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History in the remaking

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Fourth Street building gets new life

By Sue Gray

Sopris Sun Correspondent

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A distinguished old dame with a checkered past recently had some major work done, in order to, in the words of construction specialist David Fischer, “bring her back to her former luster.”

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Fischer was the contractor chosen to renovate the building on 55 N. Fourth St. that private account manager Ron Speaker is leasing from Tom Bailey, who purchased it in 2001 through an LLC called Morningwood.

Speaker and Bailey have had a professional relationship for 27 years and they’ve been discussing what to do with the 115-year-old building since 2007 when Speaker moved from Denver to Carbondale. “When I saw the upstairs of the building I knew it could be something great,” said Speaker regarding the two-story brick structure, which until recently, housed the office of Jacober Brothers Construction and Crystal River Meats.

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When Speaker expressed interest in moving his Equus Private Wealth office from 225 Main Street to Bailey’s building, the two began working together to create a feasible plan for the renovation. They started by interviewing four or five structural engineers, some of whom declined the project outright, due to potential liability problems. “Anybody who considers a historic building renovation is worried about how bad it could turn out to be,” said Speaker, referring to the unknown variables involved in such a project. But structural engineer Ernie Kollar was eager for the opportunity to restore the building’s integrity, as was architect Danny Muse. David Fischer was hired as the general contractor because of his experience with heavy beams and old brick structures, and the renovation finally got underway in early 2013.

One of the first problems the construction crew encountered was a roof issue. The parapet, a short wall surrounding the perimeter of the roof that funnels rainwater, wasn’t working due to a buildup of materials from previous remodels. As a result, some areas of the roof and walls had severe water damage. In replacing the parapet, Speaker was faced with either throwing a new wall up on top of the old façade or trying to match the existing brick. He put the problem to the Carbondale Building Department’s Historic Preservation Committee, and said he really appreciated the help they gave him. Their advice was to let the building tell two stories: let what’s new be new, and don’t try to trick people into thinking the new parts were old.

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A storied past

The Preservation Committee listed the building as worthy of local landmark status in its 2006 Historic Survey. The original building was constructed in 1898 and through the years has hosted a variety of businesses. Early in the 20th century, during Carbondale’s rough and tumble days, Sheridan’s Saloon was located downstairs, while the upstairs was rumored to contain a brothel. During alcohol prohibition, the bar turned into an illegal “speakeasy.”

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Some Carbondale residents still remember when Guido Badgett, now age 101 and living in Grand Junction, ran a grocery store there in the 1940’s. Speaker met Badgett at a Mount Sopris Historical Society function last fall, and the conversation they had led Speaker to add some elements to the building that honored its past. For instance, the back entrance is an antique “speakeasy” door of the type that would’ve been used to admit select persons into a private bar during Prohibition.

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The downstairs lobby features a “cowboy whiskey bar” made of salvaged barn wood, backed by a large beveled edge mirror framed with carved wooden pieces of a fireplace salvaged from an upscale Aspen home. Much of the cabinetry, furniture, rugs, appliances, and even some of the barn wood came from Habitat For Humanity’s Restore.

Speaker’s personal love of barn wood is evident on walls throughout the building, but with a modern twist. The wood planks were installed horizontally instead of in the traditional vertical fashion.

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The interior remodel includes many other modern adaptations as well. Glass walls divide the upstairs office spaces, and a 10-year-old sub-zero refrigerator, purchased from the Restore, stands prominently in the fully appointed kitchen. Abiding by commercial lighting codes, Carter Electric supplied and installed LED ceiling lights. Speaker received rebates from CORE and CLEER for his compliance with environmental standards.

American Disability Act rules were followed in the construction of the large bathroom and shower. But Speaker was able to satisfy his desire for antique elegance with a large rectangular porcelain sink on wrought iron legs, purchased from Restoration Hardware, rather than the institutional wall-mounted type commonly found in ADA restrooms.

The key

The key to the structural save, according to Speaker, were massive 100-year-old beams provided by local salvage company Distinguished Boards and Beams, along with structural steel components that will enable the building to stand straight and square well into the future.

The front of the building now features a new entryway with wood and copper embellishments, and brick steps lead to a custom built front door. A new concrete sidewalk runs along the north side to an ADA ramp leading to the rear door. On the south side, a stairway was constructed to a second-floor entry located in the opening of a former window. Speaker is also going to refurbish the garden area on the south side of the building bordering the alley, and has already installed a wooden fence and planted several trees and shrubs.

There were challenges to be sure, but Speaker said he felt very supported by Carbondale Town Building Official John Plano and the Historic Preservation Committee throughout the whole process. He is also grateful to Bailey for partnering on the re-model, which allowed him to move and upgrade his office.

“I really feel fortunate to do this project with him,” said Speaker adding, “he loves the old place.”

Speaker believes the end result is worthwhile, and by example he hopes to inspire other such building renovations in Carbondale.

Mount Sopris Historical Society Director Beth White is thrilled with the renovation. Aside from general interest in preserving Carbondale’s history, White said there is an economic benefit as well. “Building renovation and preservation is being done in urban environments nationwide,” said White, “and it’s been shown to encourage tourism.”

In addition to functioning as his place of business, Speaker plans to use the first floor lobby as a gathering place for private parties, First Friday events, and art gallery showings, adding yet another chapter to the illustrious history of one of Carbondale’s original buildings.

(For more photos, please visit The Sopris Sun website at