Carl McWilliams, of the consulting firm Cultural Resource Historians hired by the town in 1986, explained the process to the Telluride Town council on Tuesday. Such a survey is important not only in town planning, said McWilliams, but as a tool for improving public awareness of Telluride as an historic district. The survey consists of approximately 320 historic properties. For each property, a Colorado Cultural Resource Form is filled out. The form includes an architectural description, black-and-white photos of all visible sides of the building, a construction history, historic background of the building’s uses and inhabitants, a statement of historic significance and a statement of “historical integrity,” a term used by the state parks service in evaluating historic buildings and districts. The seven questions used in determining historical integrity are set up to allow subjectivity by the evaluator. For McWilliams it comes down to a simple question. “Would someone from the past [when the building was built] still recognize the building?”
Councilmember Chris Myers asked if the survey was similar to the 1986 survey being used today, which consisted of roughly one double-sided page per building. Yes, said McWilliams, but this survey will be much more in depth, with the examination of each building including not only a physical visit, but in many cases conversations with owners, a review of historic governmental records, research at the Telluride Historical Museum and a search of historic newspaper archives. There are now 50 fields of interest for each building, he pointed out, compared to 20 in the 1986 survey.
Mayor Stu Fraser asked if the survey so far showed a significant degradation of historic properties that might threaten Telluride’s historic status. While McWilliams agreed that some loss of historic structures had occurred, he was not prepared to say that the town’s status would be in jeopardy, explaining that views of historic preservation change over time, and that today’s preservation societies acknowledge the importance of historic structures remaining useful today.
Shrinking an historic district, said Fraser, was a tactic sometimes used to preserve a district’s rating, and wondered if that would be appropriate for Telluride. While Telluride has a large district, McWilliams replied, many of the building in outlying areas of town have nice integrity and add to the attraction of Telluride as an historic district.
While concern over the possible loss of historic status is understandable, McWilliams said, it is not in the town’s best interest for him to voice a strong opinion about the town’s overall historic standing either way. CRH’s contract calls for a historic survey, and the ultimate decision regarding the town’s rating would remain with the National Park Service, regardless of its opinion.
In the end, most council members and public in attendance expressed enthusiasm about the survey, not only as a planning tool and marketing resource, but as a means of connection to Telluride’s past. It is also a great way “to see if we are achieving the goals we set out,” said Fraser.
A specific due date was not set for the final report, but it is expected by the end of the year.