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City preserves Hearthstone House

The Aspen City Council designated the 1960s Hearthstone House historic Monday night. The open courtyard and horizontal roofline on the top of the building are nods to world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who trained the Hearthstones designer, Robin Molny. (Contributed photo)
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ASPEN An Aspen lodge was spared the wrecking ball Monday night when the Aspen City Council designated it historic against its owners’ wishes.Built in the early ’60s, the Hearthstone House is touted as a prime example of the architecture and lifestyle of Aspen in the post-World War II years, when it was a burgeoning ski resort with a growing international reputation. In making their decision, council members agreed with the Historic Preservation Commission that the East Hyman Avenue lodge meets all three of the necessary criteria for eligible buildings, which must be at least 40 years old to be designated without an owner’s consent. The lodge’s architecture, influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, is representative of a popular modern trend in Aspen and the nation during the mid-20th century; its architect, Robin Molny, was among several Wright-trained architects who left their mark on Aspen during that period; and the Hearthstone’s design embraces characteristics that are “indicative of Aspen during the postwar era,” according to a memo to the council from historic preservation planner Sara Adams. “Is the Hearthstone House the best of the best? No, but it meets all other criteria of our code,” Adams said during her presentation to council Monday night. “Does the Hearthstone House fit into a box? No, but neither does Aspen.”Robin Molny and this building are important to our local history and culture.”Several in the audience Monday agreed with Adams’ assessment, as did a handful of longtime Hearthstone guests who implored the council to vote in support of historic designation.”I urge the City Council to give continued public credence to the work, to the mandate of the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission,” Cheryl Tennille, of Washington, D.C., said Monday, reading from a letter she wrote to the council. “Activate this gifted town to avoid demolition, deterioration, and substantial alteration of its unique vintage character.”Councilman Jack Johnson similarly lauded the Hearthstone House’s place in Aspen history, encouraging the council to consider the importance of all architectural eras, not just the Victorian and mining: “History did not just end one day,” he said. Councilman Torre, who admitted that the Hearthstone House is not his “favorite” building, agreed that the building has “relevance in Aspen history.” Lodge representatives, however, disagreed. Planner Stan Clauson, who spoke on behalf of owners Crete Associates LP, and historic preservation consultant Lisa Purdy argued Monday that the building’s historic significance is questionable. They further argued that designating the building historic would kill its chance for redevelopment into a profitable lodge.”This is a a lodge in desperate need of renovation,” Clauson told the council, citing drafty windows, street noise and small rooms as typical complaints. “But this property does not lend itself to redevelopment while preserving its basic design.”Thus, the owners were hoping to raze and replace the entire structure. Crete Associates began the city’s application process to redevelop the property last year. But when Clauson and his clients met with the city’s Community Development Department, they were referred to the Historic Preservation Commission, which then began the application process to have the building designated as historic, with or without the owner’s consent.It was on this point that Mayor Helen Klanderud took issue with the historic designation. Klanderud, who cast the sole dissenting vote, was “uncomfortable” with an involuntary designation, especially given the process by which it came before council. According to city code, building owners are to be given a two-year warning that their property could be deemed historic. Owners of the Hearthstone House did not receive such notice. However, a sentence in the code – which Community Development Director Chris Bendon summarized as “clumsy at best” – makes it clear historic designation can still occur even if notice is not given. Still, Klanderud could not vote in favor of the designation.”The end does not justify the means,” she concluded.Jeanne McGovern’s e-mail address is jmcgovern@aspentimes.com


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