Keeping old places new
House restoration highlights preservation efforts
May 20, 2007
A historic tour
Throughout May, which is Historic Preservation Month in Colorado, maps for a self-guided bicycle tour of Steamboat’s historic places are available at Centennial Hall and City Hall on 10th Street.
For more information, call city offices at 879-2060.
Steamboat Springs — One of the most amazing things about Mark Shillingburg’s Old Town house is it never went up in flames.
The house, which Shillingburg said dates back to the 1880s, was heated for decades by a cast-iron, coal-burning furnace that sat barely an inch from wooden support beams in the cramped, low-ceilinged basement.
“How the house never burned down, I don’t know,” Shillingburg said earlier this month, walking through his multi-year, three-story restoration project at 934 Oak Street in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Shillingburg bought the house in August 2003 for $255,000. Since then, he has put countless hours – and dollars he doesn’t care to count – into reviving a house he said was a prime candidate for demolition.
“It should have been torn down,” Shillingburg said. “It was really, really bad.”
But, instead, Shillingburg decided to restore the place. While making improvements such as new floors, a stone porch, a new roof and a state-of-the-art, high-efficiency boiler – furnace fires no longer are a concern – he has kept the house’s original layout of rooms, windows and doors.
Shillingburg, 50, said preserving a piece of local history drives him to take on the costs and challenges of such a large restoration project.
“There’s so much new construction going on, but maybe we can keep some of the old stuff so we don’t totally change Steamboat,” Shillingburg said.
That ethic is the heart of a new citizen group called Partners in Preservation. The group is working to raise local awareness about the value of preservation in a time of unprecedented growth and development in Steamboat.
May is Historic Preservation Month in Colorado. Earlier this month, the Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously approved a proclamation cementing its support for preserving local historic structures.
“Historic preservation is an effective tool for managing growth, revitalizing neighborhoods, fostering local pride and maintaining community character while enhancing livability,” the proclamation reads.
Candice Lombardo, executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum on Oak Street and a Partners in Preservation member, said she hopes the City Council will use that proclamation as a starting point for more rigorous preservation laws in Steamboat.
“HPAC (the city’s Historic Preservation Advisory Commission) doesn’t have teeth,” Lombardo said earlier this month in her office above the museum. “Without ordinances, you really can’t do much.”
City Councilman Paul Strong acknowledged that although the HPAC reviews development proposals involving historic buildings and 90-day moratoriums can be placed on such developments, the city could do more to tighten its preservation laws.
“There are no requirements to do anything for historic preservation, but there is a review process you have to go through,” Strong said. “I’m in favor of strengthening our historic preservation regulations, but I’m not sure yet how to do that or what our options are.”
The city’s preservation policies came into the local spotlight in November 2006, when the Harbor Hotel on Lincoln Avenue was torn down to make way for a new, mixed-use development called Howelsen Place. The Harbor was built in 1940.
Local historian and former City Council member Arianthe Stettner said at the time, the loss of the Harbor highlighted shortcomings in the city’s historic preservation policies.
“There were neither substantive financial or planning incentives in place to encourage preservation of the building, nor to maintain a downtown historic hotel, nor regulations to stop the building’s ultimate demolition,” Stettner said.
Lombardo said regulations are needed now, before the flood of development washes away more of Steamboat’s history.
“Let’s pull the reins back just a little bit,” she said. “If we don’t halt and see where we’re at, we may not recognize this place.”
Partners in Preservation, which kicked off its efforts with a public meeting in March, is “just trying to start a dialogue,” Lombardo said.
“When you develop this fast, you don’t let a community talk about these issues,” she said. “What makes Steamboat unique, and what everybody seems to love, is the history, character and charm. … We’re not trying to save the world. We’re just trying to see what makes the downtown district so special.”
A new old look
Shillingburg said he loves the aged look of the roof on his Old Town house.
“It looks really old, but it’s brand new,” Shillingburg proudly said of the house’s steel roof, which is a deep rust color that matches the Douglas fir support pillars in the front and rear of the house.
A commercial pilot for U.S. Air, Shillingburg works on the house during weekends or between extended flight trips. He said city officials and the Routt County Building Department have been “very easy to work with” during the lengthy restoration process.
The Old Town house is shown in a historic photo that hangs in nearby Centennial Hall on 10th Street.
“We can date it pretty close to 1888,” Shillingburg said. “The upstairs insulation was nothing more than newspapers stuffed into the wall.”
Windows upstairs provide views of Howelsen Hill and the slopes of Steamboat Ski Area. Shillingburg said when the restoration is finished, he plans to rent part of the house for commercial space – at least for a few years.
“Maybe I’ll retire here someday,” Shillingburg said.