenwood Springs for six weeks until the damage was repaired.

This is the final column in a series about the history of The Daily Sentinel.

In April 1974, The Daily Sentinel’s pressroom and mailroom were destroyed by a fire, but the paper didn’t miss a day of publication. For the six weeks that it took to rebuild the pressroom/mailroom, Sentinel pressmen printed the paper at the Glenwood Springs Post.

Pages were built in Grand Junction, trucked the 90 miles to Glenwood Springs in the early-morning hours, printed and then trucked back to Grand Junction for afternoon delivery at the regular hour.

The publishing agreement with The Glenwood Springs Post, a competing newspaper, was brokered by Barclay Jameson, then the Sentinel’s editor.

The main office housing the newsroom, advertising department, composing room, circulation and business offices suffered only heavy smoke damage. Despite teary eyes and smoky lungs, the news staff and composing room were back at work late the next morning, with Jameson directing the news output.

But the method of putting out a “news” paper where stories had to be written by midnight the day before and weren’t read until the following afternoon posed problems of timeliness.

Reporters worked every angle, including persuading Grand Junction state Sen. Chet Enstrom, a member of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, to leak western Colorado’s cash appropriations 12 hours before they officially were released to the press.

In May 1979, the Sentinel announced that Cox Enterprises had purchased the paper.

James C. Kennedy became the publisher that September. After the oil shale bust of 1982 threw the area economy into a downward spiral, Kennedy helped form the Mesa County Economic Development Council in 1984.

The mission of the EDC was to attract companies, and their jobs, to the area.

Kennedy did his part. He had a new printing press installed in a new pressroom at a cost of $6 million. He also gave the original Sentinel building an energy-efficient face-lift.

Thanks to a tip from Mary Louise Giblin, the Sentinel’s political reporter, Sundstrand Aviation Corporation in 1985 was recruited to the area. The company erected a building and relocated its manufacturing plant. Sundstrand was the first manufacturer to move to Grand Junction following the oil shale bust.

In May 1985, Kennedy returned to Atlanta to head Cox Enterprises. Editorial page Editor George Orbanek, facing a tough economy, became publisher at a time when 14.2 percent of Grand Junction homes were vacant.

In 1989, during the national savings and loan crisis, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation placed Valley Federal, Mesa Federal and Modern Savings and Loan under conservatorship.

Orbanek didn’t flinch, and The Daily Sentinel rode out the difficult financial period and grew stronger under his leadership. It was during his tenure as publisher that the Sentinel changed from an afternoon to a morning paper.

Orbanek was publisher for 22 years, his tenure as the newspaper’s leader surpassed only by Walter Walker, who served 39 years.

Alex Taylor, who had acquired his knowledge of the community as a Sentinel reporter, was named publisher in January 2008, after Orbanek’s retirement. Taylor had the shortest stint as publisher, leaving in December 2008.

Dennis Herzog, with a record of nearly 30 years in a variety of Sentinel newsroom managerial posts, was named executive editor when Taylor was transferred to the West Palm Beach Post, another Cox newspaper, as publisher.

Last summer, Cox Enterprises announced that The Daily Sentinel would be sold, a step toward ending its 30-year stewardship of the 116-year-old newspaper.

Mary Louise Giblin Henderson, former Daily Sentinel reporter, contributed to this column.

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