Town has humble style

Architecture reflects how downtown Steamboat has grown


Local Architect Jan Kaminski has a theory about how Steamboat Springs architecture came to be.

He believes that a carpenter on a horse in Denver saw a craftsman-style house and on his way to Steamboat forgot some of what he saw. When the carpenter started building the house he included some of the elements of the craftsman style, but kept the building simple and humble.

It is a style known as Cowboy Craftsman and it can be seen all over Steamboat's Old Town. The wood framing, front-gabled roofs, steep metal roofs and humble details are what define this style.

The steep roofs were built for the heavy snowfall in the winter, while the lack of ornate detail showed the town's humble beginnings.

"That is really a reflection of what Steamboat has always been: working class people," Kaminski said.

An example of Cowboy Craftsman style is the red building at 735 Oak Street, which houses BAP, Paddler Magazine and Orange Peel. The style is unique to Steamboat and is one of the city's more common early architectural styles.

Kaminski's firm, Mountain Architecture Design Group, has conducted three surveys to study building styles in Steamboat.

"We started doing research and realized how the town grew and what happened to different neighborhoods because style comes up during certain periods of time," Kaminski said.

Steamboat's architecture is a reflection of how the town has grown. Buildings have been influenced by the early homesteaders, the early tourists drawn to the mineral waters, the automobile, the ranching community and the ski industry.

"Steamboat is eclectic," Kaminski said. "There has been constant growth over the last 100 years, and that is why we have that mixture of styles. There is always some type of socio-economic period reflected."

Unlike other Colorado mountain towns, Steamboat was founded by ranchers and around agriculture.

That meant less of the highly ornate Victorian and Queen Ann style houses and more of the cowboy classic houses and small homes that have been modified to accommodate more modern day needs and families.

"What makes us so different than Telluride, Aspen and Crested Butte is those show the high styles of architecture," Kaminski said.

Steamboat does have pockets of the traditional high styles. Along Seventh Street, single story and clipped gabled bungalows are common.

Steamboat also has rustic homes that use log and stone such as the Christian Science Society Church at the corner of Seventh and Oak Streets.

A few Queen Annes can be found throughout Steamboat with their decorative porches, corner towers and bays and sunburst details.

But Kaminski also found that the city had homes with architecture unique to Steamboat and developed the lexicon to go with it.

After a series of fires, builders started using stone and brick for buildings, which years later were dubbed Steamboat Masonry. The materials came from local quarries.

The stone work is most visible in the commercial buildings along Lincoln Avenue. The restoration of the Routt National Bank is one of the city's shining examples of the brick work done in the town's early days.

The city also has chalet architecture, which draws on the Alpine style with steep roofs, wooden balconies, shuttered windows and decorative doors.

Kaminski, whose firm does restoration projects like the Routt National Bank, said preserving buildings is an important way to preserve a city's history.

"(Through buildings) you still get a glimpse of what our heritage is," he said. "It is important to maintain those resources the best that we can."

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail


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