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BreckCreate: Historic structures provide backbone for new arts campus

Breckenridge Arts District timeline

2001 — Town of Breckenridge and Backstage Theatre Company purchase Shamus O’Toole’s Saloon to renovate into small theater

2001 — Town purchases properties on corner of S. Ridge Street and E. Washington Avenues

2002 — Shamus O’Toole’s Saloon opens as Breckenridge Backstage Theatre

2003 — Town begins to plan arts campus with help of Harry Teague Architects, Mathew Stais Architect and Jenn Cram, manager of the Breckenridge Arts District

2003 — Arts District begins offering art workshops at Robert Whyte House

2004 — Breckenridge Arts District Master Plan adopted as a correlative document to the town’s Master Plan and Development Code

2006 — August, guest artists begin working in the Tin Shop

2007-2008 — Quandary Antiques Cabin donated by Jim and Maureen Nicholls and relocated from original location two blocks down Ridge Street to the Arts District

2008 — August, rehabilitated historic Fuqua Livery Stable opens

2009 — February, Fuqua Livery Stable received the prestigious Steven H. Hart Award for outstanding efforts in historic preservation

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles and artist features related to the new Breckenridge Arts District campus. The town will hold a preview event for the campus Thursday, Sept. 25, through Sunday, Sept. 28. Learn more at http://www.breckcreate.org.

What started with the purchase of some land and a few historic buildings 13 years ago will finally become a fully realized vision this week when the town of Breckenridge hosts a preview event for the new Breckenridge Arts District campus.

Located at the corner of S. Ridge Street and E. Washington Avenue, the new campus is home to a combination of new and restored historic structures that have been adapted into artists' studios for a variety of media, from ceramics and metalsmithing to painting and photography. The vision for the Arts District is to create an additional layer of cultural activity for the local community and visitors, to strengthen existing arts organizations and galleries and, ultimately, to make Breckenridge an arts destination.

"It's so amazing to work for a town council that believes in a vision like this," said Jenn Cram, manager of the Breckenridge Arts District and public art program. "They understand the importance of having a vibrant downtown, historic preservation and making our Main Street a unique place and vision to support cultural arts, understanding that people want to come here and ski and hear the orchestra and take a painting workshop and express their creative side.

"To have a town council that believes in this and makes it happen is amazing. I feel so honored to have worked on this project and work for such a wonderful town council."

Here's an overview of the new campus, with a brief history of the historical buildings, their new floor plans and how each location has been imagined or reimagined into a piece of the new Arts District mosaic.

1. Fuqua Livery Stable (110 E. Washington Ave.)

According to literature from the Breckenridge Arts District, this false-fronted livery and feed stable building was built for P.S. and Emma Bailey in 1880 for $600. The building was quickly rented to liveryman and namesake J. P. Fuqua, who stabled horses for pay and also had carriages for hire. The barn, which was constructed with vertical pine board-and-batten siding, boasted a characteristic hayloft opening above the wagon and pedestrian entrances, where feed and grain were stored for Fuqua's four-legged boarders.

"There was kind of a neat set of doors on the south side where he was able to back in the carriage for overnight storage and in the back three sections was where the actual horse stalls were," said Jeff Herbertz, of Quandary Carpentry, a historic rehabilitation specialist hired by Base Building Solutions Inc., the general contractor. "We found a handful of six, seven artifacts in there. There was a certain amount of value to that stuff, so when people found that stuff, they collected it and passed it along to family. That's how we lose a lot of history."

The town of Breckenridge purchased the property in 2002, and the rehabilitated historic Fuqua Livery Stable opened in August 2008. The project received $129,000 from the State Historic Fund for the restoration, which consisted of taking the structure apart, pouring a new foundation with in-floor heat, erecting structural steel and then putting the structure back together within 1 inch of historic configuration. An innovative glass storefront system was also installed on the interior to exhibit all of the historic walls and allow for year-round use.

"That was a pretty unique building," Herbertz said of the restoration. "It had rotted into the ground two feet; the wood studs were resting on the ground like they did in those days. We took it apart in 13 different sections that were all in tact, including the roof, then stored here on the Arts District property. That was about a 15-month restoration. It's all glassed interior, so they can actually heat the thing and look through the walls and see what it was and how it was built."

The Fuqua Livery Stable is the planned home for painting, drawing, beading and a studio space to rent to local artists, currently occupied by local photographer Liam Doran.

2. Randall Barn (114 E. Washington Ave.)

John J. and Zetha Randall moved to Breckenridge after World War II and purchased this false-fronted barn built in 1902, using it to store the antiques from their Main Street shop, the Finding Store, the Arts District said. Daniel A. Mikolitis purchased the property in 1978, and the town of Breckenridge bought it in 2002. Herbertz said the building is actually three different sections and wasn't in nearly as a dilapidated state as the Fuqua when restoration began.

"It was somewhat inhabitable," he said. "There's been some local color in and out of that thing through the hippy era of mountain towns. … They added a couple of other wings on the backside of it that were a dead giveaway that it wasn't all original building.

"Whoever was owning it was using it for storage. The roof was intact, which kept it relatively dry on the inside. The floor was independent of the walls and the roof, but there was a beam down the middle. With erosion of the roof dripping down, when it was taken apart, the floor was like a giant teeter-totter, with the beam in the middle."

The Randall Barn was also taken apart in panels, about eight pieces, Herbertz said, and the roof disassembled. The panels were marked to be reassembled in their original locations, but there was only enough intact material to rebuild the west and north walls with the historic, turn-of-the-century wood.

"That's always been somewhat of a landmark in town because it was down in an eroded hole and the city streets had enveloped it in different heights," he said.

