By Joe Napolitan
During a Pagosa Springs Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, April 27, the commission, while sitting as the Pagosa Springs Historic Preservation Board (HPB), voted to issue a certificate of alteration for a facade change for the Liberty Theater.
According to the agenda brief, the Liberty Theater has been known as such since 1919. It was formerly known as The Star Theater before being destroyed in the last of a series of fires that ravaged the town in the early 1900s. As a result of the pandemic, the theater has been closed since March of 2020. In the spring of 2021, it was purchased by the Liberty Theater Partnership LLC after being on the market for some time.
The brief states that as a part of HPB development application review duties assigned in 2020, it is the planning commission’s responsibility to review landmarked or historic properties in the district to be maintained in accordance with design guidelines adopted in 2007.
“The Town of Pagosa Springs is what’s called a Certified Local Government. What that does is it allows the town to receive priority funding for certain preservation projects that we may have in the works,” explained Cindy Schultz, senior planner for the town. “We have received several hundred thousand dollars for restoration from the state historic preservation fund. The state historic preservation office has authorized those funds to pass through to the Town of Pagosa Springs as the result of us agreeing to be a Certified Local Government.”
The brief states that it is not clear to what extent the Liberty Theater façade has been altered since its construction, and that Pagosa Springs has not chosen a “period of significance” for the historical district. This is primarily because Pagosa Springs’ significance was subject to many peaks and valleys, unlike many other historic towns in Colorado that are landmarked by booming periods of gold and silver mining. The local resource of Pagosa Springs was sheep and timber, and many original structures were constructed with wood until after a series of catastrophic fires when the town adopted an ordinance that new structures be made of brick and stone.
“For this reason, we see an inconsistent historic architectural narrative that forms our downtown,” concludes the brief.
“The architectural inventory that was taken back in 2002 … not much of the original look of the façade remains,” Schultz explained. “However, it is a designated local landmark and there are some key features that we do really honor with that landmark, one of them being the marquee, which is not an original piece of the facade, but is still a significant detail to our downtown streetscape.”
The brief clarifies that the certification for alteration being proposed does not include the marquee sign and that its repair was approved by a separate application. The sign was removed to be cleaned up and reinstalled to an engineer’s specifications “to look exactly like the old one, except brand new.”
Schultz identified several features that are certainly not original that are to be modified as a part of the proposal. Rotted siding and the stone planters are to be removed as well as one of the two poster boxes. The existing front will be replaced with 41-inch-high wainscot in brick veneer to protect the wood and the remainder in a 6-inch drop-panel wood siding.
The approved certificate of alteration included a provision mandating that the original building material be exposed. If the original material is usable brick, it is to be used and restored. If not, a brick veneer that is a near substitute and looks acceptable shall be used.