Holy Name caught in historic preservation issue
Church wants to move Old Town homes as part of major expansion project
By Mike Lawrence - Steamboat Pilot & Today
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Call it a separation of church and state.
As the parish of Holy Name Catholic Church prepares for a multimillion-dollar renovation that would dramatically expand the church on the 500 block of Oak Street, its pastor is seeking to move three adjacent houses on church property by giving the structures away to anyone able to move them.
But city officials and local historic preservationists say at least one of the structures, the historic longtime home of the late Dr. Frederick E. Willett, is a landmark that should not be moved.
The situation arises as the Steamboat Springs City Council is working with a citizens committee to revise the city’s historic preservation policies, which have been spotlighted in the face of widespread local development.
The church is not immune to change.
“The only way we have to grow is out,” the Rev. Ernest Bayer said Tuesday outside the church, spreading his arms to show the scope of the planned expansion.
Although the expansion would physically impact only one structure — the middle one, a small building at 214 Sixth St. — the other two structures, at 220 Sixth St. and 544 Oak St., would abut the expanded church.
“We really can’t build the expansion without moving these three buildings,” said John Fielding, a member of Holy Name’s building development committee.
Fielding also is a former historic restoration contractor and a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Advisory Commission, a body separate from the citizens policy review committee. He recognizes the structures’ vintage architecture and history.
“We’re offering these houses to someone who will make use of them — we don’t want to see this resource wasted,” Fielding said. “We’re willing to entertain all offers.”
The house at 544 Oak St. is used by the Pregnancy Resource Center and is known as the Good Shepherd House. Todd Hagenbuch of Historic Routt County confirmed that it once was the home of Dr. Willett, who moved to Steamboat Springs in 1912 and opened Steamboat’s first hospital in 1914, in what is now Old Town Pub & Restaurant on Lincoln Avenue. Willett practiced medicine in Routt County for 56 years, according to Tread of Pioneers Museum Executive Director Candice Lombardo.
Tom Leeson, the city’s director of planning and community development, said his department plans to talk with Holy Name leaders about incorporating the house into the church expansion.
“It’s a historically significant structure, and we feel quite strongly that it should stay in its current location,” Leeson said. “Once it’s moved, it loses all of its historic significance — it wouldn’t be eligible for any kind of listing on any register.”
Leeson said that statutorily, Holy Name is not able to immediately move any of the structures because the church is in a “commercial neighborhood” city zone on Oak Street.
“We consider the removal of a structure a demolition,” Leeson said. “They can’t move it until they have their new project approved.”
Leeson said Holy Name must have a demolition permit and an approved final development plan before moving the structures.
Fielding acknowledged the historic commission almost certainly would oppose a move. But he said if new sites were found for the houses, moving them would be logistically and economically feasible.
Bayer said the growing Holy Name community has a long history of its own.
“It’s a 101-year-old family that’s living here,” he said of the church.