The Randall Barn is the planned home for printmaking and textiles, with a studio space to rent to local artists.

3. Quandary Antiques Cabin and Children's Studio (133 S. Ridge St.)

Volunteer firemen with the Breckenridge Fire Department originally built this small log cabin on land donated by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Perrin, according to the Arts District. The department raffled off the cabin, and Dorothy Reibold, of Glenwood Springs, purchased the winning ticket. Riebold and her family spent a few summers and one winter in this cabin. In later years, Luna Shumacker, of Texas, used it as a rental house until her death in 1979.

Jim and Maureen Nicholls purchased the cabin from Shumacker's estate in 1980, and in 1983, Maureen moved Quandary Antiques into the building. The cabin was donated by the Nicholls in 2007 and was relocated from its original location two blocks down Ridge Street, across from the post office, to the Arts District in 2008.

"It's a D-style log," Herbertz said. "Gravity keeps it all together. There aren't any fasteners in between it to really hold it together. When it was across the street from the post office down there, they had to prepare it to pick it up with a big crane. We got a large flatbed trailer and shored it up on the inside so when we picked it up with the floor and everything it didn't implode on itself or collapse.

"The yahoo crane operator was pretty spunky that day. We had all these big straps, had it all rigged up, so we could lift it up slowly and didn't crack any glass. We'd lift it up slowly, four or five inches, then he pulled the lever, and that building shot up 70 feet above the treetops, like the 'Wizard of Oz' when the building was flying through the air. What do you tell a crane operator? 'Slow down, you're going to lose this building.' The building is completely out of control."

The Quandary Antiques Cabin eventually landed safely on the trailer and was puttered slowly from its original home to its new foundation in the Arts District. The cabin was first remodeled into a small ceramic studio and is now a studio for children's workshops.

4. Hot Shop (123 S. Ridge St.) and 5. Ceramic Studio (125 S. Ridge St.)

New structures that were built to fit with the historic character of the Breckenridge Arts District campus have also been constructed, including the Hot Shop, used for metalsmithing, glasswork and encaustic painting, and the Ceramic Studio, which includes a studio area on the lower level that will be rented to a local artist.

6. Tin Shop (117 E. Washington Ave.)

The Tin Shop is the result of a partnership with the Saddle Rock Society and the town of Breckenridge. According to the Arts District, artists are invited to stay at the Tin Shop and work on their medium of choice from one week up to one month. The main floor provides a studio space, while the upstairs has a fully furnished studio apartment, where artists live during their stay.

Artists are selected based on the quality of their artwork and proposed public participation program. Artists have open studio hours, where the public is welcome to drop in and see what they are up to, and they also host a workshop during their stay. The current artist-in-residence at the Tin Shop is Elise Brewster.

7. Robert Whyte House (127 S. Ridge St.)

Robert H. Whyte, the former manager of the Grand Central Hotel, and his wife, Mary, built this small frame house on Lot 9 as their home in 1889, according to the Arts District. The burro barn and privy, located to the rear of the dwelling, were built at the same time. After passing through many hands over the next century, the property, house and barn were sold to the town of Breckenridge in 2002.

"That's the original trademark, landmark building here on this street," Herbertz said of the Robert Whyte House. "They had a house mover pick that thing up, jack it up with timbers, slide it over and excavate an eight-foot foundation where all the mechanical stuff is at."

A lot of the siding on the exterior of the house is original, Herbertz said.

"They still make that Dolly Varden style of siding, where it's kind of like a V-shaped board, thin on the top, thicker on the bottom," he said. "It gives you that fish-scale effect."

The Arts District began offering art workshops at the historic Robert Whyte House in 2003 in a variety of mediums for children, teens and adults. The finished floor plan features a studio area on the lower level and a fully furnished studio apartment upstairs for visiting artists.

Behind the house, on their original sites, the Burro Barn and Privy still exist — albeit in new forms. The barn, now home to the campus' public restrooms, had complete fallen in on itself.

"The roof was all completely gone," Herbertz said. "It was made for holding livestock and animals, so they didn't put a lot of effort into making it hold up. It had a crazy roofline; you just build on when you get another animal. It was full of junk, primarily cardboard boxes. That was the joke around here for years, once the cardboard boxes dissolve, the whole thing's going to fall in."

The Burro Barn was deconstructed into panels, but once again, there wasn't enough material to completely reconstruct it with turn-of-the-century wood, Herbertz said.

"So we amassed it all into the one south wall with the doors," he said. "That south wall turned out to be pretty unique. It's almost like a living organism on its own, all those crazy angles and just enough good wood to pull that off. The shapes and lengths of those boards was a challenge, but it was kind of the direction I had no choice but to follow on how to pull that thing off — all the square-cut nails, original boards of the walls and the roof."

The district wanted to retain a certain state of dilapidation with the privy sandwiched between the house and the barn. Herbertz said.

"If you try to go too far, it's not going to be anything like it was and it won't look old," he said. "The outhouse was in shambles; it was like the three pigs, 'I'll huff and puff and blow your straw shack over.'"

There were three separate holes dug into the ground, and the privy had been moved about as the holes filled up with "compost," Herbertz said. An archeologist was called in to dig into the holes and search for artifacts, but all that was found were some pieces of broken glass. Herbertz said he wasn't surprised, since mining folk who may have accidentally dropped valuable things into the holes were likely to just go in after them.

"What's funny about the privy, it's a two-seater," Herbertz said. "What the heck? Didn't people like privacy back then? I don't get it. I guess if you really had to go you're going to go. There's one seat bigger than the other, maybe his and hers? The funnies thing I could come up with was if you've got to go, and the flies are still suck on one seat, you could use the other one."