Emma store gets protective skin
December 3, 2013
The old Emma Store received a special coat last week to help it weather the winter.
Longtime Aspen artist Gaard Moses was hired by the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program to paint a faux-brick front on plywood attached to part of the exterior. Moses used a picture of the historic structure to sketch all of the features and then paint them in the art technique known as trompe l'oeil, French for "deceive the eye." The style captures the architectural details and appears 3-D.
He was painting during the days immediately before and after Thanksgiving Day.
"It is a little close to traffic, I'd have to say," he said. "The whole (plywood cover) would kind of flutter when the Cisco (food delivery) truck goes by."
Moses said it was a treat to work on the Emma project.
"Oh, yeah, they're beautiful old Victorian buildings," he said. Builders rarely make the effort to bring out the architectural details anymore even though it isn't difficult or expensive, he said.
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Open Space and Trails acquired the Emma Store, the brick structure referred to as the powder house behind the store and the Victorian house to the east in 2008. The bricks in the store, which is two buildings apparently constructed at different times, were restored in 2011. The powder house received a facial the following year.
Restoration wasn't enough. Open Space and Trails officials also learned that snow and de-icer plowed off of Highway 82 was hitting the west end of the storefront and bleaching the bricks.
"That starts to eat away at the brick," said Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of Open Space and Trails. "It's a slushy, gooey mess.
"That brick is not the most solid brick to begin with."
Moses said there is evidence that the plowing has thrown de-icer as high as 16 feet on the front of the store. The east side of the structure, a separate building, is far enough from the highway that it isn't affected, according to Tennenbaum. He said the Colorado Department of Transportation has been cooperative in efforts to ease the problem by slowing down in that area, but plows can only slow so much on the busy highway.
Officials covered the building front with a tarp last year, but it didn't go high enough, and it wasn't well-received by people who weighed in on the issue, Tennenbaum said. Open Space and Trails put the plywood on this fall and painted the panels a brick color. The plywood cover is 28 feet across and 16 feet high.
Moses was hired for $750 to add the architectural details. It was well worth the investment, Tennenbaum said, because it looks good and the plywood sheets can be reused until a permanent solution is determined.
"This could be a two- or three-year temporary solution," Tennenbaum said. The program will work on a long-term management plan for the Emma property in 2015. Depending on what the public determines for a use, a snow fence could be erected during winters to protect the building, he said.
Historical details about the Emma Store are sketchy. Pitkin County performed a survey of historic structures in 1999 and found that Emma was established as a railroad section stop on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in the 1880s. A small store with a post office was built in the area of the existing buildings. Charles H. Mather acquired the store and built the larger, brick structures in 1898 when his business flourished, the survey said. Tennenbaum said other information indicates the east side of the store was built first and the western end was an addition.
"Along with the history of the buildings, the architecture is also notable," the county's historical survey said. "The high level of detail is not found in many other nineteenth century commercial structures in this valley and much of the original detail remains.
"The buildings are essentially unchanged from their original condition, which is the most important element in reviewing a building for integrity."
In addition, the adjacent residence is one of the more substantial Queen Anne style houses in the county. The group of buildings together form a historic district and are interconnected in their significance."