To some passing by it might seem terribly out of place and a detriment, this leaning, paint-peeling two-story white frame building with deteriorating wood and cracked, broken windows — decades past any charm. And it's in the midst of well-cared-for solid brick buildings, shops and eateries, courtyards and patio tables on Castle Rock's Perry Street.
But local historians and some longtime residents can see past the failing facade.
And they are trying to do something, save it — Castle Rock's oldest building, the circa-1872 City Hotel at 415 Perry St. — before it's too late.
If it's not already.
“It's been neglected to the point that it would be a monumental job … The expense will be tremendous,” said Judy Hostetler, a real-property specialist in Castle Rock's planning division and staff liaison to Castle Rock's Historic Preservation Board.
“But it's one of our most important buildings,” Hostetler said in a phone interview.
And so they are still trying — and there is a two-pronged effort currently underway: A historic preservation board committee is trying to get it on Colorado Preservation Inc.'s Endangered Places List; and a local designer and builder is sketching out plans, suggesting that it become the town's arts center, with the front restored to look like it once did, but then adding space to the back of it for a theater, art gallery and class space.
“Ultimately (the arts center) was my idea, but it's the result of talking to many people about different ideas,” said Tim White, a Castle Rock resident since the 1970s and founder and president of White Construction Group.
White, who has been involved in the design or building of various buildings in Castle Rock, such as town hall and the police and fire buildings, has a long interest in the arts and in historic restoration, and thinks the hotel — which is now being used as an apartment house — and its long history is worth the work.
Bob Lowenberg, a retired Douglas County High School history teacher and author of “Castle Rock: A Grassroots History,” is a member of the historic preservation committee that recently submitted an application to place it on the endangered list.
“How many (Colorado) hotels from that time period have been preserved?” Lowenberg asked. Very few, he said.
Lowenberg said the building's owner, Nick Hier, is supportive of the efforts.
Colorado Preservation Inc. at its annual event in February will announce which properties will be placed on the year's endangered list, said Rachel Parris, the nonprofit organization's program coordinator. She said the importance of the building to the community is key to getting on the list, and the fact that it's the town's oldest building is “amazing.”
She said Colorado Preservation Inc., which operates through grants and donations, offers “a lot of outreach and advocacy” for buildings on the list, and also tries to increase public awareness of the building; writes and manages grants; connects partnerships; and provides technical expertise.
She said of the 96 places already on the endangered list, only five, so far, have been lost to demolition.
White has initial sketches for the arts center, which he would develop and then lease from Hier. He said the next step is to approach Castle Rock City Council to find out if there is interest in an arts center, which he envisions could include a 150-seat theater, intermission area and gallery.
“There is a huge, huge trend to smaller venue places … rather than building large facilities,” White said.
And he envisions there could be other uses including a “modified arts schools for kids, a charter school for the arts,” or kids could be bused from schools to attend classes there.
In the historic preservation committee's application to Colorado Preservation Inc., it's explained that the hotel actually was built in 1872 in the town of New Memphis by English immigrant John Harris for his entrepreneurial brother Thomas Harris.
New Memphis was located near where Douglas County Robert A. Christensen Justice Center is now, at 4000 Justice Way, Castle Rock. But after Castle Rock was named county seat in 1874, New Memphis, which had the post office and various businesses, and had been vying for county seat status, began to die. Three years later, the hotel's owner, Thomas Harris, decided to move the hotel, then called the Harris Hotel, to Castle Rock, which was accomplished by mule train.
It was placed on its present Perry Street location, then a territorial road, and close to two major railroads. The hotel was used by people traveling between Denver and Colorado Springs and was a destination for some people from the East Coast who traveled to Colorado's drier air seeking a cure for tuberculosis and other ailments.
“At times, it was the only place where visitors could find immediate rooms straight off the train, or where families could live while searching for a home in the area,” according to the committee's application.
John Craig lived at the hotel for a time. Craig, who donated much of the land that is now Castle Rock and the money to build the county courthouse, also served in various roles including mayor, probate judge, justice of the peace, acting coroner and a state representative.
Harris owned the hotel until an accident in which he was gored by a steer being driven through town and later died from his wounds and complications. The hotel has had a series of owners since his death.