Forced historic designation poses problem for lodge owner | AspenTimes.com
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Forced historic designation poses problem for lodge owner

ASPEN Yet another Aspen landmark is facing the dilemma of the day. The owner of the Hearthstone House at 134 E. Hyman Ave. is struggling to fill beds with the lodge in its current form, but longtime locals love the building and don’t want to see it demolished.Planner Stan Clauson, who represents the owner, Crete Associates LP, says the lodge’s guests complain that the rooms are small, drafty and noisy.”It really doesn’t have the kind of rooms that people are demanding or the level of finish and quality,” he said, noting the Hearthstone’s occupancy rate is “well below the Aspen average.”Faced with the need for significant upgrades to meet the demands of clientele, the Hearthstone’s owners began the application process to tear down the building and replace it with a more economically viable lodge.”The owners feel they can’t possibly do those renovations within the context of the existing building without starting fresh,” Clauson said.But when Clauson and his clients met with the city’s community development department, they were referred to the Historic Planning Commission, which then began the application process to have the building designated as historic, with or without the owner’s consent.If the council agrees to designate the building as historic, it would be the first post-World War II structure to receive the designation without the owner’s consent.Clauson said waiting until an owner begins the application process to designate the structure as historic might be more reactionary than consistent with traditional “historic preservation philosophy,” which identifies significant structures independently of whether the owners are considering changes. It also can pose problems for people who buy buildings with the belief they’re not buying a historic structure.”It’s definitely difficult for a building owner because they purchase a property, and it’s not on the historic register, and they believe they would be able to redevelop it, and suddenly that changes on them,” he said.Buyers looking at Victorian-era buildings might realize a structure could have historic value, he said, but “for some of these buildings that are just coming into 40 years of age, there’s an element of uncertainty” for the buyer.Historic designation isn’t automatic at 40 years, but that’s the magic age for a building to be considered. While conversation about historic buildings in Aspen once might have focused on the Victorians, post-war era buildings such as the Hearthstone are now coming of age to be included in those discussions. Several Aspen architects studied under world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, including Hearthstone designer Robin Molny, Fritz Benedict and Charles Paterson. Their buildings in particular, built in the post-war years, seem to strike a chord with those who are nostalgic for that part of Aspen’s history, as the town first gained international fame as an up-and-coming ski resort.But whether that makes them historically significant remains to be seen. The City Council recently denied a request to designate the Benedict-designed Mountain Plaza building, also known as the Bidwell Building, at Cooper and Galena streets. The 3-2 decision came in part, Clauson said, because some council members were persuaded the building doesn’t function well in its current design, making it difficult for businesses there to survive.”In some respects, this is a similar situation,” he said.Nonetheless, he understands the community’s attachment to the building. People think of Molny “in a very affectionate way,” he said, so it’s no surprise some people are coming forward to argue that the city designate it historic, which limits the changes owners can make.But that affection doesn’t necessarily translate to a viable business, he said.”At the end of the day, people probably choose comfort over historic authenticity,” he said.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is abby@aspentimes.com


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