Our history is on the line | AspenTimes.com

Our history is on the line

Dear Editor:

The proponent of the redevelopment of Little Annie’s and the Benton buildings has argued that they did not contribute to the historic district. However, the 500 block of Hyman is included as a part of the defined historic district that was ratified by Aspen City Council with public input. As this block is on the periphery of the district, it could have easily been omitted, but it wasn’t. There was a reason: The elements in this block contribute to the district.

Tout ensemble – This is a term often used in discussions of National Register districts. It is of French origin and means: “An assemblage of parts or details (as in a work of art) considered as forming a whole. This is the real basis on which these two buildings should be considered for protection as they do contribute to the whole.

These buildings, as contributing elements to the district, are important in defining our historic character and community’s values. Are we going to allow these California carpetbaggers to erase our past and destroy our heritage?

Do we want to become another giant real estate development like Vail and so many others?

We are a real place with a real past that is reflected in our Aspen Area Community Plan values of the built environment, the open space, our unique view, and protecting our historic character. Let’s guard out heritage.

What happened there: The developer’s mouthpiece noted that what happened inside a building was of no consequence. However, this is a real part of our history. We should not be judging our significant structures by: “Do they fit an accepted national style, or have they been altered?” The truth is that the vernacular structures that tell the Aspen story are the ones that reflect the needs and creativeness of our past.

Under the usual way that Aspen often evaluates buildings, this altered, multigenerational family home would not qualify as it is not of a defined national style and had been remodeled several times. This misses the point – we are not a museum for inappropriate pristine Eastern styles, but we need to preserve those structures that are indigenous or can be interpreted to tell the Aspen story.

Was this concept the basis for the statement in the staff report? “Staff is struggling with whether the building meets the demolition criteria due to the exterior alterations considering the historic evidence that is available to restore the façade and the importance of Tom Benton.”

Both buildings are a part of the Aspen story. Tom Benton was our progressive architect, artist, and social activists. The discussions at his home with fellow activists Hunter Thompson, Joe Edwards, and others “helped to define Aspen’s tempestuous political and social upheavals in the late 1960s” (from staff report) and set the stage for a rational controlled growth of our community. On the other hand the Little Annie’s building next door was remodeled to reflect the in vogue theme of trying to recall the past with a western theme. This too is a reflection of who we are, as we started to become a tourist destination place. Together they make strong statements that say where we came from and how we got here.

Aspen believes that what happened to a building in the past is important. We have express this with historic markers embedded in our sidewalks and the plaques on our buildings like the one at City Hall.

What is about to happen: At 4 p.m. today there will be a council meeting to address two aspects of the proposed demolition permit. As I understand it, the proponents are questioning whether Historic Preservation Commission actually has the authority to make a decision in this matter and council had issued a “call-up” to review the HPC decision to allow for the demolition of the Little Annie’s building. It should be interesting.

Bill Wiener


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