When I was in high school, Denver’s Urban Renewal launched a project which included tearing down the old Tabor Grand Opera House, and grand it was right in the middle of downtown and it would be a crown jewel in the crown of downtown if the grand dame of theatres still stood. Old stage hands with whom I worked at the Auditorium Theatre, Central City Opera, and the Elitch Theatre told me that The Tabor Grand “had the finest grid of any theatre in Denver.” The grid was the rope drawn fly sets which could be lowered by stagehands pulling ropes for the canvas and wood backdrops for stage sets.
I sent a letter to the papers and The Denver Post printed it. I reminded my fellow Denverites that to lose the Tabor Grand would be a tragedy and a waste of resources to our city and a loss to our history. I suggested that we start a fund to save the grand old theatre. My letter was the only letter to appear in the papers. No group rallied, no historic preservationists came forward to save the theatre. The wrecking ball crashed in the walls lined with cherry wood from Japan, smashed the historic box seats, ripped out the best grid of all the theatres in Denver. City fathers called it progress.
Last week I attended the Colorado Preservation Inc lunch where Walter Sedovic, noted preservation architect from New York, spoke about what preservationists have to do to make sure that truly historic buildings are preserved. We have to connect conservation of infrastructure with the preservation movement. He chided the process used for federal ARRA moneys sent to cities for “shovel ready” and “cash for caulkers” projects. He reminded us we got lots of roads with a narrow focus on construction companies but not much in long term thoughtful sustainability. He asked the 900 preservationists, the largest preservation group among all the states, to demand more from the stimulus moneys, not just caulking. Preservation is being truly “green.”
Architect Sedovic then congratulated the metro region for having the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District. He thought this organization has done much to keep our cities resting in the flood plains of the great American Desert from flooding. I remembered we have had several 100 year floods in my short lifetime. He showed a slide of the Paris sewer system which welcomes tourists. And the Paris system still works today. He continued with an example of sustainability from Philadelphia, an old power plant which will be revived to provide power for the city. Ben Franklin designed the pipes going to and from the power plant.
He asked all to read Nicholai Ourossoff’s book, Reinventing America’s Cities which I hope our Denver Public Library has a copy. I can’t wait to read it.
Someone at the conference asked me, “Why should an auditor be so interested in historic preservation?” I told them, “Because it saves money when we can retool and use older buildings. That’s why.”