Curtains for Pitkin County’s historic Emma Store? |

Curtains for Pitkin County’s historic Emma Store?

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Pitkin County’s historic Emma Store building once again is shielded for the winter, but the curtain that has been raised in front of the structure might not do the local landmark justice.

County Commissioner George Newman, an Emma resident who travels past the old mercantile building regularly, questioned use of the curtain.

“It’s a tarp. It just looks kind of shabby,” he said.

“The aesthetics of it are dubious,” agreed Dale Will, director of the county’s Open Space and Trails program, during a recent joint meeting of county commissioners and the open space board.

For the past couple of years, open space staffers have erected a plywood cover in front of the structure to protect the brick building from snow and magnesium chloride, as one corner of the angled structure is just few feet from Highway 82. Colorado Department of Transportation plows throw snow over the jersey barrier alongside the highway, plastering the front of the store with both snow and the deicing chemicals it often contains.

Both the brunt of the snow and the chemicals are damaging to the century-plus-old brick building, Will said.

When Highway 82 was widened to four lanes, it put the edge of the pavement far too close to the historic structure, CDOT officials have conceded.

CDOT offered to affix a chain-link fence to the top of the jersey barrier, according to Will, but that still will let some snow through. The agency doesn’t want to block snow entirely because it wants to clear the highway.

The plywood cover took several staffers to put up and take down; the advantage of the new curtain is it can be raised and lowered by a single person, Will said.

Because there’s a bike path squeezed between the store and the highway, there are limits on what can be done in the available space, he said.

“We’ve invested a substantial amount of dollars and resources to protect this historic site,” Newman said. “I understand the challenges, but at some point, I think we need to find a way to better protect this.”

Newman called for a system that respects the significance of the building.

“A tarp flapping in the wind doesn’t really do much,” he said.

The county open space program acquired the 12.5-acre Emma parcel in 2008. It contains the old store (actually two side-by-side buildings), a brick, Victorian house and a small structure called the powder house. The buildings date back to 1898.

The county, with the help of state historic grants, has spent roughly $860,000 shoring up and then repairing the crumbling store and powder house. The house is in good shape and is occupied; the other buildings are vacant.

Will suggested that new options for winterizing the front of the store be explored next year, when the open space staff and board begin discussing the long-term purpose of the buildings.

The property includes river frontage and the remnants of an orchard. The county paid $2.6 million for it, including $250,000 from the town of Basalt, with the goal of saving the buildings from collapse, but no firm plan for its future use ever has been established.

The Emma Caucus, in its master plan, has left the door open to location of the Open Space and Trails offices on the property, though that use would require a rezoning. Part or all of the property also could be sold to reimburse the Open Space and Trails fund.

Said Will: “2013 will be the year that we undertake a process … to think about what the next purpose of those buildings will be. That is next on our list.”