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Aspen wrestling with fateof its own historic buildings

Janet Urquhart
Designated as historic, three outbuildings on the former Zupancis property at 540 E. Main St. as seen Thursday afternoon September 23, 2004. The city of Aspen will study whether or not there's another suitable site for these historic structures. Contemplating a move to the property, the Aspen Fire Protection District would like to know whether or not the old buildings must remain there. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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Aspen may consider moving three historic buildings from a Main Street property it purchased two years ago, though the city’s policy is to keep historic structures on their original sites.The City Council agreed this week to hire a consultant to delve into the history of the three buildings on the former Zupancis property at 540 E. Main St. and explore suitable spots for their relocation.The city bought the property in 2002 for $3 million and has offered it to the Aspen Fire Protection District for a new fire station. The fire department wants to know whether the trio of old wooden structures on the back of the parcel must remain there or not, before it decides whether or not it wants to acquire the site.Any potential buyer of the parcel would want that questioned answered, predicted Councilman Tim Semrau.Typically, the decision would be in the hands of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, unless a property owner appealed to the council. In this case, the city owns the parcel and it’s being eyed for use as a public facility that could include the fire department, ambulance district and, possibly, other public safety agencies, according to fire Chief Darryl Grob.

HPC members, charged with protecting the city’s historic resources, were split on the future of the old buildings. Some were not anxious to make the decision at all, fearing a nod to move them will become a precedent cited by other developers who want to relocate historic buildings.”This is a no-win position for us,” said Amy Guthrie, the city’s historic preservation officer, urging the council to make the call.”It’s putting us in a tough position,” agreed HPC member Jason Lasser. “I’d rather put it on you than have it on me,” he told the council.Buildings with the city’s historic designation have been moved before, council members noted. The historic preservation program’s underlying philosophy, however, is that buildings should be preserved in their original locale, Guthrie said.”Even if no one can see them?” asked City Attorney John Worcester. “Isn’t that an argument that should be considered – they should be in a place where the public can see them?”The buildings are on a hillside overlooking what will be Obermeyer Place, now under construction. If the Zupancis parcel is redeveloped, they would be tucked behind what will presumably be a taller building constructed on the front of the site, along Main Street. To the west is the Pitkin County Annex.

What is going up around the historic buildings is “trivializing” them, said HPC member Derek Skalko, advocating their relocation.”This whole area is no longer what it was,” he said. “What you have is a perfectly foreign environment.””I do think this context is seriously degraded once Obermeyer is done,” Semrau agreed. “Maybe there is a place that exists that is better than this.”Mayor Helen Klanderud endorsed the Holden-Marolt property, site of the Aspen Historical Society’s mining and ranching museum, as her preference if the buildings are moved, but said she’d rather see the buildings put to some use in their current location.”I’m not generally in favor of moving historic properties, basically because it takes them out of the context in which they’re historic,” she said.Councilman Terry Paulson also favored keeping the buildings where they are.

“It’s like moving Independence Hall in Pennsylvania to Denver. It doesn’t have the same character,” he said. “I’m very against moving them, frankly, … because of their age and landmark status.”Councilman Torre said he wants more information before he can take a position, but added: “The last thing I want is for these buildings to just sit here and deteriorate … we’re squandering a resource as it sits now.”Before the property was purchased by the city, it was the remaining piece of the homestead that had been in the Zupancis family for more than a century.In the spring of 1898, John Zupancis purchased property that encompassed what is now the site of the Pitkin County Jail and part of the Obermeyer Place property, as well as the Main Street parcel. The original family home was a modest house, long since razed.The property also contains a house and garage that are not historic, which, along with several modular buildings, are currently home to various businesses displaced by the Obermeyer Place construction.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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