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The Unique Theater

Save the Unique! December 2010 Update

Historic Salida, Inc. actively encourages preservation of the historically and economically important Salida Opera House/Unique Theater located at 129 West First Street in downtown Salida. (Background document).
HSI nominated the Unique to the Colorado Preservation, Inc., (CPI) list of Colorado’s Endangered Places of 2011. Based on feedback from CPI personnel, it is highly likely that the Unique will be selected. If that is the case, an announcement will be made at the 2011 CPI Endangered Places Conference in Denver. For more information, see the CPI website at www.coloradopreservation.org/ .
CPI provides publicity and technical assistance to help save endangered properties. The organization has contacts with national and statewide organizations and individuals who have experience with “white elephant” historic sites. Sites designated by CPI as endangered also are given higher priority by grant funding sources.
One of the recent successes of the Endangered Places program is Hanger 61 at Stapleton, in Denver, which is being rehabilitated for adaptive use as a church. Hutchinson Ranch was on this list some years ago, and this helped it receive free planning help and generous grants.
The initial condemnation of the Unique in 2006 incited interest among a large segment of the Chaffee County population. It was thought the problem was solved when an individual bought the building and began work on it. Unfortunately, that effort seems to have resulted in more harm than good. But exposing the historic fabric of the facade and the entry alcove has shown the community that this is also a special building architecturally. When it was declared a health and safety hazard the second time in 2010, its demolition was considered by both the owner and the City of Salida, there was uproar in favor of saving it.
Fortunately, the City Council is beginning stabilization, which will provide time to find a new owner, develop a comprehensive rehabilitation plan, and locate financial incentives to make it a viable project.  
HSI hosts an email address savetheuniquetheater@yahoo.com to announce meetings and provide other information about progress on saving this remnant of early Salida. Members of HSI have circulated petitions urging City Council to stabilize the entire building.

HSI Scholarship Program

 HSI is offering two scholarships of up to $300 each for Chaffee County residents to participate in the Colorado Mountain College Historic Preservation Program. This amount will cover tuition and some of the books for up to three semester hours of study. The scholarships will be offered each semester, depending on funds in the HSI treasury.

The Timberline Campus of Colorado Mountain College offers a blend of classroom, technical, and experiential learning. “The CMC program provides practical preservation skills training with access to an outstanding statewide network of projects, partners, and potential employers,” according to Jim Lindberg of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Some courses are presented in Salida and Buena Vista. Go to the CMC Historic Preservation web page to see what is offered. http://www.coloradomtn.edu/cms/One.aspx?portalId=2935482&pageId=3628331

This program offers the opportunity for students to learn how to protect the significant inventory of historic resources in the Upper Arkansas River Valley, as well as to develop careers in preservation. Study at CMC can lead to other academic opportunities, especially in construction management at Colorado State University and in historic preservation at University of Colorado-Denver.

The director of the Colorado Historical Society’s State Historical Fund pointed out, “Historic Preservation is big business. Building rehabilitation projects brought nearly $2 billion to the state’s economy in the last 25 years. The demand for qualified preservation professionals – construction managers, architects and craftspeople – is growing.”

Salida residents who have taken CMC courses have commented on how interesting and informative they are. Students of the hands-on trades courses went directly into construction jobs or enhanced their businesses due to their new experience and knowledge.

Courses offered include Introduction to Historic Preservation, American Architectural History, and Dynamics of Historic Preservation: Law, Business and Economics. A summer lab course began documentation of the historic Derry Ranch in Lake County for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS). Other experiences have included hands-on preservation work at Hayden Ranch, Dexter Cabin at Inter-Laken Resort on Twin Lakes and the Georgetown School. Hands-on skills are taught in courses such as Carpentry, Masonry, and Framing. Various certificates and an Associate of Arts Degrees are available, or courses can be taken individually.

An exciting element of the CMC program is the acquisition of a belt-driven wood shop that provides exposure to historic carpentry technology and techniques. Eventually, this may be driven some of the time with power generated by the to-be-restored historic turbine in the Hayden Ranch barn.

Historic Salida, Inc., actively supports this program. Non-traditional students as well as eventual graduates of the Associate of Arts and the Historic Preservation Certificate tracks will better understand how to care for our irreplaceable historic resources.

