Standing up for saving historic places: Can it really work?

Olinger Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 10.45.40 AM

Could people be finally, really fed up with development in Denver? Maybe not, but over the past few months, there has been a mini-groundswell in terms of attempts at preserving structures that appear doomed. Yes, mini, but…

Granted, we still have the same mayor, but we now have five new city council members as of today. I’m crossing my fingers, though Denver’s City Council has traditionally turned its back on applications by anyone but the owner. The council members usually consider an outlier application bad form, or a hostile designation. I call saving something important “bravery.”

Why is this non-historic status list a problem? An application to the city of Denver to secure a non-historic status certificate means that owners/developers are seeking a way to demolish structures, with an eye toward re-development.  Preservation is a tough sell right now, leading to a certain kind of despair.

That non-historic status is a double-edged sword: Yeah, people can step up to submit an application to preserve the property in a quick turnaround (and pay $875 to submit), but that notice on the city’s website is a red flag in terms of signaling the end of the road for the property. Just ask members of city council.

There has been noise and concern. First it was Bonnie Brae Tavern. Then it was Tom’s Diner. Then it was a farmhouse in Park Hill. And now there is a battle brewing to save the Olinger Moore Howard – Berkeley Park Funeral Chapel.

The tavern situation got a lot of ink and air time, but no one came forward to submit an application to start the path for designation. In the case of Tom’s Diner and now the mortuary chapel, residents have submitted applications: The Tom’s Diner backers came through on June 14, and those who want to save the chapel submitted an application on July 10.

The farmhouse in Park Hill is in a different category: Denver’s Landmark Preservation Commission is being sued by the people who want to tear down the farmhouse (at 5335 East 36thAvenue) because the landmark staff cautioned commission members that there was not enough information to support a nomination. Commission members voted instead to approve the nomination. The owner sued.

Here’s how to find the list of properties under the gun:

As of today, there are five properties on the non-historic status list. It’s my favorite reading each Monday morning.

Anyway, the chapel is a beautiful building: designed by a well-respected architect (J. Roger Musick), impressive materials (lots of terra cotta from the Denver Terra Cotta Company, a roof  clad with imported Ludowici tile), and on and on. You can find the full description at the link below in the city’s staff report, and a link to a no-nonsense application for demolition.

BusinessDen and Denverite both wrote about this last week; 9News also ran a story. The developer, Koelbel & Co., wants to build 58 townhomes on the property, which is about 2 acres.

The best part of the BusinessDen story is the three paragraphs below:

Historic Berkeley Regis spokesman Bill ”Killam said the committee has not spoken directly with Koelbel & Co. about the plans, but that he’s hopeful that will change after Carl Koelbel said at the Tuesday meeting (last week) that the company planned to talk to the local neighborhood association, Berkeley-Regis United Partners.

“Reached by phone Wednesday, Koelbel said that the mortuary building doesn’t provide many opportunities for adaptive reuse, though he added that the company will ‘continue to look at it.’

“ ‘The chapel itself is two stained glass windows, and no other windows,” Koelbel said. “The building would have to be pretty cut up for people to be able to spend more than two hours in there.’ (After this story was published, a representative for Koelbel reached out to clarify that the chapel has one large stained glass window and three smaller ones.)”

Only two hours?  Of course, nowhere is there an architect credited for the rendering of the three-story townhomes. Not that we’ve never seen this style before, except over and over (below is an image of the proposed townhomes).

As for the non-historic list, more on that later.

Click to access 4345_West_46th_Ave_Demo_review_staff_report.pdf

Click to access 4345_West_46th_Ave_Demo_App.pdf

Townhomes proposed Screen Shot 2019-07-15 at 12.51.24 PM





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