A controversial preservation intervention by a college student at the University of Colorado has prompted a lively conversation in the Denver area about historic landmark designations and who has the right to make them.
In The Atlantic Cities, Nate Berg’s recent article “Who Has the Right to Preserve a City’s Past?” points to a universal issue and, in Pittsburgh, is a particularly relevant question in the historic designation of the St. Nicholas Church in Troy Hill, the Old Stone Tavern in the West End and a few others in which the owner’s plans to demolish were eclipsed by preservationists.
Both sides are sympathetic in this argument. Important historic buildings should be preserved, but if that opinion is part of the public will, there must be strong land use policy and limits to private ownership of any building that is deemed critical, especially if it is vulnerable.
Otherwise, if I own the thing and want to tear it down and some college kid can plunk down $250 to start the preservation process to stop me, yeah, I’m ticked off big time. In the legal world, it's called standing. The kid has none.
On the other hand, maybe I’m being rash to decide that demolition is the best option for my property and this kid has saved me from making a terrible mistake. Because of this young interloper, one day I might be the owner of a hugely popular place that is hugely popular because it is unique to my city, textural of the past, something that helps explain, define and imbue my city's it-ness.
Here’s the gist of the real situation in Denver. The following is from Nate’s article:
“The owners of the Gates Rubber Company factory complex in Denver want to knock it down. So do neighborhood groups who have been calling for the site to be redeveloped. But an urban explorer college student living in nearby Boulder has taken it upon himself to save the site by applying for a historic landmark designation – a controversial move that’s causing many in the city to consider who has the right to preserve history.
“Eugene Elliott is a 21-year-old from Iowa studying real estate and business at the University of Colorado, and he really likes the Gates Rubber factory. According to posts on the urban explorer forum UER.com, Elliott has taken a handful of trips inside the decaying complex. In papers filed with the city of Denver, he argues that the complex is an important element of the city’s physical history and played an important role in the development of the economy. Complete with a $250 fee, Elliott has started the formal process of saving the complex from destruction.
“The Gates company, city officials and various neighborhood groups are livid.”
In Denver Westword, Alan Prendergast reports on the same issue here, where you can watch a slideshow from inside the factory and a long line of people weighing in.