In its 141 years of statehood, Colorado has seen booms and busts, dramatic migrations and rapid change. Protecting the architectural heritage of the state—the physical remnants of its past—is a lofty goal, but one that Colorado Preservation, Inc (CPI) aims to accomplish through its Colorado’s Most Endangered Places list.
Published annually, CPI’s Most Endangered List seeks to bring awareness around and to facilitate assistance for saving historically significant places within the state that are in danger of being lost. Since the list’s inception in 1997, 117 unique places have been named to the list. Of these, 43 have been designated as saved, which Endangered Places Director Kim Grant described as meaning “that there is no imminent threat to their existence, but they are still kept on the list.” Besides the saved designation, there are also the categories of in-progress, wherein the spaces are on their way to being saved and are less worrisome, and alert — the most pressing categorization—meaning that the spaces could potentially be lost. Unfortunately, not all spaces can be saved, but since the list’s inception, only seven places have been lost to time.
The list is open to nominations, and CPI welcomes a diverse array of spaces. “We aim to save a wide variety [of places] that tell the story of Colorado,” said Grant. He discussed how the spots that land on the list all add to the collective story of Colorado, that they seek to “find a little bit of history in everything.” The myriad of places nominated are all marked as historically important depending on the specific building and its context.
Nominations are accepted throughout the year (the 2019 list deadline is August 20) and each is assigned a personal reviewer who conducts a site visit and follows up with the nominator. In October, CPI moderators get together to hash out recommendations for sites. By December, the CPI board members make the final decisions on which locations get added to the next year’s list, but the decisions are kept under wraps until the organization’s Saving Places Conference in Denver in early February.
The spaces added to the list vary widely in terms of building style, significance and location. The diversity of the list represents the holistic, encompassing approach to preserving history that CPI believes in. Places that have been put on the list range from the neon signs of Colfax, to grand 19th-century opera houses and even entire neighborhoods. The 2018 list featured the Doyle Settlement, a mid 19th century cemetery and schoolhouse; the 1920’s Tarryall-Cline Ranch in Park county, the turn-of-the-century Elk Creek Octagon & Barn at Shaffer’s Crossing and the underground entrances of downtown buildings throughout the state.
With Colorado’s booming growth comes encroachment throughout the state’s historic neighborhoods, but the threat to historic buildings isn’t only development. While along the Front Range developmental pressure often threatens buildings—in other portions of the state—threats range from weather and climate in the mountains, lack of appreciation in urban settings and neglect and abandonment in Colorado’s rural communities. While sites are found throughout the state, Grant expressed a wish for more nominations from the Northwest and Northeast portions of Colorado, as to bring awareness to rural areas that receive little attention from the population centers of the Front Range.
It is a clear focus on awareness that spearheads CPI and the Most Endangered List’s mission. While Grant notes that huge strides have been made in historic preservation in the state, with the state historical fund being a major source for the CPI’s work — as well as historical preservation tax credits — there are still major threats to historical sites. In this way, the Most Endangered list functions both as a practical means of helping to save sites but also as a way of crafting awareness for historical places that might not receive the attention they deserve. Grant believes the preservation of Colorado’s historical landscape is important to the average Coloradan. “They are concerned about the pace of change in the state — people want some kind of tangible connection to the past—they want to be proud of the built environment,” he said. Via the Most Endangered List, citizens can not only directly attempt to save historical sites, but can gain valuable insight into specific sites that need help.
For those that wish to help, Grant recommends talking to or volunteering with local historical societies and preservation groups within one’s community. Beyond recommending sites for the list, he also suggests that those interested should reach out to CPI in general for volunteer opportunities, and should seek to engage with the media. CPI can only do so much, it takes the motivation and mobilization of communities themselves to save Colorado’s threatened historical sites, through the Most Endangered List, however, Coloradans can get a glimpse into the state’s past and the sites that require immediate action. Discussing the difficulty of the organization’s mission, and the multitude of spaces already lost in the formation of modern Colorado, Grant emphasized. “We can’t save them all, but we can save the rest of the lot.”