Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Steamboat Springs If there is one building that makes an architectural statement for Ski Town U.S.A. it just might be the funky little tow house for the Poma lift at Howelsen Hill.
Now, the city of Steamboat Springs and the Colorado Historical Society are taking steps to preserve the log structure with the steeply pitched roof. The historical society provided a $100,000 grant, matched with $50,000 from the city.
The city has issued a request for proposals from consultants and design firms to provide design services needed to refurbish the building while preserving its historic integrity.
Laureen Schaffer, the city's historic preservation specialist, said the building is among the most architecturally significant in Steamboat.
"The actual style is called 'rustic,'" Schaffer said. "But it also has a real strong Scandinavian influence."
She pointed to the steep cross gabled roof and decorative elements at the corners of the building, where the original construction intentionally left logs extending well beyond the joints.
Local historian Bill Fetcher said the first phase of the building was constructed in 1947. Its designer and builder was a New Zealander named Reginald "Rex" Gill who worked for the U.S. Forest Service. The second story and steep roof weren't completed until the summer of 1948, Fetcher said.
The original purpose of the building was to house the mechanical equipment for the original Emerald Mountain ski lift. Later, it housed the winch for Howelsen's one-of-a-kind boat tow.
Schaffer said Jeff Nelson is the project manager for restoration of the tow house. The building needs roof repairs and a new electrical system thanks to rodents that have gnawed the wiring. Most importantly, the building needs replacement of rotted logs at its base.
City Director of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Chris Wilson said the project is made more difficult by the fact that the grade level around the old building has come up higher than it was when the structure was originally built. That's because of fill dirt deposited during improvements to the adjacent ski jump landing hill over the last three-plus decades.
The building has a concrete foundation, but the soils that filled in around the building covered the lowest logs and caused them to rot.
Schaffer said the plan is to raise the foundation of the building so that the building can remain as faithful to the original construction materials as possible. When the project is done, Schaffer said, the peak of the roof will be no higher than it is today.
Historian Sureva Towler recalled Gill as something of an eccentric renaissance man. He never attended high school, never married, won a national prize for butter making at the local creamery, served tea on fine English bone china, built a photographic darkroom in an old car chassis and his photographs won national acclaim from magazine editors, Towler wrote. Gill loved to explore the canyon country of Utah and had a taste for eating Hershey bars, wrapper and all.
Fetcher said that in addition to being a designer and builder of log structures, Gill was a fine artist. He completed a painting showing the tow house and the original Emerald Mountain lift that hung in the log building at the base of Howelsen for many years.
Today, the painting is in the collection of the Tread of Pioneers museum, Fetcher said.