ASPEN - A demolition crew started tearing down the Given Institute, an Aspen building designed by famed modernist architect Harry Weese and built in 1972, in large chunks and small pieces Monday afternoon. Using a backhoe, Alpine Demolition of Arvada began the work shortly after 1 p.m., starting on the northeastern wall of the architecturally acclaimed structure. The building-removal company was commissioned for the job by the University of Colorado's medical school, which has owned and operated the building and 2.25-acre property on a bluff overlooking Hallam Lake for many years.Once the demolition and debris removal are complete, the property will be turned over to next-door neighbor Jonathan Lewis. He has a contract to buy the property, which once belonged to Aspen philanthropist Elizabeth Paepcke, for $13.8 million. A CU official has said that the sale of the property would close within three days of the building's removal. Lewis is considering some type of residential development on the site, but has not been specific about his future plans.In early February, Colorado Preservation Inc. (CPI) placed the building on the state's 2011 Most Endangered Places List. Forty-four historic sites in the state were nominated this year, but only six were selected for the list.At the time, CPI Executive Director James Hare said the organization devotes staff hours and resources to raising funds to save imperiled historic sites, and it helps rally concerned citizens in preservation efforts. He had hopes for helping preserve the Given Institute.CPI's nomination of the Given Institute for its list says, "The Given Institute is a modernist architectural masterpiece designed by the renowned Chicago architect Harry Weese. Best known for designing the Washington, D.C., metro stations, Weese was commissioned by the University of Colorado School of Medicine to design a place where the top medical minds could meet to exchange ideas and present research findings."Built in 1972 on land donated by the late visionary matriarch of Aspen, Elizabeth Paepcke, the Given Institute stands as evidence to the promise of Aspen as a place of big ideas from the world's greatest artists, thinkers and leaders. The Given Institute has been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as a site of exceptional importance built within the last 50 years."The architecture of the recent past "is under assault cross the country," CPI's nomination said. Ironically, CPI noted, Weese was a famous preservationist. He told Time Magazine in 1973 that "maybe someone will save one of our buildings some day."But the effort to preserve the building over the last fall and winter by the city of Aspen and concerned local citizens was unsuccessful. In January and February, the city negotiated with one developer, CS Acquisitions, which had an option on the property. However, a vast majority of City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission members didn't like the developer's plans, which initially included construction of three luxury residences on the property and a one-year deadline for the city to find a buyer for the Given building at a cost of $3.75 million.After those negotiations broke down and CS Acquisitions' option on the property expired, Lewis stepped in and secured an option, which stipulated that the building be demolished. His subsequent discussions with city officials over the issue of saving the building resulted in no agreement. CU, as a state entity, was legally allowed do what it wanted with the building, and allowing the structure to remain on the site apparently was not a financially viable option for Lewis' development concepts.Mayor Mick Ireland in March commented that it would be an "environmental disaster" to tear down the Given building. It was estimated that the building's removal would require hauling 55 truckloads of debris from the site to the county landfill."I think we could have preserved the building and most of the open space if we had enough time to assemble a coalition to buy it," he said.CU bought the property in the early 1970s at half its assessed value. When the Given Institute building was completed, the structure and property surrounding it became the frequent site of medical conferences and seminars.Last year, CU initiated plans to sell the property because it no longer wanted to manage its $200,000-a-year upkeep and also to shore up its sagging finances.Last week, a "wake" was held in which supporters of the Given met in the building's lobby and lamented the upcoming loss.
Aspen Times reporter Scott Condon contributed to this story.