Foothills Art Center proposing rear addition to Astor House

Historic Preservation Board supportive of addition but wants changes made to design

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/12/21

When the Astor House reopens to the public as an art space run by the Foothills Art Center, it will probably look, and be, significantly different. That’s because the planned updates to the …

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Foothills Art Center proposing rear addition to Astor House

Historic Preservation Board supportive of addition but wants changes made to design

Posted

When the Astor House reopens to the public as an art space run by the Foothills Art Center, it will probably look, and be, significantly different.

That’s because the planned updates to the 150-plus-year old structure will now likely include a rear addition that will house handicap-accessible bathrooms, a new staircase and additional gallery space and be nearly equal in size to the Astor House structure.

During a marathon four-hour meeting on May 3, the Golden Historic Preservation determined that it would be willing to greenlight such an addition but stopped short of approving the design proposed by Foothills Art Center.

Instead, they asked for the Foothills Art Center and its architects to submit a new addition design that would address concerns related to the building mass, look and overall size of the proposed addition presented at the meeting. The board will consider the new proposal presented by Foothills Art Center at its next meeting on June 7.

Last year, Foothills made a proposal for how it would utilize the building as an arts center that was ultimately chosen by the city. That proposed concept did not include an addition.

However during the May 7 meeting, representatives of Foothills said that as they got further into the design process, they determined that it would only be possible to bring the building up to code by including an addition to the building.

“A lot of people think that we did this big bait and switch on Astor House and I want to clear that up because I think it’s an unfair characterization,” said Hassan Najjar, the executive director of the Foothills Art Center. “When we did that original proposal we only had a limited amount of time, we only had one site visit allowed to us … and we didn’t have the full picture of the structural challenges within Astor House.”

Najjar said his team had since been able to “dive in and see how our original plans were far from ideal.”

According to documents submitted to the Historic Preservation Board, Foothills is proposing an addition to be connected to the main structure with a five-foot glass walkway, called a light touch, that is intended to clearly differentiate the addition from the main Astor House structure.

The proposed extension was to be constructed with modern brick and clad inside a perforated metal screen that would cover its entire exterior. According to the document, “the proposed cladding system will be complementary to the original building in its scale, form and color, while also being distinguishable from the original and of its own time.”

Although the proposed addition was similar in size to the existing house, it was to be slightly shorter, which would have allowed it to not be visible when the Astor House is viewed from the front.

During the meeting, Cindy Nasky, a historic preservation with the Colorado Historical Foundation, said that the proposed addition was consistent with Federal historical preservation standards.

But that view was not shared by the majority of the board, which raised concerns about the visual impact of the addition and said changes would need to be made for them to approve it.

Those changes would include the elimination of the screen in favor of an exterior material that would better fit into and complement the surrounding 12th Street Historic District, the incorporation of windows and other elements that would further reduce the addition’s visual mass and an overall reduction of the size of the addition.

While there is still a decision to be made about the final look of the addition, board member Nico Kernan ended the meeting but saying the board’s agreement about their being an addition represented a significant step forward.

“I think the key thing is here is the conversation about whether there is an addition to take up the Astor Yard or not,” he said. “We’ve settled that and I think that is a big deal and now we are really looking at the stylistic components at this point.”

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