"Luckily, Pagosa Springs is undestroyable..."
— Glenn Walsh, downtown resident
Following last night's lengthy Town Council meeting, I parked my van on the street in front of the Bear Creek Saloon. Lewis Street was pretty much empty; I had no problem finding a place to park.
I jumped out of the van, camera in hand, and walked across the street to a big old house that sat tucked up against the sidewalk. 480 Lewis Street. The Devore House, a rather non-descript, oddly-shaped home with a single window facing the street — and a Jim Smith Realty sign sitting against its blank face.
The house appeared vacant, and leaning against its lonely front window was a second sign, that read:
Notice of Public Hearing
480 LEWIS STREET, REDEVELOPMENT PERMIT
That public hearing had been held, on Monday, before the Pagosa Springs Planning Commission. The commission had received a report from the Pagosa Springs Historic Preservation Board. Apparently, the Planning Commission and the Historic Preservation Board were in agreement: Devore House has no historic value, and should be redeveloped.
That is to say, "torn down."
Lewis Street was quiet at 7:30pm; no cars, no pedestrians. I'm sure no one saw me walking around the old house, snapping pictures in the darkness. My Nikon camera was having trouble with its auto-focus; the house was not well-lit on its exterior, and it had no lights on inside, so my camera was hunting for some feature to focus on. I wasn't sure how the photos would turn out.
I wasn't sure of the building's age. At the Town Council Hearing that night, I'd been sitting next to Chrissy Karas, an Historic Preservation Board member, and at one point I leaned over to her and asked, as quietly as possible, if she knew when the Devore House was built. She whispered back, "The late 1890s, I think."
That would make the Devore House one of the oldest buildings in Pagosa Springs.
The Town Council demolition hearing had started at about 5:20pm, following some other incidental business. We began the hearing by watching a slide show about the Log Park Building at 468 Lewis Street, next door to the Devore House. A wealthy businessman wants to remodel the Log Park Building into a high-end restaurant, tentatively designated "Lewis Street". But in order to get the approval for that project, the Town is requiring him to have a parking lot.
So the Historic Preservation Board and the Planning Commission are recommending the demolition of the Devore House. To build a parking lot. But the problem is, the Devore House is part of the Downtown HIstoric District, a legally defined "historic preservation" zone.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I wanted to share a little joke first.
Cynda and I had scheduled a meeting with our friend Glenn Walsh at the Pagosa Baking Company yesterday morning. We hadn't spent any time with Glenn for several weeks — what with Cynda and I working on the 1904 brick duplex she'd bought in Salida, and what with Glenn getting stranded in New York during Hurricane Sandy.
Cynda and I were hankering for our "Glenn fix."
Glenn and I have been friends ever since he began working for the Daily Post in 2007, as a part-time investigative reporter with a willingness to not only attend and report on a government meeting, but to thoughtfully write about what that meeting might mean — in the big picture — to our local community. I believe I posted Glenn's first Daily Post article on January 11, 2007: "School Board Meeting Report".
Over the next few years, Glenn became ever-more-intimately familiar with Pagosa politics — in particular, with the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir, with the Archuleta School District, and with mayor Ross Aragon's little dynasty, as enthroned in the Pagosa Springs Town Hall. Last year, Glenn's expertise and his willingness to speak his mind got him elected to the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) board.
But what Cynda and I love about Glenn, even more than his intelligence and his outspoken honesty, is his sense of humor.
We talked about a number of things yesterday morning, while drinking Pagosa Baking coffee. Hurricane Sandy was the prime topic. And, naturally, we also discussed Cynda's little duplex in Salida. And we talked about my own attempts to finalize my 2009 divorce, by settling the ownership of a particular Victorian house on the north side of downtown Pagosa. That house was built in 1900, making it — like the Devore House — one of the oldest buildings in Pagosa Springs.
My ex-wife and I still share ownership. It's not a pleasant situation. But at least she and I are in agreement about one thing: we don't want to see the house destroyed. On the contrary; we both want to see it preserved.
At one point in the conversation, Glenn made a joke.
Cynda was telling Glenn about a controversy brewing in Salida, a small town with a surprisingly vital, pedestrian-friendly, artistic heart. I suspect Salida has more art galleries per capita than any other Colorado town — a pleasant situation for those of us who love the arts. This year, the City of Salida government applied for, and won, two grants totaling $40,000 to "improve" its downtown "Creative District".
But we all know what can happen when government bureaucrats try to "improve" things.
Cynda was telling Glenn that she is afraid the City government — in their well-meaning attempts to make downtown Salida even more "economically vital" than it already is — will end up turning the town into a ritzy, upper class resort, where no artist can afford to live or maintain a gallery. By trying to "improve" downtown Salida, the government might end up "destroying" what we, the current residents, love about Salida: its character. At least, that's what Cynda fears.
That's when Glenn made his joke.
"Luckily, Pagosa Springs is undestroyable."
All three of us chuckled.
The downtown block on which Cynda and I live, in Salida, contains about a dozen small brick homes, all built prior to 1920. The next block over is the same. And the next block. And the next. And the next.
If you walk Salida's pedestrian friendly downtown, you are hard pressed to discover a building build later than 1920. The whole downtown is basically "historic."
Pagosa Springs has maybe two dozen buildings in the entire town built prior to 1920. The town has been so poorly maintained and so poorly developed, it has lost practically all its historical buildings to redevelopment.
You can't destroy a town that has long ago destroyed itself. That's the joke.
And now our Historic Preservation Board wants the Town Council to approve the demolition of the Devore House. To build a parking lot.
Read Part Two...