A brochure about the program can be obtained by calling the CMC Central Admissions Office at 800-621-8559, or emailing them at JoinUs@ColoradoMtn.edu.

Contact Beth Smith at 539-4246 for more information about applying.

The Hutchinson Ranch

Hutchinson Homestead Project Well Underway
By Katy Grether
The project to preserve the Hutchinson Ranch has taken a big step forward in 2007. The Main House is now sitting on new foundations constructed beneath the original location of the house. The building was lifted and moved off to one side while the new foundations were installed. Then, on a snowy day in April, it was moved back to its original location, but several inches higher than it had been.
The house had suffered from moisture over the years. Its floor joists and sills rested directly on the ground. Many old buildings in the area have a similar construction technique, but they are set on dry soil. At the Hutchinson Homestead, diverting the ditch behind the house for irrigation flooded the entire area around it.
Although this helped keep the beautiful old lilacs and enormous trees alive, it rotted the bottom of the house. When the current preservation effort began, the floorboards were rotting way one by one, and visitors were breaking through between what little was left of the joists.
Katy Grether acting on behalf of Salida-area Parks, Open-space and Trails (SPOT), and the Hutchinson Ranch Advisory Committee have worked several years to get to this point in the project. The Town of Poncha Springs accepted donation of the property by the Hutchinson family. A historic structure assessment and construction documents were done by Gary Higgins and Jackie Powell under a state historical fund grant/contract. The bee colony that has lived in the cavities of the west wall of the house for many years was removed. Duncan Moyes has provided architecture oversight during construction by Mike Perschbacher's firm, Older Than Dirt. All this was funded by grants from the Colorado State Historical Fund, and by a bequest from the Paquette estate.
Mike’s company, Older Than Dirt, specializes in historic structures and has the contract to restore the original ranch house inside and out so it can open to the public as the centerpiece of a new Hutchinson Homestead Museum and Cultural Center. The basic research for this and later phases of the project is contained in the historic structure assessment document.
Hutch, who is on the advisory committee, asked a number of times during the planning stages, "When are we going to start pounding some nails?" He was as concerned as anyone about the condition of the buildings, but putting the house on a new foundation was a major step to arrest its deterioration.
Now that the house is back on its foundation, Older Than Dirt has been pounding lots of nails! Mike and crew have reroofed the house and are repairing the siding and the front porch. The small front porch on the west part of the house that has been missing for many years is being rebuilt based on historic photographs and on architectural evidence found during the historic structure assessment. Exterior painting will occur this year, matching the historic paint found in hidden spots around the house. The windows and doors are being rehabilitated.
A number of members of Historic Salida, Inc. are working with SPOT and the Advisory Committee to help bring this project to fruition. For example, Bonnie Lathrop and Meriel Gooding have been sorting and cataloging the artifacts found during archaeological monitoring of foundation excavation.

If you would like to help, or want more information about the project, call Katy Grether at 539-9656.

Valley View School
Located two miles west of Salida on CR 140, Airport Road, the Valley View School is nestled at the base of a low mesa on a pinon-studded rise. It has an unimpeded view towards Salida to the southeast and across hayfields that lead down to the Arkansas River to the east.

Although there has been some vandalism, the buildingretains much of its historical integrity. Blackboards are still in place, as are the original floors and interior trim. A Boys Privy stands to the northwest, the Girls to the northeast. A wood flagpole stands tall in front of the main entrance, and the swing frame support remains to the west.

In 2002, members of Historic Salida, Inc. noticed that the school was deteriorating, and decided to try to find a way to preserve it. Soon after, the owner of the property, Roberta Koenig, passed away. The executor of her estate announced that he wanted to give the school and its site to a non-profit corporation. We notified him of its interest.

Since the organization was not in a position to own and manage property, we contacted Salida School District 32-J to see if there would be an educational use for this site. Fortunately, the school district had been looking for a place to have an alternative high school near Salida.

A Historic Structure Assessment was conducted for Valley View School, with a State Historical Fund grant sponsored by Historic Salida. Methods for bringing it up to code and installing needed systems were presented, along with ways to rehabilitate existing materials. School district staff began the process of seeking funding to match additional historical grants to make the school usable once more.

Unfortunately, staff changes and budget issues have prevented Valley View School from being returned to its original use as an educational facility. It continues to sit vacant, and Historic Salida members are searching for a viable use for it.