Letter: Aspen’s history sets it apart
Jon Busch was on target in his guest commentary of Jan. 12 with regard to the failure to preserve historic interior elements at the Wheeler (“New Wheeler contains more good than bad, but … ” Aspen Daily News). Time and again, the community has been powerless in the face of proposed interior alterations to significant historic public buildings. Removal of the historic elements from the staircase at the Wheeler has been accomplished with little thought to the importance of preserving them. The Wheeler has been remodeled incrementally so many times that one day there will be little of its interior historic fabric remaining.
These remodels are often performed by those with little knowledge of the importance of the historic features of the buildings on which they work or who have little understanding of Aspen history. We need a public process to ensure that we do not continue to sacrifice the historic integrity of the interiors of Aspen’s historic public buildings that preserve our past and are irreplaceable.
We are now faced with an interior remodel of St. Mary Catholic Church, and many longtime parishioners are powerless to influence the process determined by a carefully selected building committee, numerous architects and development professionals and a pastor with just a few years in the community. What this handful of people decide will determine just what pieces of Aspen’s history will be saved. The historic fabric dating back to Aspen’s earliest days and that represents our legacy from the original mining families will be lost forever.
Removal of the historic light fixtures, removing and reassembling historic wainscoting and window framing, moving the interior walls, restructuring of the entire ceiling and elevating the choir loft to facilitate a restructuring of a new church entrance are but a sampling of what has been considered. A modern entrance would replace the two upstairs historic entrances.
We must balance honoring our historic heritage with the desire to make everything “new Aspen” with inappropriate and incompatible design. These ever-evolving proposals are not in keeping with retaining either the historic interior or exterior that has been St. Mary Church for 133 years. What has set Aspen apart is that we have honored our history.
The Historic Preservation Commission will review exterior changes March 9. Topics to be covered include a proposed exterior staircase that would mar the west facade of the building and the design of a proposed, 6,000-square-foot pavilion sunk into the churchyard with an above-grade, very modern, steel and glass entrance building that would likely block the west facade of the church from Main Street. These proposed changes would forever change the historic character of the block that is St. Mary’s.
What you will not be able to speak to the Historic Preservation Commission about on March 9 are the changes to the historic interior features. Those are currently off the table for the review of a historic public building unless we advocate to elected officials that our significant historic public building interiors deserve to be subject to a review process to make sure they are not so arbitrarily destroyed.
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Like Pitkin County commissioners originally thought in courageously creating Rural and Remote Zoning, enough is enough in terms of excessive backcountry development, recently reiterated by commissioners in regards to opening Pandora’s Box.