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Monthly news magazine for Roatan,
Utila & Guanaja

August, 2005 Vol.3 No. 8

feature story / editorial / local news / business

Words and Photos by Thomas Tomczyk

Utila seems to attract eccentric characters from everywhere. Visionaries, artists and characters have looked to Utila as an escape to make their impact on the world. Some of them succeeded, many failed, but all left a mark.

One of the most fascinating sights on Utila is a semi-deserted group of structures overlooking Sandy Bay from between giant oak trees. It is just a shadow of the fruits of the labor of dozens of people who have tried and failed to create the premiere hotel of the Caribbean. 

What remains is a folly, still dominating enough to make anyone wonder about its original visionary: Bradford Duncan.

Welcome to Duncan's folly. The seven-building compound was planned so that the to-be Crown Colony Hotel would be independent for power, water and sewage disposal. There was a power generator building, with a 60-foot concrete shaft well. 

The shaft is so deep that Kurt Halverston, an American businessman coordinating the clean-up and management of the site, had to use a scuba tank to clean the bottom. A three bedroom apartment now sits on top of the power plant.

"With foot-thick concrete walls it feels like a World War II bunker," 
said Halverston.

 The walls are not only made of extremely strong concrete mix they are reinforced with half inch steel rebar. "He [Duncan] said he didn't mix cement. he made concrete," said Richard Del Olmo, Duncan's stepson.

The compound has independent septic, electric and water systems. According to Del Olmo, the eight round septic wells set in a curve on the site were filled with stones, gravel and sand to filter black water before it was released into the ocean. 
"He [Duncan] was very concerned about the environment. He would tell us not to hunt lobster. To pick-up garbage," said Del Olmo.

The taller, five-story building was later partially finished by Spurgen Bush.

Each story was subdivided into two apartments, with unique floor plans, shower and baths, overlooking the site. 

The structures were wired for telephone and computers, quite ahead of its time for 1970 and 1980s way of thinking. The plumbing was run inside the concrete walls and according to Halverston, because of decades of abandonment, it cannot be used.

A reception building sits in the lower part of the site. An elevator would bring guests from the street level.

Now only the upper part of the elevator shaft is visible. The eight foot square shaft has been filled with debris over time and no one seems to know where the ornate, gilded elevator cage has disappeared to.

With all the complexity of design there are no existing drawings of how the entire hotel complex was envisioned. "The [working drawings] don't exist. They were all in his [Duncan's] head," said Halverston.

Bradford Duncan in front of his modest home in Jutiapa, Atlántida

Born on February 9 in Tuscon, Arizona in 1915, Bradford Duncan spent World War II as an aircraft technician on the US mainland. He received his BS in Structural Engineering, managed construction of a 40 story building in Mexico City and traveled all over the world.

Duncan was an assistant to Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, Arizona. He carried the architect's briefcase and ran his errands. "He was the most exciting employment," said Duncan. There are some similarities between the two personalities. Both had gray hair, a boyish enthusiasm and determination to follow their dreams. 

In a way, the young Arizonan inherited more than just the experience from the legendary American architect, he inherited the youthful attitude of the relentless pursuit of his dreams, and settling for little less then perfection. 

Following a pattern of knowing famous personalities, in 1950s Duncan came in contact with Michael Rockefeller, a philanthropist and adventurer who disappeared in Papua New Guinea in 1961.

"We enjoyed each other because we were 'brains'," Duncan said about Rockefeller. "I was knee deep in relationship with him."

 In fact Duncan helped with the search for the millionaire explorer.

Duncan built and run
"Gambola Cay," a large restaurant in Galveston, Texas. 

After hearing a customer mention Utila in a story, he traveled to the island in 1975. A year later Duncan sold the restaurant, moved his entire family and settled on the island. 

Every Christmas and summer his children would visit their father as he pursued a dream of building a five-star hotel of the future.

According to Kelsey Cooper, an old-time Utila native, there were only a handful of foreigners living on Utila back then. There was a Russian, an Englishman (AKA Lemon), Uncle Oak from the States, and Austrian Gunter Kordovsky who still calls Utila his home.

For a number of years, Duncan was the biggest employer on the island.
"Everything was run according to the budget. Even a pack of matches would be entered in the books," said Del Olmo.

 For two years, he hired two sculptors,Dimitrio and Cezar, from Trujillo to create 52 doors and wood columns that were to support an outdoor restaurant. 

Many of these columns now rest scattered across the island. Some just rotted away.

"He saw himself like King Solomon living in the trees,"
said Del Olmo. 

His business cards a described his position as "Governing Overlord of Utila." Duncan created a larger than life persona that radiated thought the entire community. 

At the same time he remained approachable and down-to-earth.

Still, with all his bravado and larger than life personality Duncan never hesitated to work hands-on on his projects.
"He would mash his finger up with a hammer two-three times and still be working," said Richard Del Olmo. 

He was humble enough to sweep the city's streets and give an example to his neighbors. "He fell from a scaffolding once. I thought he was dead, but he just got up went home for a while and came back the next day with a blue back," Kelsey Cooper. 

In short, Bradford Duncan was a truly original character.

Visiting Utila in 1990 a traveler describes meeting Duncan: "a distinguished looking old gentleman dressed in shabby, white pants, colorful shirt and a wide brimmed straw hat. It turned out that he had been a very successful architect in New Orleans, had visited Utila [and] fell in love with the island. (.) Duncan, is now obviously broke, but is happily remarried to a very young local Caribbean woman, has three children under the age of 10 - and best of all, is still able to laugh at his misfortune!"

