Bidwell Building not worth preserving |

Bidwell Building not worth preserving

ASPEN A divided Aspen City Council refused to designate the downtown Mountain Plaza building as historic Monday, opening the door to its redevelopment.The council voted 3-2 to reject historic designation for what is also known as the Bidwell Building, so named for its former owner, the late Bert Bidwell. Advocates of its preservation argued that the building, located on a prominent corner at Galena and Cooper, is one of the better remaining examples of noted local architect Fritz Benedict’s work on commercial structures, while detractors called the building dysfunctional and a poor example of Benedict’s design contributions.The building has long housed Kemo Sabe, a Western apparel shop, along with an assortment of commercial tenants that have come and gone, which representatives of the building’s owners blamed on its poor design – recessed storefronts and arcade-style walkways, all separated from the street by a subgrade courtyard frequently referred to as “the pit.”With Monday’s decision, the current owners of the building, Bidwell’s three children, are now free to pursue plans for its redevelopment; their application goes before Aspen’s Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday.Councilmen Torre and Jack Johnson supported a historic designation for the 1965 building – which would have made it the first post-World War II structure to be so designated without the owner’s consent. The council initially agreed to explore the designation after the HPC granted demolition approval for the building last year; the HPC concluded it was not worthy of preservation.But former Councilwoman Rachel Richards, who pushed for consideration of the building under the city’s historic preservation guidelines, is now a county commissioner, and the will of the council shifted. Her replacement, Jasmine Tygre, voted with Mayor Helen Klanderud and Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss to reject the designation.”I don’t want to be a part of designating a historic pit,” DeVilbiss said, though he admitted a fondness for the building.Tygre argued the city shouldn’t preserve the building solely out of fear of what might replace it.Klanderud suggested the city shouldn’t step forward to force preservation of anything that is less than an exemplary example of post-World War II architecture and concluded the Bidwell Building doesn’t rise to that level.”I think it’s important to preserve the best, and I mean the best,” she said.Ruth Kruger, a local commercial real estate broker, urged the council to let the building go, so that it can be replaced with something befitting the high-profile corner.”I think it would be an embarrassment to hold this building out as a building you want to preserve in perpetuity,” she said.But citizen Les Holst, a former HPC member, urged the council to protect the building, which is within the city’s downtown historic district.”You never let a building go out of a historic district unless you know what is going in,” he said.Hired consultants on both sides of the debate agreed that another Benedict design – the Main Street building Design Workshop occupies – is a better example of his work, but Ron Sladek, the consultant working with the city’s historic preservation staff, argued the Bidwell Building is a good one and worth preserving.”I see this as very representative of a lot of buildings that he did,” Torre said. While the building may present challenges from a functional standpoint, that is not a criterion to consider under the city’s guidelines, he noted. “That’s not what I’m looking at,” he said. Nor does a building have to be the best example of someone’s work in order to qualify for preservation, Torre added.”As far as I’m concerned, you preserve the history that you have, not the history you might have had, or the history that the experts tell you you should have had,” Johnson said. “This is our history.” Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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