Red Onion plan: renovate, restore
ASPEN Plans to remodel and restore the historic Red Onion are under way.Local architect Bill Poss took Historic Preservation Commission members through the old restaurant and bar during a site visit Wednesday before presenting a more detailed plan during a formal meeting later in the day. That plan was well-received by HPC members, who recommended the elimination of the booths along the eastern wall and the preservation of the historic tiles as much as possible. The board also recommended that Poss work with city staff on keeping the openings between The Red Onion and the poster shop next door, which will be part of the new establishment, as unintrusive as possible.The HPC members all agreed that the three booths originally in The Red Onion and the proposed “banquette,” which consisted of a long bench with tables, were not an efficient use of space.”I say remove it for the sake of adding vitality,” said HPC member Brian McNellis.Poss, whom building owners Ron Garfield and Andy Hecht hired, said the plan is to keep the “shotgun” feel of the bar the same when patrons walk in. That means restoring the historic bar and re-laying the original tile around it.
“As much as I have I’ll take it down the center,” Poss said. “We’ll try to make a statement as to what was old and what is new.” When the tile runs out, the rest of the bar and restaurant will be wood floors. Poss wants to highlight the establishment’s historic woodwork, as well as persuade the keepers of the memorabilia that was taken before the bar’s closing to lend back the artwork in an effort to keep the history alive.”It’s a really great project, very fun,” said HPC member Sarah Broughton. “I’m definitely intrigued by this plan.”HPC chair Jeffrey Halferty thanked Garfield and Hecht for allowing his board to have input on the interior design, which the HPC has no purview over. He added that he would like to see the tile, which will be replaced in some places, retain a similar pattern to what was historically there.”We all spent a lot of time there and helped coat the floor,” Halferty said. “I almost would like to see it keep its funkiness and unintended manner.”The old-time watering hole, which has been closed since March 31, has been completely gutted. What remains is the historic bar, which has been covered up with boards. The bar will be restored and remain a key piece of the new establishment.
The original brick wall has been exposed, the kitchen has been completely leveled, and the historic tile is being removed piece by piece. The tile, which was installed in 1892, will be salvaged as much as it can be. Pieces that are broken only two or three times will be saved and placed back into the flooring. Tiles that are cracked several times will be replaced with almost identical pieces, with the same colors of cobalt blue, burgundy and taupe. “The tile is in horrendous shape,” Poss said, adding that he plans to keep the tile in the vestibule reading “LATTA” after T. Latta, the person who built the structure in the 1800s.Jerry Cavaleri, project manager for Hansen Construction, said the primary work thus far has been to determine how structurally sound the building is. The old masonry building has gone through numerous remodels and additions over the past century.”Reinforcing the structure is going to be a challenge in this building,” Cavaleri said. “That’s the slow and tedious part of working with a historic structure.”He added that he’s torn up a lot of old buildings and The Red Onion is no different when the walls are taken down.”You anticipate that it will look like Swiss cheese,” Cavaleri said.
Where walls used to be show that an old staircase led to the second floor, as well as openings to the adjacent storefront, which will be part of the new restaurant and bar. In the 1970s, The Red Onion was larger and had a nightclub area in the back on the eastern side. Poss hopes to bring that back.”We would like to open this up so the bar is the theme of the restaurant,” Poss said. “The idea is to create a bistro atmosphere.”The building has been in disrepair for several years. Much of the plumbing and electrical infrastructure has been “jerry-rigged,” Poss said. The bathrooms have been completely ripped out, and everything will be redone, Poss said.”We are trying to make it last for the next 100 years,” he said. “We are trying to keep its character and restore the old history.”Garfield and Hecht hope to open a new restaurant and bar by the winter holidays. An operator has not yet been selected. But regardless, Poss’ intention is to keep it The Red Onion.”It’s going to be The Red Onion no matter who operates it,” he said.
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The “Ghost House” has been long forgotten because the house is no longer there, but in 1951 debate over its fate dominated community dialogue.