1998: It’s history: Paepcke house razed
In celebrating the 125th anniversary of The Aspen Times, we are printing a story or two from each year the newspaper has existed – 125 historical selections in 125 days. This series is in conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society. It’s history: Paepcke house razedBy Bob WardA century of Aspen history was reduced to rubble Wednesday as a huge wrecking crane destroyed the Brown-Paepcke house.The demolition brought a violent end to several weeks of fevered debate about the historic home. The Aspen Historical Preservation Commission approved the razing in February, after nearly two years of meetings and research. But in recent weeks, the City Council had tried to step in to negotiate with the owners and save the home.Negotiations came to an abrupt end Wednesday, however, as a handful of teary-eyed Aspenites watched the home crumble – piece by piece.City Council members stood shocked in the middle of First Street and gazed in disbelief as the house was methodically ripped apart. Ruthie Brown, daughter of former owner D.R.C. Brown, appeared just after the porch came crashing to the ground, yelling at the front yard gate for crews to “please stop!” with her three children in tow. Brown hollered for someone in charge, but was ignored by the handful of workmen on the site.”It’s my father’s house,” she said, eyes welling up with tears. “It’s just disappearing before our eyes.”Former Mayor Bill Stirling, also arriving too late, strolled straight to the top of the rubble pile in a failed attempt to halt the destruction. Realizing the home was gone, however, Stirling soon left. Aspen police officers arrived a few minutes later on a “disturbance and trespassing” call, but realized with a glance around the property that the so-called “incident” was over.The machine made quick work of the century-old house, taking roughly two hours to turn it into a massive pile of lumber, plaster and twisted metal.”That ends that debate,” said a passing jogger.Constructed in 1888, the Brown-Paepcke house was first occupied by T.G. Lysier in 1909. the property was sold to D.R.C. Brown, one of Aspen’s founding fathers, who had interests in mining, banking and utilities. In 1952, the home was purchased by Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, the Chicago visionaries who launched Aspen as a ski resort and cultural mecca. The formative conversations that created the Aspen Skiing Co., the Aspen Music Festival, the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies are said to have occurred in the home.Architecturally, the home was jumbled and unremarkable, having been remodeled multiple times in recent decades. The home’s significance clearly came from the people who occupied it, from the silver boom through the so-called “Quiet Years” to Aspen’s post-war heyday. For all that history, however, it took mere hours to erase the building.A handful of Aspenites plan to pay their respects today at 8 p.m. with a candlelight vigil at the site.City Councilman Jake Vickery was one of the first to arrive at the demolition scene. Having met with the owners and their representatives for more than two hours earlier in the week, Vickery was looking forward to a compromise that would save the historic house. Present at the meeting for the city were Historic Preservation Officer Amy Guthrie, City Manager Amy Margerum, Councilwoman Rachel Richards, Mayor John Bennett and Vickery. According to Vickery, homeowner Jonathan Lewis brought attorneys Andy Hecht and David Lenyo, contractor Steve Hansen and architect Michael Ernemann.Vickery was plainly shocked by the sight of the demolition. Raising his voice above the screech of tearing nails, the councilman said: “I can’t tell you how let down I feel by these guys. I defended them and now I feel betrayed.”For the last week or two, Vickery had encouraged his fellow council members to “take the high road” and work cooperatively with the owners, Lewis and Robert Posada. In fact, city officials had offered Tuesday to pay to pick the house up and move it away, perhaps donating it to the Aspen Institute.Fighting back tears outside the house, Councilwoman Richards said she thought the city and the owners were close to an agreement to save the building.”They assured us in a meeting yesterday that they wouldn’t do anything until we had a chance to meet again,” she said. “Obviously, they went ahead and decided to demolish as soon as they could.”Lewis and Posada were not to be seen at the site. They received their demolition permit on Monday, and were clearly within their legal rights to destroy the building. But the feeling in the street as the house came down was one of disbelief.”So much for the high road,” sighed Bennett, who pulled up in his car midway through the home’s demise.Perhaps the most outspoken proponent of saving the home, the mayor was clearly distraught on Wednesday. He had hoped that moving the house at city expense would clear the way for a new home on the site, while saving for future generations what he has called the “White House of Aspen.””I left that meeting last night really excited,” he said. “I wasn’t excited to have to move the house, but at least it wouldn’t be a total loss. I guess in the bottom of my heart I really thought this would never happen.”Shaking his head as the giant crane shut down almost exactly at 5 p.m., Bennett wondered at the owners’ decision.”How will they live in this town?” he asked. (April 9)
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