Grand Avenue Mall in Glenwood Springs gets a historical renovation |

Grand Avenue Mall in Glenwood Springs gets a historical renovation

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Motorists driving down Grand Avenue have most likely noticed the recently refurbished Grand Avenue Mall facade – a yellow and red checkered pattern of bricks that has been covered for close to 50 years.

The man behind the work is as unique as the old buildings which he refurbishes, and Carbondale-based structural engineer Israel Shapira takes a lot of pride in his work.

“I love the old jobs,” he said. “You don’t know what you are going to find tomorrow.”

Shapira, 57, purchased the Grand Avenue Mall building in June 2009, after the property sat idle for more than three years, and quickly began renovations. Much of the building’s 15,000-square-foot interior was destroyed by fire in March 2006.

Where most people would see a reason to demolish the old building to make way for a new, more modern building, Shapira saw beauty in the building’s charred remains. And an opportunity to preserve some of Glenwood’s history.

Shapira is not new to refurbishing old buildings. His resume spans 30 years and lists some very impressive projects. Much of his career he spent working in New York City and parts of the east coast. He even had a hand in refurbishing New York City’s Grand Central Station in the mid 1980s and, he said, he also worked on the renovations to the Statue of Liberty in 1984-86.

“Sometimes we would be working on 20 jobs at the same time,” he said.

But now he’s slowed down a little, and enjoys doing much of the work himself. And he also chooses to focus on one project at a time.

He and his co-worker Erich Vogt remodeled the Midland Building and constructed the new Mercantile Building in Rifle, both of which Shapira also owns. He also purchased and renovated the Taylor House at 903 Bennett Ave. in Glenwood. The project developed 11 small condominium units in the historic house.

At first, he didn’t know the extent of the work he would have to put into the Grand Avenue Mall building. He knew that a lot of cosmetic work would have to be redone, but found that the building had a lot of structural problems that needed to be addressed, as well.

Shapira and Vogt do a lot of the work themselves, including all excavation, concrete, brick and structural framing work. He then contracts out the electrical, mechanical, and other aspects of the job.

As with the Grand Avenue Mall, which is around 100-years-old, Shapira’s goal with all of his projects is to retain the historical architectural integrity of the original buildings.

One of the magnificent aspects of the mall, which Shapira uncovered through the renovation, was a beautiful brick exterior on the front of the building that has been covered for close to 50 years, as far as he can calculate, by more than 1 inch of concrete.

Shapira said that portions of the building’s original brick facade began to deteriorate about that time. And instead of fixing the problem the building owners just covered the front with concrete.

“They didn’t fix the problem,” he said.

Removing the concrete was an extensive process that uncovered the beautiful brick, which Shapira found needed some work as well. He had to replace about 15 percent of the exterior brick because it no longer had any structural value, he said.

But finding the right type of replacement brick was his next challenge.

He said that he found a brick yard in Denver which recycles old bricks to be used in current projects. Shapira said that he managed to find a pile of bricks, that were the same size, coarseness, color, weight, and thickness as the building’s exterior in the several acres of brick piles.

The pile of bricks also just happened to be from buildings that were originally built in Glenwood Springs, he said.

“We found a pile from Glenwood that matched perfectly, so we took it,” he said.

Today, the building resembles the original, as accurately as Shapira could make it to the day it was built, Shapira said.

“This is what you see, and that is how it was before,” he said. “When they built it, this is how it looked.”

In the first six months of construction, the work has been mostly structural. Extensive reconstruction work to the floor joists, the exterior brick, and re-enforcing the exterior wall were done. Structural work also had to be done to the wood beams that support the first floor. And Shapira also removed the layer of plaster that covered the brick wall on the inside of the building as well, which matches the exterior.

“In the old days, they didn’t like to see brick,” he said. “They would plaster it so it was smooth. Now the brick is more architecturally appealing.”

Shapira expects the work to be completed by April or May. He said plans for the building include office space on the third floor, similar to what was previously in the building, and retail space in the basement level. He’s keeping his options open for the ground level space saying that it would be a nice place for a restaurant with a very open floor plan.

He’ll continue to work on the building until all of its little imperfections are fixed. But some will remain, adding to the building’s character. Who knows what he’ll find next.

For him, that is the exciting aspect of working on older buildings.

“It’s like detective work. You don’t know what you’ll find until you get in there,” he said. “That’s how it is with any old jobs. I love my work.”

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