Historic preservation has been a mixed bag in Aspen. While this town retains at least some of its mining town flavor, thanks to structures like the Elks Building and the Wheeler Opera House, there are dozens of examples of preservation gone terribly awry – the pseudo-Victorian “bustles” in the West End, for example.
Given the uneven legacy of Aspen’s historic preservation efforts, then, it was good to see a project approved last week that will retain and modernize three historic miner’s cabins on Hopkins Avenue – some of the last ones in Aspen – while redeveloping the ground behind them into three-story residences.
This appears to be a redevelopment that respects Aspen’s past. And in this town, that means a lot.
The Conner family cabins are familiar fixtures on one of the last city blocks in Aspen that still resembles its mining-era self. The block includes Aspen City Hall (the old Armory) and St. Mary Catholic Church, and at this point has no overpriced boutiques or restaurants at all.
Under the plan approved unanimously by the Historic Preservation Commission, developer Greg Hills will remodel and restore the trio of century-old cabins for use as commercial offices. Thus, three structures that Historic Preservation Officer Amy Guthrie said were at risk of “demolition by neglect” will essentially be resurrected for a new generation.
Behind the cabins, three large new residences will rise. At three stories tall, these new buildings will dwarf the existing ones, but not nearly as much as they could have. The project is well within the city’s height limits, and the developers have sought no other variances from the city code. Clearly this is not another case of a developer “maxing out” a property to squeeze every last dollar out of the site; instead, this appears to be a rare Aspen modernization that respects history.
HPC Chairman Jeffrey Halferty went so far as to say the project could earn a preservation award. Everyone involved in this project deserves a pat on the back, from the Conner family to the HPC to the developer. As Aspen knows all too well, it doesn’t always happen this way.