Soncarty column: Protect Glenwood’s historic buildings
“Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future?”
— Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
How can Glenwood Springs’ downtown business district be revitalized? With that question asked in the late 1960s, a consultant was hired to determine the best future use for Glenwood Springs’ downtown structures. The consultant’s recommendation: Every building in the city’s downtown core should be demolished and replaced with the modern glass and metal architecture of the time. That recommendation was rejected.
Move forward 50 years to May 2019. Recently, plans were revealed to raze the historic building at 910 Grand Ave. by the current owners, American National Bank (ANB). While details for the proposed replacement building are currently unknown, it is assumed the current historic structure will be replaced by a modern two-story building.
The history of the building at 910 Grand Ave. begins on the eve of the Roaring ’20s as automobiles were becoming more commonplace in Glenwood Springs. With a lack of space at most residences for garage construction, Christian M. Keck seized the opportunity to provide automobile storage.
In July 1919 Keck’s Fireproof Garage opened in a new 100-foot-by-150-foot concrete-and-concrete-block building. The garage was large enough to store 75 vehicles and to allow for workspace for everything affiliated with auto sales and repair.
Ten years later, when Keck retired, the building became the town’s Ford automobile dealership and remained so until the mid-1950s. During the past three decades, the building has provided space for numerous retail and service industries such as Mother O’Leary’s, a bar spicing up Glenwood’s night life; Jake O’Brien’s, offering lunch, dinner and spirits; and Rocky Mountain Music Company, selling guitars, amplifiers and band instruments.
A great deal of commentary has been printed since ANB’s announcement. Most comments advocate resignation to inevitable change. Yes, every community must embrace change to accommodate the needs of its workforce and the ever-evolving industries supporting that community.
It is obvious with the increasing new development in West Glenwood Springs as well as southward, the city of Glenwood Springs does value the need for change. Omitted from the conversation, however, has been the preservation of Glenwood Springs’ core downtown business district structures — the town’s welcoming gateway.
To protect its historic structures, 20 years ago the city of Glenwood Springs adopted a historic preservation ordinance. This ordinance, though, lacks enough authority to prevent the destruction of Keck’s Fireproof Garage.
The time is now for the city of Glenwood Springs to revisit the current historic preservation ordinance. A revision is needed to include meaningful and enforceable provisions that further protect and preserve the commercial and residential buildings in the original townsite of Glenwood Springs, as well as locally landmarked structures and buildings on the National Register of Historic Places outside of the original townsite.
The ordinance must continue to reward past preservation and incentivize future preservation efforts.
Every resident who cares about maintaining Glenwood Springs’ historic structures must contact their city representative. Let them know historic preservation is a priority.
But also take time to know these historic buildings. Take a self-guided tour with a walking tour guide found on the Glenwood Chamber Resort website at http://www.visitglenwood.com. Become educated about local historic preservation efforts through the city of Glenwood Springs website at http://www.gwsco.gov.
There is only one Keck’s Fireproof Garage. If it is razed, it cannot be reproduced with the same intention, materials or workmanship. Gone forever will be the voices, events, businesses and collective community memory that existed within the original walls. Lost will be the opportunity for revitalization, repurpose and restoration for community good.
Will the recommendation of the 1960s consultant become a reality? Will Glenwood Springs’ history be replaced one building at a time with buildings representing of an ever-changing definition of modern?
The fate of history and of the future hang in the balance. Glenwood Springs must rise to action now to further protect its historic structures.
Willa Soncarty formerly worked for the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and wrote a regular history column for the Post Independent for several years.
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