Staying True

To Crested Butte’s mining-era roots

By Katherine Nettles

rested Butte’s historic character might be considered as vibrant as ever, but that is no accident. As each new era of building trends comes and goes, it takes a lot of work to maintain a sense of cohesiveness in an ever-growing and changing area. Crested Butte’s Board of Zoning and Architectural Review, also known as BOZAR, has been an instrumental part of upholding the past and integrating it with the present since it was established in the 1970s. 

 Crested Butte was incorporated in 1880 and for more than 70 years it was primarily a coal-mining town. The Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation’s Big Mine operated above the Bench off Journey’s End Road and other mines nearby opened and closed over the years. Simple miners’ cabins were erected during that time, from 1880 through 1952, along with hotels, restaurants, a schoolhouse, the Company Store along Elk Avenue and Old Rock Jail on Second Street. While most homes were simple, some early buildings reflected more indulgent architectural features of the late 19th century era such as brick, stonework or ornamental wood trim details. The Big Mine closed in 1952, and the railroad tracks were torn out a few years later. 

“That’s a pretty significant time period for our town because a lot of people had to move away,” says Jessie Earley, Crested Butte  planner. That mining period of 1880 to 1952 became what is known as a period of significance for the town, which means structures created during that time are prioritized for preservation. 

In the 1960s a new era began to unfold with the development of the ski area. With that, the area saw many new waves of people with different lifestyles and building preferences.

The Crested Butte town council established a historic overlay district in 1972, and an early form of BOZAR. “This was the historic preservation and architectural control committee,” says Earley.

BOZAR was created not just for preserving old buildings but upholding design standards on new builds to ensure the town stayed true to its roots. 

In 1974, the town council designated the entire town as a local historic district due to its mining history, which gave BOZAR the authority to review any project within town. It also secured its National Register of Historic Places award.

The first design guidelines were put into place in 1994/1995 using a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. “This was in the days of napkin sketches at the bar. Now things have become more formal,” Earley says. 

The BOZAR guidelines in their current form have been amended a few times, and around the millennium BOZAR conducted an inventory on structures in town from the period of significance (1880-1952). This included the buildings themselves, any noteworthy features and why each entry had historic significance. 

In 2005, Crested Butte was awarded a Stephen H. Hart award through History Colorado, the state historical fund based on that survey, for preservation of outbuildings. “They recognized our stance that all our historic buildings were important,” says Earley. “That includes our focus on sheds, outhouses and all those funky little buildings we have in our alleys.” She notes that about 33 buildings around town received plaques in 2009 to honor their place in history, thanks to the hard work of Molly Minneman, Crested Butte’s previous principal planner. 

CB style

One of BOZAR’s long-standing members is interior designer Roxana Alvarez Marti, who also owns RA Modern design studio and fine art gallery on Third Street near the corner of Elk Avenue. 

“I took an interest because I thought it would help me learn more about historic preservation and understand the regulations of the town. It seemed symbiotic with my work, and I’ve learned a lot being there,” she says.

Marti describes the town’s historic architectural character with two prevailing characteristics from the mining era: Georgian and practical. 

“There were practical architectural forms that worked in this place, and then the elements that people wanted to emulate, whether Victorian or Georgian—some people who immigrated here were eastern European so they brought that with them. The vernacular of town is a practical adaptation to the climate and the heritage of the people who came here.”

Then there is scale. “People were building their own homes, and often with their own hands,” says Marti. “And materials were limited, so you couldn’t build an opulent home. We were a coal mining town, not a silver or gold mining town so people were not that wealthy. People used more timber, and very little stone (The Old Rock library and jailhouse are exceptions), and they occasionally used metal details. Structures were built simply, small in size, and with some references to European architectural as decorative features.”

“CB Funk” 

Marti says what many refer to as “CB Funk” encompasses the renovations made by miners to their own homes. “They did some wacky things to their houses. And then in the 1970s there were no regulations so people were building whatever they wanted.” That includes a lot of boxy homes that were meant to maximize space.  “The current guidelines do push toward less density in mass than what you saw in the 1970s and ‘80s. Some of the buildings are important to the housing needs of the community, and have utilitarian purposes. BOZAR makes sure they still have some relationship to our architectural vernacular,” says Marti.

Holding the line

BOZAR is made up of seven community members, and two members rotate into a Design Review Committee that meets twice per month beforehand to preview projects and provide feedback. This ensures better applicant successes and strives to keep the BOZAR meetings more efficient. 

The town is a certified local government, which oversees what BOZAR does through the state, and therefore must meet certain requirements, submit the minutes from all BOZAR meetings and report to the state every year on how many historic projects and new builds have been reviewed, how qualified board members are within the industry and more. “It’s tricky for us in a small town. We have architects and engineers on our board but it’s a little more difficult to find someone that is specialized like a preservation architect or archeologist that also lives in town,” says Earley. 

BOZAR reviews every new home or remodel project in CB, which averages up to six projects each month as well as more minor changes such as a window replacement or new signage within the commercial district. “There’s a lot of layers to historic designations. If in renovating a historic building someone alters too much, particularly the exterior of the building, then it can fall out of the national historic district designation. And if there are too many buildings that fall out of the that designation, then the town can lose its status as a historic district. That’s sort of what the purpose of the board is, to keep things from flying away too fast,” says Marti.

 The BOZAR guidelines are also there to serve growth. “The guidelines tend to be about maintaining the historic character of the town. As new neighborhoods are built out the idea is that they can still reflect the character so the town feels cohesive. There’s federal, and then even local regulations around that. Maybe the land has been altered but for us it’s still a historic part of the town,” says Marti.

Another potential era the town is interested in preserving for its historical significance is the period from 1950-1972, which is dubbed the ski era. “Many of those buildings have been torn down already. But there are a few structures from that time that are unusual and unique,” says Marti. 

Allowing room for contemporary 

Marti says she understands that sometimes people find BOZAR to be challenging architecturally, particularly around roof lines and windows which are required to be preserved in historic homes and to fit an established style if they are new.

 “There’s a little bit of a misunderstanding about what we do with architectural guidelines versus codes and the building department,” she says. 

“In the absence of an architectural review board, guidelines are there to prevent bad architecture from happening. Sometimes guidelines create bad architecture, too. …it’s an unintended consequence. So it matters how quickly that shift can happen. There can be some small changes that allow the architectural language to free itself in the contemporary builds,” she says, allowing for present aesthetics to integrate. “That makes some people nervous,” she concedes. “And certainly there’s a conversation there that we should be having, all the time.”

Marti says the most fulfilling aspect of BOZAR’s work has been collaborating for bigger projects such as the Crested Butte Center for the Arts and preserving so many structures. 

“I think as a board we’ve done a really good job of being stewards of historical assets. And the way we’ve managed the infill—the new builds that are going in the historic core. Those fitting into the existing character of our historic core has been, I think, our greatest success.”