Duncan came to the island with several million dollars in lifetime savings and no one knows exactly how much he put into Utila over the years. "I am a victim of trust," Duncan describes himself. 

Many people do say he was too generous, too trusting for his own good. 

The project lasted years, went over budget and seemed incomprehensible to many locals.

"If you don't finish a project on time, no wonder some partners will pull-out," said Lynn Duncan.

In 1985 Duncan was a victim in a bus accident in La Ceiba that almost cost him his life. He never quite recovered from the trauma. 

By the early 1990s Duncan felt too pained to continue living on Utila.

 He met Gertrudis Cardona, who worked at "Hotel Gran Paris" in La Ceiba and a few years later, in 1992, they were married. His wife, whom he affectionately calls Tulita, is now all he has. "Who would take care of me if it wasn't for Tulita," says Duncan.

Three decades after coming to Honduras Duncan is no longer as stately as he once was. Life and circumstances have caught up with Duncan. He has difficulty standing up and shuffles his feet as he moves to the bench in front of the front door. 

Duncan has no regrets about coming to Utila and Honduras. "I extended my life 10 years. I had no pressure, no tax collector knocking on my door," said Duncan.

He periodically travels to the US for medical reasons and sometimes visits his stepson and a few friends on Utila. Life is difficult as Duncan lives off a social security check forwarded every month by his daughter Lynn.

One of the hotel buildings now serves as quarters for watch staff

He is sometimes hard to understand, his mind falls in and out of reality and the present. An occasional wink from his pale blue eyes brings an image of a charismatic, extravagant character immediately back to life. 

Tears form in his eyes as he speaks of his three sons serving in the US military.

 Two serve in the US Marines and one in the US Navy. His daughter from the previous marriage, Lynn, lives in Houston and his son in New Jersey.

The hotel wasn't the only project Duncan involved himself on Utila.

 He built a three story concrete ENE power plant building. It now stands empty and abandoned yet is an example of strong solid concrete construction. 

Duncan's other work includes the construction of the brick community clinic building, the foundations of Captain Roy's Hotel, Sandy Bay street gutters, the foundations of the Methodist College and he was responsible for leveling-off the old airport runway.

The divorce proceedings between Duncan and his third wife, Utilan Rachel Esperanza Moreno, caused him much trauma and anxiety.

"All the turbulence in his life made him take chaotic and rushed steps," said Del Olmo. 

Duncan lost his house to his wife and many of his possessions ended up scattered in homes across the entire island. 

Several people around Utila have the wood carvings, tiles, stained glass windows, mahogany wall panels, rugs, paintings, old bottles, stamp collections, photographs, documents. 

Duncan's collection of Utila artifacts has also disappeared.

Most of his artifacts seem to have ended up in possession of Spurgen Bush, Duncan's ex-business partner and one time Utila mayor.

 "They just took everything he had. They used the law to leave him on the side of the road," said Del Olmo.

Things got even more complicated when in 1995 Spurgen Bush died and decided to be buried outside of Utila's only public cemetery on the old Duncan property.

 The locals have two explanations for this action: Spurgen felt even after death he will claim the property, or that after a "life of sin" he didn't feel worthy laying inside the cemetery.

According to Halverston, in 1985 Jim Crockett (AKA Jim Money) bought the 7.8 acre property for "pennies on the dollar."

Spurgen Bush became the general manager of the property. Bush supervised some work on the property, including framing wood floors in the five story hotel building.

By 1993 the hotel building filled with people, some of them paying symbolic rent to Spurgen Bush, others just squatters. 

One of the renters, paying $50 a month, was Ted Danger, a long time Utila resident. "I was the one who installed the electricity in the building," said Danger. 

"We were living like kings," remembers Danger, who in the early 1990s ran a pirate radio station from the building's rooftop. K-BUD 107.0 FM broadcasted a 100 Watt signal as far as La Ceiba.

Even after Hurricane Mitch brought down some huge trees, the site is dominated by 120' oaks and 100' royal palm trees. 

A 10' long, iron Spanish galleon anchor, supposedly found off Utila's Blackish point, sits resting against a tree. 

"It was like a jungle out here," says Kurt Halverston who first looked at the site in 1995.

For over a decade the site lay abandoned. 

"Families used to come here to make BBQs and play," said Ernest Rubi, 13, who lives not far from Duncan's folly. Ernest remembers playing cowboys and Indians on the site, which some Utilans grew to consider "haunted."

"It took me over a year to remove all the squatters out of a building," 
said Halverston. 

According to Halverson the property is owned by a corporation "Desarrollos de Utila," a partnership between him, an American foreign investor and another long time foreign Honduran resident. 

Halverston says that the site, incorporating the existing design, will be developed into townhouses and condos.

Some people posses the unique ability of reinventing themselves wherever they go and no matter what they do. 

Duncan's vision of reinventing himself and reinventing Utila was both ahead of its time and a work of sheer determination.

Caribe Crown Colony, a five star hotel, was a vision from the future.
"My father had a vision. He was ahead of his times. He would tell everyone, 'Tourism is coming! Tourism is Coming!' but nobody was listening," said Del Olmo.

Working with concrete and imported California Redwood lumber and mahogany Duncan wanted to create a marvel, a jewel that would awe visitors and locals alike. 

He has failed at creating his vision, but he leaves an example for all of us of how to live a life without compromises. 

Goethe once said "What counts is not what you leave behind, but how you inspire others through the life you led." Duncan is a perfect example of that. 

For Utilans, he left a foundation of an ambitious project, for many others he is setting an example of an uncompromising life of vision and passion for doing, creating.

One of the original carvings damaged by time and insects

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