Aspen Loses Modern Building
By Elizabeth McNamara | Online Only | Apr. 19, 2011
As late-spring snow showers fell in Aspen, Colo., today, a demolition crew finished tearing down the Given Institute. Designed by acclaimed Modernist architect Harry Weese, the 1972 building gave the then-sleepy ski town of Aspen a venue for meetings of top medical personnel and researchers. It hosted conferences and retreats for professionals for the University of Colorado Medical Center. Land for the facility came from Aspen philanthropist Elizabeth Paepcke, who agreed to sell a parcel adjustment to her Aspen home to the university—a gift that came with the condition Weese be named architect.
But the 12,000-square-foot structure sat on desirable lakefront property (valued at $14 million), and the university made the property available in early 2010, citing high annual maintenance costs. When a deal that would spare the structure fell through in February, next-door neighbor Jonathan Lewis offered to purchase the building with the stipulation it be demolished.
"In a way, the writing was on the wall,” says Amy Guthrie, City of Aspen Historic Preservation Officer. "The University of Colorado thinks they are exempt from local land use laws, so that limited the city's authority. And it was sort of known that that family would end up with this site."
After debris removal is complete, the property will be turned over to Lewis, a political activist and scion of the Cleveland-based Progressive Insurance Cos. fortune. His family owns property up the street and, though Lewis has not disclosed specific plans for the site, published reports say he is considering some type of residential development. Calls made to Lewis for comment went unanswered.
"Aspen's post-war history was more significant and integral in the development of its ski industry and as a center for art and culture and intellectual thought," says Barbara Pahl, director of the National Trust's Mountains/Plains office. "When the Paepckes came to Aspen, so came a host of modern architects who built many wonderful buildings. But those buildings do not seem to be held by the community in as high esteem as the ones from the early 20th Century, and it's a shame to see them lost."
Colorado Preservation Inc. placed the Given Institute on its annual list of most endangered places this winter.
"It's amazing the hours Weese put into developing this concept and then seeing it through construction," says Guthrie, who witnessed the start of demolition Monday. "And then in just minutes it's wiped away."
"I hope that the people of Aspen come to embrace their more modern past in the same way they came to embrace their Victorian past from their time as a silver mining town," says Pahl. "There are a lot of mining towns in Colorado, but one of the things that made Aspen unique is that its architecture is not stuck in one period of time.
"We have to decide what we want to bring with us into the future, and in this case that didn't happen."
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