In with the old

Historic Boulder celebrates 50 years

Historic Boulder's volunteer team in front of the Hannah Barker House. Courtesy Historic Boulder.

What creates community?

To Susan Osborne, it’s buildings.

“I strongly believe that historic preservation has everything to do with making a community feel like a solid, good place,” says Osborne, who’s lived in Boulder since 1964 and worked as a city planner, taught at CU and served on City Council and as mayor. “I think that recalling the past, through the saving of buildings, is part of telling the story about who we were, and how we’ve evolved to the present day.”

Osborne is an active member and a two-time past president of Historic Boulder, a group that has worked to safeguard Boulder’s history by preserving buildings and other physical spaces over the last 50 years. 

The organization has been at work in Boulder since March of 1972 — preserving prominent buildings like the Boulder Theater, Glen Huntington Bandshell and the Hotel Boulderado, and hosting historical tours like its Meet the Spirits Cemetery Tour at the Columbia Cemetery, and the Home for the Holidays tour. 

In 2022, the organization announced the successful preservation of the Midland Savings Bank/Atrium building, which was designed by the well-known architecture firm Hobart Wagener and Associates and is one of the first mid-century modern structures to achieve landmark status in Boulder.

Executive Director Leonard Segel says Boulder didn’t become one of the most appealing places to live in the country by accident.

“It didn’t just happen. Generations of citizens have envisioned a recipe of innovation, environmentalism, excellence in commerce, enriching culture and higher education,” he says. “In every generation, the physical settings [buildings/neighborhoods] have established a nurturing backdrop that promotes those activities.” 

Preserving those properties, Segel says, transmits those values of the past to future generations. 

Historic Boulder works to preserve all types of historic sites — from important buildings to smaller pieces of Boulder’s history. 

For Dan Corson, longtime member of Historic Boulder and a past president of the organization, it’s the less-obvious buildings that are most important to him — like the one at 1733 Canyon Boulevard called the Woodward-Baird House. 

The Little Grey House at 1733 Canyon Boulevard. Courtesy Historic Boulder.

“It’s a working-class house, which would have been right on the railroad tracks, and those are, of course, some of the least desirable in town,” Corson says. 

This relic of Boulder’s mining camp days, also known as the Little Grey House, was built around 1870 and was in “a rough neighborhood with trains running by often and subject to regular floods,” Corson says. It was the home to one of Boulder’s early Black families (Albert and Eliza Stephens’ family) and located in the Little Rectangle area (now known as Goss-Grove). 

Shortly after the Little Grey House was purchased by Historic Boulder in 1977, Corson decided to join the organization’s board. His first project was to plant bushes in front of the home. 

“I’m very proud to be part of that legacy,” he says. 

Osborne says acknowledging Boulder’s history, especially the treatment of Indigenous and Black people, through the preservation of places like the Little Grey House will help the community move forward. 

“It’s all part of our history, and I think knowing about it helps us make better decisions in the present,” says Osborne, who was most involved in the restoration of the Vicorian-era Hannah Barker House (800 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder) in 2007. The house was near destruction until Historic Boulder stepped in — starting with upwards of $10,000 to remove the effects of raccoon urine. 

The restored Hannah Barker House. Courtesy Historic Boulder.

Now, the organization is working on restoring and preserving the roof and stucco on the Boulder Theater, which was nearly torn down in the 1980s before Historic Boulder helped broker a deal to safeguard the building and get it landmarked. 

Segel says Historic Boulder will continue to “enrich our mortal lives” through historic preservation.

“Heritage properties that are preserved provide lessons to Boulder residents and visitors about the values of life’s lessons, as manifested in building forms,” Segel says. “Their presence is consciously and unconsciously experienced.” 

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