Pitkin Co. grapples with historic ruins
ASPEN, Colorado ” Now that the public owns the group of historic but deteriorating buildings known as the Emma Store complex, the next issue is to decide exactly what to do with them.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails in early July paid $2.65 million for the buildings, which sit on a 12.5-acre meadow looming over half-mile of Roaring Fork River frontage, just off Colorado 82 near Carbondale.
The structures include a house built in 1898 and an adjacent commercial structure built in the same year that long housed a mercantile business and the Emma post office.
There is also a smaller structure of the same vintage, known as the “armory” for its use as storage space for explosives, located just behind the mercantile building.
The Victorian-style house, which has been lived in more or less continuously since it was built, is in “pretty good shape,” said county historic-preservation expert Suzannah Reid.
But time, winter snows and leakage have collapsed the roof on both sides of the old store, which is divided in the middle by a brick wall.
And there are huge gaps in the brick walls of the old armory in the back.
If something is not done quickly to shore up the deteriorated structures to prevent further damage from snow and rain, the whole thing could fall in on itself, Reid said.
“We’re trying to pull together a group of people who have expertise in various aspects of this to help us figure out what to do,” said open space and trails director Dale Will.
One option being discussed, Will said, is to stabilize the old store and move it back on the property from where it now sits, a scant six feet from the highway, protected only by a Jersey barrier.
A previous owner who also wanted to save the buildings, once got an estimate of $800,000 to move the buildings using rails laid along the ground, Will said.
“I think the buildings certainly can be saved,” said Reid, who will be part of the committee debating the old buildings’ fate.
She said the first objective is to stabilize the walls and “mothball” the structure to prevent further deterioration, and she hopes the committee can make us of government grants to do so.
Grants for short-term stabilization, mid-term planning and long-term restoration are likely available, she said.
The building should be stabilized before next winter, Reid said, and she plans to begin the task using funds from local government rather than grants, which take too long.
“I’m hoping it will be in the tens [of thousands of dollars] just to remove the stress [of the collapsing roof beams pulling the brick walls inward,” she said.
“We’re not even talking about roofing or anything like that.”
Will said he has toured the deteriorated structures with building experts, who also have warned him that the stabilization will be both challenging and hazardous.
“I’m already talking to some private foundations, scrambling to find the wherewithal to get [the buildings] through the next winter,” Will said.