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The fight to save 'history' in Fort Collins

Monica Bird's father operated Pobre Panchos for more than five decades. She wants it designated as a historic site, but the new owner wants to tear it down.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Developing who we are starts at a young age. Monica Bird knows this as an Early Childhood teacher at Lopez Elementary in Fort Collins. She knows this as the daughter of Frank Perez, who for more than 50 years operated a locally famous restaurant – Pobre Panchos.

"I have a very fighting spirit, and I got that from my dad," Bird said.

She's fighting to save local history for the next generation. The new owner wants to tear Pobre Panchos down. The Fort Collins Historic Preservation Commission voted to save it and to explore the possible designation of the building as a Historic Site. The new owner is appealing that decision and the Fort Collins City Council will address the issue on Sept. 20.

Perez opened the restaurant on the north side of Fort Collins in 1969. At the time, North College Avenue was an empty part of town, according to Bird.

"It was one of the cornerstone buildings, if not the cornerstone building, of North College," she said.

As for the restaurant's name, "It means 'poor Frank,' " Bird said. " 'Poor Frank, not a lot of money.' Or, 'Oh gosh, so much work. Poor Frank.' I don't know which. It could've been either, or sometimes, I think it was both."

Bird said Pobre Panchos became a staple in the community. It is still standing today.

"It may just be an old '70s building to you, but do you know what went in to make that building?" she asked. "Do you know where it came from?"

Credit: Alex Castillo
"It may just be an old 70s building to you, but do you know what went in to make that building?" Monica Bird asked. "Do you know where it came from?"

Perez and his parents came to Colorado from Mexico during World War II.

"When all of the men went away to war, they needed somebody to pick the fields," Bird said.

Before North College Avenue was busy with cars and businesses, Bird said her father had a bigger vision for the area and the community.

"He wasn't just a man who made tacos," she said. "That traffic light is there because my mom and my dad, and a couple other businesses at the time, fought for the traffic light."

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For decades, Pobre Panchos shared with the community what it meant to be Hispanic, Bird said.

"The windows that are up there were a tribute to my grandmother," she said. "That place was a melting pot. He made it into a melting pot where he invited all ethnicities to view our culture."

Bird said that was all happening at a time when it was not easy to be Hispanic.

"He struggled at a time when there were 'whites only' signs in the buildings," she said.

In 2020, Perez got terminally ill. Bird said he had to close and sell the building.

"He was afraid, he was dying," she said. "He wanted to make sure my mom was taken care of, and he felt that was his only choice."

Bird started a new career at Lopez Elementary after managing the restaurant for years.

"Boy, I'm 50," she said. "Most people my age are retiring (from teaching) at this age, and I'm getting going with my master's."

Bird calls the Pobre Panchos building a symbol of immigrants chasing the American Dream.

"That's why it's so important to me that it shouldn't go, because then all of that goes away," she said. "People forget that that actually happened, not only to my dad's family but to other families, as well. It gets swept under the rug and it was not easy to come here. It's not and it's never been."

She wants Fort Collins to remember Pobre Panchos.

"It is the story behind the building," Bird said "My father, where he came from, the cornerstone. The longest Latino business, single owner, in Fort Collins."

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