Take an insider’s view of Aspen’s historic structures
Dear Mayor Skadron and City Council members,
In light of the upcoming “complete gut and remodel” of the interior of St. Mary Catholic Church and the recent, and what many feel was less than sensitive, remodel of the historic elements of the two lower floors of the Wheeler Opera House by the city of Aspen, I think it is important that the City Council and the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission consider adopting a process to review the interiors of historic public buildings. Gone are the days when you can rely on applicants to value and do the right thing by our historic structures.
We must consider implementing a public review process and having some Historic Preservation Commission input on the proposed interior renovations before the remaining elements of our historic interiors of public buildings are lost. When the Hotel Jerome was remodeled, there was much discussion over retention or destruction of just the historic tile floor. Many of the Hotel Jerome’s interior historic elements have been altered with each subsequent interior remodel. It is my understanding that the historic Elks Building is now being remodeled.
In the case of St. Mary Catholic Church, many of these elements — like raising the choir loft and altering the historic entrances, the historic and original pews, the original chandeliers, the historic altar, the very historic interior woodwork — are all at the mercy of a building committee and a pastor with a variety of agendas. To have to watch the destruction and desecration of this particular historic interior is heart-breaking. It is a loss of the historic fabric of the parish and also of Aspen, the community. Consider if Pitkin County were to decide on a complete gut and remodel of the historic Pitkin County Courthouse? (I do understand that as a governmental entity the county may elect to disregard the city’s opinions as they did with alterations to Veteran’s Park and the courthouse annex additions.)
I would argue that the interior elements are just as significant in these public buildings as the exterior ones and are worthy of preservation. With the real estate market as overheated as it has become in Aspen, and our transition from community to commodity, I am afraid that our historic interiors will be completely eliminated over the next few decades. The architects, planners and builders are no longer content with residential renovation and expansion; they are now turning their attention to our public and historic structures. While there have been significant losses to residential interiors, I am not advocating for a review of residential interiors, only those historic buildings experienced by the public like the Community Church, St. Mary Catholic Church, the Pitkin County Courthouse, the Hotel Jerome, the Elks Building and the Wheeler Opera House to name some of the most prominent candidates.
While I realize that this is a departure from the historic preservation practices of the past 50 years where only exterior elements are protected, I encourage the City Council and staff to seriously consider adopting some program of review to protect the interiors of historic public buildings at the earliest possible time. Only then can we ensure that these irreplaceable historic treasures will not be lost forever.
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