Astor House sits empty on its 150th

No plans in near future to reopen one of Golden’s historic buildings

Posted 10/3/17

The Astor House will not be sold or demolished — but what will become of the 150-year-old building at 822 12th St. in Golden is uncertain.

Golden City Council “affirmed its desire to keep the property,” said Nathan Richie, director of the …

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Astor House sits empty on its 150th

No plans in near future to reopen one of Golden’s historic buildings

Posted

The Astor House will not be sold or demolished — but what will become of the 150-year-old building at 822 12th St. in Golden is uncertain.

Golden City Council “affirmed its desire to keep the property,” said Nathan Richie, director of the Golden History Museums. But “as for what will be at the Astor House, it’s still unclear.”

In April, consultants began a feasibility study on the potential of turning the Astor House into a beer museum.

Consultants were tasked with creating a beer museum concept that hit four objectives, Richie said. The objectives were: First, maintain the Astor House as a public museum; second, for the Astor House to have a broadly appealing subject matter that relates to Golden history; third, to preserve the historic integrity; and finally, that the Astor House be financially self-sustaining.

The results found that a beer museum would be quite feasible in terms of hitting all four objectives, Richie said, but the Astor House is much too small to host it.

The building is roughly 3,000 square feet. Once the size limitations were recognized for the beer museum, the consultants still continued with the study and designed a 7,000-square-foot addition in the backyard to bring it to a total of 10,000 square feet. This design included space for a gift shop, elevator, catering kitchen, restrooms and other features, Richie said. But, it would have cost about $5 million to construct it.

In addition, “it didn’t seem to fit the character of the space,” Richie said. “It didn’t seem to be the best thing for the Astor House and the community, or a beer museum.”

Still, the study was a worthwhile endeavor, Richie said, because it was the first time for any feasibility study to be done on the Astor House. Additionally, it proved that the Astor House is an inadequate space for any sort of stand-alone museum.

The earliest that any additional discussion on the Astor House may take place is later this fall or early winter, said Golden City Manager Jason Slowinski.

There are nominal dollars budgeted for maintenance, Slowinski added, but “any additional expenditures needed for remodeling or renovation have not been budgeted at this point in time, until we have a more definitive direction as to the future use of Astor House.”

Prior to doing the feasibility study, public input was gathered to understand what the community thought about the Astor House being turned into a beer museum, Richie said. Outreach included more than 30 public presentations and a survey. The survey found 60 percent of respondents strongly in favor of pursuing the beer museum idea, and 20 percent mostly in favor of it, Richie said. There were a few vocal critics, he added, but there was also a lot of interest. In fact, Richie said, a handful of private developers have expressed interest in the project, but want to do it somewhere other than the Astor House.

Grant to fund documentary

Whatever becomes of the Astor House should bring out the best in its historical potential, said local historian Rick Gardner.

“It must be based on a full community consensus and have its complete support,” he said. The Astor House “should be something the whole community will be proud of.”

Recently, the Golden History Museums received a $25,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent federal agency, to create a short documentary about the Astor House, Richie said. The documentary will include its preservation and its meaning to the community. It is expected that the film will be finished in time to show it at the newly renovated Golden History Museum, 923 10th St., next year.

The Astor House, which is owned by the city and operated by the Golden History Museums, has been a business in Golden for 150 years, Richie said. “Its story is one of change.”

Like many other historic houses across the U.S., the Astor House has been struggling to make it as a stand-alone museum for quite some time, Richie said.

For the past decade, it saw only about 2,000 visitors annually, he said. And it cost $38 in operation fees per visitor, in exchange for the $3 admission fee, Richie added.

“We knew we had to do something with the business,” he said. The history museums “never intended to open the Astor House as it was.”

The museums will continue to work with city council “to find the right way forward” for the Astor House, Richie said.

Golden Mayor Marjorie Sloan said she was a little ambivalent about having a beer museum at the Astor House because of the popularity of the downtown area as it is.

The consultant’s discoveries “made the decision easier,” Sloan said.

However, the Astor House is a part of Golden’s historical heritage, she said, and it needs to be protected and preserved in a way that is a right fit for both the Astor House and the town.

“It’s important to remind people who live in Golden, and those who visit Golden, of the great legacy of our town,” Sloan said.

The Astor House has been closed since September 2015 for it to undergo a major rehabilitation and preservation project, which cost approximately a half-million dollars. Rehabilitation included recreating the back yard and stabilizing the structure — retaining walls and ensuring the foundation. Asbestos was discovered in vast areas of the Astor House during renovation, forcing removal of much of the interior. This included removing the HVAC system and removing the walls’ plaster coatings and wallpaper. The asbestos abatement was completed in May 2016.

However, “we discovered some cool items during the structural rehab,” Richie said, “including mess hall forks, a beer bottle opener, a soap dish, comb and most interestingly, the signature block of the builder and designer.”

The items are already on display at the Golden History Museum.

First ad ran in 1867

On Sept. 11, 1867, The Transcript published the Astor House’s first ad, proclaiming it was open for business as a hotel. At that time, it was owned and operated by Seth Lake. It was rented to other proprietors for a period of time until Ida Goetz, a widowed German immigrant, bought it in 1892.

It served as a boardinghouse well into the 20th century, Gardner said, but as part of urban renewal efforts, in 1971, the Astor House was targeted to be destroyed to become a parking lot. Thus, the Golden Landmarks Association was formed, primarily, to save the Astor House.

In June 1972, Golden residents voted and 69 percent favored saving the Astor House.

“The Golden Landmarks Association wanted to save the Astor House both for its own historic importance as a frontier hotel from territorial times, and as a representative of that important era of our history — a time when Golden was Colorado’s capitol,” Gardner said. “Without the Golden Landmarks Association, there would be no Astor House today.”

The city values and appreciates the citizen and resident contributions that saved the Astor House, Sloan said, calling it a standing tribute to the group’s efforts.

“The community is invested in the Astor House, and it has a lot of potential as a public asset,” said Bill Litz, president of the Golden Landmarks Association.

But, he added, “it has to be able to sustain itself on some level, or it won’t be here in another 150 years.”

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