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Builder trashes historic home

Allyn Harvey

City officials have halted renovation work at a West End residence after learning the contractor tossed out pieces of the historic house, which was once home to a governor, a famous architect and an oil magnate.

Historic Preservation Officer Amy Guthrie ordered contractor Gary Wheeler to cease and desist Sunday, after learning that nearly half the original siding on the home was sent to the dump. Don Mullins of Texas owns the property at 234 W. Francis St., and is in the midst of refurbishing and adding on to the historic “Davis Waite House,” which was built in 1888.

Mullins, Wheeler and architect Scott Lindenau may face penalties, although Lindenau’s role in the project was limited to design.

Guthrie reported to the Historic Preservation Commission Wednesday that Wheeler and Mullins had broken the law by throwing away the siding as well as original trim and Victorian-era posts. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Commission member Roger Moyer suggested Wheeler and Lindenau might lose their licenses. “My feeling is the penalties ought to be pretty severe,” he said.

“Mr. Mullins said he didn’t want the old, rotten siding put back up on the house,” Wheeler said, trying to explain his actions.

Wheeler said there was extensive rot and water damage to the original siding on the lower half of the house. He said he did not realize he had to save all of the materials, regardless of their condition.

Guthrie countered the contractor’s claim that he was being as careful as he thought was required. She had seen the center of one post that had been sawed off, leaving one end sticking up from the floor and the other hanging from the ceiling.

She also pointed out that much of the original trim was missing. Wheeler then admitted that much of the trim had been sent to the dump with the siding.

“What was going on in your mind to make you think that you could make decisions to destroy the material on this historic property?” demanded commission member Mary Hirsch.

As Wheeler stumbled and started to answer the question, Hirsch interrupted, “You’re supposed to be an ethical and honest contractor.”

“I think I am,” Wheeler said.

“Well, I don’t,” Hirsch shot back.

Wheeler maintained throughout the meeting that he was not aware of the law, and said he had no idea how to contact either of the commission’s project monitors.

“I was never given the monitors’ phone numbers or even their names,” Wheeler said.

Guthrie said she met extensively with Wheeler last summer and made it clear that she was the contact person on historic preservation. The commission members also said they thought the contractor and architect understood the rules.

The volunteer commission is charged with maintaining Aspen’s historic properties, and one of its duties includes oversight of remodeling and construction in and around buildings that are on the city’s list of historic sites.

Project monitors are commission members who are supposed to keep an eye on construction projects. But neither Susan Dodington nor Jeffrey Halferty – the project monitors on the Waite House project – raised concerns about the whereabouts of the missing siding. The problem was discovered by Guthrie last Saturday, when she visited the site as a normal part of her duties.

Guthrie said one of the commission’s primary goals is to ensure that the original materials are preserved whenever possible.

City code does not allow the materials from historic properties to be discarded without permission from Guthrie and the commission. The commission members will visit the site today at noon to see what, if anything, can be done to restore the home. Only photographs of the original trim and detailing remain, Guthrie said, which may make it impossible to have exact replicas built.

The Davis Waite House was built in 1888. Waite was elected governor on the Populist Party ticket in 1892. In Aspen, he served as justice of the peace and superintendent of schools, and he owned The Aspen Times.

Designer Herbert Bayer and oil man Robert O. Anderson, who founded the Atlantic Richfield Oil Co., also lived in the house, according to city records.


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