Our View: This old house
December 10, 2011
There's more than a little irony in the Tread of Pioneers Museum's plans to demolish a 100-year-old building and replace it with a new structure to house its historic collections. But despite the oddity of an organization dedicated to preserving local history opting to destroy a building that dates to the first years of Steamboat Springs' incorporation, we agree that the building simply doesn't have the historical significance to justify the extra effort and cost of saving it.
Because of that, we support the museum's expansion plans, as well as the decision of the Planning Commission to approve them. We anticipate the Steamboat Springs City Council will follow suit, giving a final green light to a project that will provide a modern and safe facility for the storage of important Steamboat Springs and Routt County historic artifacts.
Not everyone agrees with the plans, in particular a group of passionate local preservationists who argue that demolishing the old building instead of rehabilitating it violates an ethic of preservation that should be held by all keepers of local history and heritage, including the museum's board of directors.
We're compelled by the dissenters' belief that the museum's choice to push forward with new construction instead of renovation of the existing building sets an anti-preservation standard for other property owners. "If the Tread of Pioneers Museum can tear down a building eligible for listing on a historic register, why can't I?" the group wrote rhetorically in a letter to the museum's board of directors.
The biggest potential impact of the museum's plans might not be the loss of a 1900-era building, but rather the future of the Historic Preservation Commission, which voted, 3-1, to support the demolition. It could be extremely difficult for the commission to influence future property owners in regards to making the effort and absorbing the additional costs to restore their potentially historic buildings rather than raze them and start anew. If nothing else, the commission's decision in regards to the Tread of Pioneers Museum project will make its job harder in the future.
But ultimately, we're more swayed by the position of museum board member Jayne Hill and others that the building at 219 Eighth St. simply doesn't possess the historical significance to warrant denial of the development plan. Not only does the building lack any outstanding architectural features, it doesn't appear to have played any particularly meaningful role in Steamboat's history. Further, it's extremely inadequate for its current function and doesn't meet existing building codes. The museum board even tried to give away the house, but it had no takers.
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We support historic preservation, but the threshold should involve more than a structure's age. In this case, the community and its cultural heritage will be better served with a new building suited to preserving and displaying important historic artifacts.