Historic Kelly Block building sells, starts new chapter in Basalt | AspenTimes.com

Historic Kelly Block building sells, starts new chapter in Basalt

One of Basalt's oldest and most historic structures is starting a new chapter after changing hands this fall for the first time in 73 years.

The orange brick building known as the Kelly Block at 144 Midland Ave. was purchased by SMP 144 Midland LLC in the fall for $2.2 million. It was sold by the Margaret Darien Partnership Ltd. after being in the Dariens' hands since 1944.

The buyer is affiliated with Star Mesa Properties, a Denver real estate investment company. Kellie Slater, one of the managing directors of the firm, said the boarding house rooms on the second story that were rented out when Basalt was a railroad town are being converted into offices.

It's always been an eye-catching building because its western side is in the open to traffic rounding Midland Avenue, the town's main street. The building has always been colorful.

"I don't think there's any prettier building in Basalt," Slater said. "That's the one that really caught my eye."

Her parents live in the area so she has become acquainted with Basalt over the years. Her firm focuses on real estate in the Denver area but became interested in purchasing in Basalt because they feel the town is on the upswing.

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"We're doing executive office suites," Slater said. "We're going to put the 'for lease' sign out soon."

Nine of the old boarding rooms will be converted into individual offices that lock off. Slater said she can imagine them being rented by a small architectural firm or some other professional office. The private offices will rent for $700 to $900 per month, she said.

A larger space at the front of the second story will be rented for shared office space at $200 to $300 per month. There will also be a small conference room and kitchen available on the floor.

Heirlooms, a high-end second-hand store, will continue to rent the ground floor space, Slater said.

The Kelly Block has 2,464 square feet on each of the two floors and nearly 3,000 square feet of vacant land. It was listed for $2.96 million and sold in September.

Aspen Skiing Co. purchased a building in Riverside Plaza for its office functions that don't have to be located next to the slopes. Numerous architects, attorneys and accountants have relocated to Basalt from upvalley in recent years. That's driven the vacancy rate downtown to about 4 percent, real estate agent Bennett Bramson said for a prior article.

There was a flurry of sales of downtown property in 2016 and 2017.

West of downtown, the Roaring Fork Conservancy is building a River Center beside Rocky Mountain Institute's Innovation Center.

"Obviously things are coming back to life in downtown Basalt," Slater said.

The Kelly Block also was at the center of the resurgence of downtown Basalt back in 1900. Diana Cordova Elliott, communications officer with Basalt Regional Heritage Society, pointed out that the building's history is explained in the book "Basalt: Colorado Midland Town" by Clarence and Ralph Danielson.

The book has a section with news from the Basalt Journal newspaper in 1899. On July 21, it noted a fire destroyed several buildings when a kerosene lamp exploded in the restaurant of Nell Smith, which was located in the Kelly building. Eight businesses were destroyed or heavily damaged, including the Kelly building.

The Basalt Regional Heritage Society plaque for a walking tour says E.B. Kelly rebuilt the structure in 1900 with brick and stone foundation. He and his wife kept a saloon on the lower floor and rented the upstairs to railroad workers.

In 1919 the building was sold to a couple named Lamb who opened a restaurant and continued to operate the boarding house. The building also was their residence from 1920 to 1944, according to the heritage society.

The Lambs sold to Ben and Margaret Darien in 1944. They operated the Basalt Supply Co., a store selling general merchandise, fresh meat and groceries into the late 1960s or early 1970s. It was rented for the U.S. Post Office in 1978 and remained until the new facility was built.

Ben Darien died in 1970. Margaret, a teacher in the Roaring Fork Valley for 69 years, died in 2008 on her 100th birthday.

The interior walls on the second floor of the building had to be stripped down to the studs to put in insulation, upgrade wiring and the HVAC system. Workers found Denver Post newspapers from shortly after D-Day in 1944 between the layers of the walls. There was also sawdust insulation between the first and second floors.

Slater said none of the walls were torn down or relocated. For historical trivia's sake, the holes in the ceiling where stovepipes use to extend in each individual room will be kept.

She expects the new offices to be completed by February.

"We're not trying to change it," Salter said. "We're trying to make it modern."

scondon@aspentimes.com