Center for the Arts on National Register of Historic Places
Gayle Mortell loves to arrive at the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts early, when the morning chill still hangs in the air and no one else is around.She loves to climb the creaky old wooden stairs leading up to her office – a cheerful space painted pale yellow and adorned with whimsical artwork.As sunlight pours in the tall, hand-blown glass windows, she reads the day’s paper, taking in the structure’s time-worn ambiance.”I like to listen for ghosts, hear the creaks and cracks,” said Mortell, Center for the Arts director. “I get good vibes from the building. I can almost feel all the guys who worked here still hanging around.”
The 108-year-old building, originally a red brick structure now covered with layers of paint and stucco over the last century, sits at 601 E. Sixth St. The structure was originally built – starting in the summer of 1888 – as a 2,000-horsepower hydroelectric plant for the Glenwood Light & Water Co.”This state-of-the-art facility was to be located east of the hot springs near the vapor caves, utilizing water transported through the existing flume from No Name Creek to power four dynamos installed to replace the earlier, obsolete, and now inconveniently located steam-driven plant,” wrote John Hines in his book, “History of the Glenwood Springs Electric System,” published in 2000.According to Hines’ research, the plant was supplying electricity for numerous street lamps in Glenwood Springs by the late 1890s. Wiring was installed to light the interior of Fairy Caves, on Iron Mountain, in 1897. At the time, that was a groundbreaking accomplishment.”Sometime between 1890 and 1893, a fifth dynamo was added to the Glenwood hydroelectric plant to handle increasing demand for power,” Hines wrote. “Between 1898 and 1904, another dynamo was installed, and the original boilers were updated.”
Today, that lingering, familiar smell of sulfur from the nearby hot springs greets guests to the Center for the Arts.The former hydroelectric plant now generates energy from students taking part in art and dance classes, foreign language courses, and the Center’s home-school program.”What I hear the most from our members is how welcome they are here, how warm it is,” Mortell said. “They love the energy, they love the feeling of the building.”Mortell enjoys those quiet mornings when she first arrives for work. But she also relishes the moments when the Center for the Arts comes alive with excited students.”I love that it’s organized chaos. I love the noise of the kids,” she said. “I love when they come up and bring me a piece of art they just did. I make an effort of knowing all the kids who take our classes here. I’m pretty close with all the teachers, too.”Mortell said she likes to stay involved in every aspect of the Center’s happenings. When she’s not overseeing the budget or keeping tabs on the Center’s ongoing HEART (hydroelectric art) Renovation project, Mortell is jumping in feet – and hands – first.”I make an effort to take classes – painting, tap, pottery,” she said. “I’m really passionate about it.”One renovated feature of the Center for the Arts Mortell takes special pride in is the facility’s wood floor.It’s like my baby,” she said. “We just refinished it. It’s a wood floor that has 14 different types of wood in it. It’s a spring floor for our dancers. It’s such an important aspect of all of our programming.”
The Center for the Arts quite possibly has the deal of the century.Since 1989, the city of Glenwood Springs has leased the building to the Glenwood Springs Arts Council for $10 per month. The affordable perpetual 20-year lease is reviewed every five years.”The initial goal (in 1989) was to get the building renovated so they could offer classes. They spent one year restoring it,” Mortell said. “They had 30 classes then. We have 75 now.”The Center for the Arts has 1,100 members, 640 of which are families. The Center averages between 250 and 350 students at any given time. This fall, a record 315 students have enrolled in classes.”I think we offer really high-quality programming,” Mortell said. “Our teachers are so passionate about what they do, and it rubs off on the kids. We just want the kids to have fun and still learn.”From a new catering kitchen and roof to restored windows, doors and floors, the Center’s recent renovations offer an improved facility for learning, said Mortell. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.”Our next phase is to refit the stone-sculpting studio for music and dance,” she said. “We’re going to add new lighting and sound in the gallery and the new music and dance studio.”Mortell is also enthusiastic about the future of the building’s exterior. The Center’s brick program allows donors to purchase engraved bricks to improve the grassy area behind the building.”Another thing we are working on is restoring our backyard, adding a retaining wall so we can offer classes and events out there,” she said. “We’ve sold over $1,000 in bricks.”The Center is also looking forward to the seventh annual Culinary Arts, Wine & Brewfest – the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser of the year – Saturday at the Hotel Colorado.We raised about $16,000 last year,” Mortell said. “This year, I’d love to get $25,000.”The Culinary Arts, Wine & Brewfest pairs local cuisine with microbrews and wines, live music, and cooking demonstrations. Tickets are $45 in advance and $50 at the door, and are available at the Center for the Arts, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Association, Design Audio/Video, and from any Culinary Arts, Wine & Brewfest committee member. Call 945-2414 for tickets, to become a sponsor, or for additional information.Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
A breakdown of the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts• Members: 1,100• Families as members: 640• Students enrolled this fall: 315• Member cost: $45/families, $30/individuals• Cost to lease the building: $10/year
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