Fort Collins City Council voted against the involuntary historic designation of 528 W. Mountain Ave. on Tuesday — clearing a path for its owners to demolish the embattled 136-year-old home.
The fate of the house had hung in the balance for the better part of this year after Fort Collins residents Jason and Misha Green — who purchased it last May — started pursuing plans to demolish the home and replace it with a new build.
After getting a planning and zoning variance for the steep roof pitch of their new home’s design in March, the Greens’ variance application kicked into motion a historic review of their lot’s existing home.
By then, after 136 years in Old Town, the little green house had become one of the oldest homes still standing on Mountain Avenue, as well as a remnant of early Fort Collins’ folk Victorian architectural style.
As the longtime former home of early Fort Collins educators and sisters Pearl and Jessie Moore, it also held historical significance, the city’s historic preservation commission determined this summer when it unanimously voted to recommend the home to City Council for landmark designation.
If the home had been designated as a landmark, it would have marked the city’s first nonconsensual landmark designation of a single property since 1985, when Fort Collins’ old post office building at 201 S. College Ave., was saved from demolition by an emergency city ordinance.
Landmark designation of 528 W. Mountain Ave. would have also given the Greens access to state tax credits, a zero-interest loan program and grants to make improvements to the home. Any exterior alterations, demolition or new construction on the property, however, would have to have been reviewed and fit under national standards for historic properties — going against the family’s plans to build a new house on the lot.
To complicate matters, the Moore house had fallen into disrepair in the decades following Pearl’s and Jessie’s deaths — eventually becoming plagued with foundation and structural issues, sagging floors, rotting walls and an unsafe electrical system, according to a property disclosure the Greens signed as part of the home’s 2020 sale.
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While not specifically disclosed during the sale, the home tested positive for varying levels of methamphetamine earlier this year, Jason recounted during his presentation to council Tuesday.
“We want to live here and build memories here and celebrate holidays here. Someday we want to have grandchildren visit us here,” Jason told council Tuesday, noting that his and his family’s main concerns were over the unknown potential health risks of living in a meth-abated home.
“The more research we have done, the more afraid we are of being forced to live in this house,” he added.
Joyce Schwarz, Pearl Moore’s great-granddaughter, told the Coloradoan this summer that she was shocked to hear about the presence of methamphetamine in the home, surmising that it could have come from one of the property’s many tenants over the years. The home remained in the hands of Pearl Moore’s descendants until 2020, when Schwarz’s sisters sold the property to the Greens for $425,000, according to Schwarz and Larimer County property records.
Following public comment from 14 people — three in favor of the home’s designation and 11 against — council voted 4-2 to strike down the designation.
Citing health concerns, the structural state of the house and fears that an involuntary designation would discourage people from buying potentially historic homes in Fort Collins, Mayor Jeni Arndt and council members Julie Pignataro, Shirley Peel and Emily Francis voted against the historical designation.
Council members Kelly Ohlson and Susan Gutowsky voted in favor of its designation. Council member Tricia Canonico was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
Almost all council members spoke about making historic preservation a council priority in the future — hopefully identifying more historic properties before they fall into disrepair and avoiding nonconsensual landmark designation battles like the fight over 528 W. Mountain Ave.
“After nearly two years of considerable worry, expense, and delay we are very pleased with the outcome and are looking forward to being able to proceed with the construction of our home and to become a part of the Mountain Avenue community,” Jason and Misha Green said in an emailed statement to the Coloradoan on Wednesday.
The couple declined to answer further questions from the Coloradoan.
Moving forward after 528 W. Mountain Ave.
City Council’s Tuesday decision was disappointing but not surprising for the group of four community members who nominated the home for landmark designation earlier this year, said one of the home’s nominators, Gina Jannet.
“I think what this has exposed is that the way the system is set up … it actually sets us up for lose-lose decision making,” Jannet said, referring to the fact that, while the city’s historic preservation office does conduct historical surveys and people can inquire with them about the history or landmark eligibility of a property, many Fort Collins residents aren’t aware of a home’s potential historical significance until its owner applies for a demolition permit and kicks off a city historic review of the property.
“That’s what’s set up this involuntary landmarking process,” Jannet said, adding that she didn’t know anything about 528 W. Mountain Ave. or the Moore sisters until she saw the yellow historic review sign go up in its yard this year.
“We just want to keep the old in Old Town, and we think everyone appreciates the historic homes on Mountain Avenue and across the city,” Jannet added. “Once these are gone, they’re gone forever.”
While admitting that 528 W. Mountain Ave.’s presence of methamphetamine presented more of a “gray area” than other landmark designation attempts, Ohlson spoke Tuesday about how important historic preservation has been to the fabric of Fort Collins.
“There was a demolition and destruction binge in the ’60s and ’70s where key building after key building went down, and I think we’re about to enter another one of those phases,” Ohlson said.
Following the spate of demolitions of historic Fort Collins buildings in the 1960s and early 1970s, Ohlson recalled working on the preservation of about a dozen historic properties in and around Old Town in the decades that followed — doing everything from painting their exteriors in historically accurate styles to finding himself waist deep in bat poop after tearing down a ceiling in an old Magnolia Street grocery store in the 1980s.
When Ohlson was on Fort Collins City Council in 1985, he recalled learning about plans to tear down the city’s former post office building on South College Avenue.
To save the structure, which was built to much fanfare in 1912 and 1913, the council called an emergency meeting and unanimously passed a nonconsensual landmark designation of the property, according to minutes from the ordinance’s second reading on Oct. 15, 1985.
If council hadn’t acted, Ohlson estimated that the building would have been razed within 24 to 48 hours.
“You can still see where they had already started cutting out its cornerstone,” he said.
In the past decade, Ohlson said he’s seen a fair share of Old Town homes be demolished in favor of new, modern rebuilds.
“People are now moving into the Old Town area and paying massive amounts of money for existing homes in order to get the lot. And that’s their right, but because of the concentration of wealth, I think we’re about to see a lot more of that. It doesn’t make people bad, it just makes it real,” Ohlson said.
“We need a new game plan in order to preserve some of our architectural history and to avoid as many surprises and conflicts as possible,” Ohlson said, alluding to the recent nonconsensual designation attempt of 528 W. Mountain St. “We can and must do better.”
More about the Moores
The small folk Victorian house at 528 W. Mountain Ave. was built in 1885 at what was then the edge of Fort Collins. By 1900, Samuel and Edith Moore had purchased and moved into the house with their two daughters, Pearl and Jessie, census records indicate.
Edith died in 1904, and Samuel followed in 1927, but the couple’s daughters remained in the house for decades. Pearl and Jessie both went on to become teachers, and the elder Pearl served as the county school superintendent from 1906 to 1913. As part of the job, Pearl visited all of the county’s 55 schools by horseback each year, her great-granddaughter Joyce Schwarz told the Coloradoan.
Pearl worked as the assistant principal of Fort Collins grade schools and lived at 528 W. Mountain Ave. until 1924, when she married widowed father and livestock feeder Clyde Bartels. In the years after her husband’s death in 1937, Pearl returned to both her career and 528 W. Mountain Ave., where she lived with Jessie until dying in 1961, according to Pearl’s obituary. Jessie died in 1970. Moore Elementary School, which opened in 1956, was named in Jessie’s honor. It bore her name until 2010, when the school closed and merged with Bauder Elementary School.
Erin Udell reports on news, culture, history and more for the Coloradoan. Contact her at [email protected]. The only way she can keep doing what she does is with your support. If you subscribe, thank you. If not, sign up for a digital subscription to the Coloradoan today.