Along with many other similar museums across the country, the Astor House is facing a challenge.
The “Astor House, as a cultural entity, is at a crossroads,” said Nathan Richie, director of the Golden History Museums. “How do we make it a …
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The “Astor House, as a cultural entity, is at a crossroads,” said Nathan Richie, director of the Golden History Museums. “How do we make it a broadly appealing destination that locals and visitors both love?”
Attendance at the Astor House been at a decline for at least the past decade, Richie said.
“If the city wants to keep it open as a public amenity, it has to have broader appeal,” he said. Once the structural work is complete, it wouldn’t be a wise use of the Astor House to open it as it was before, he added. It’s “not a viable option.”
So currently, the Golden History Museums, which manages the city-owned Astor House located at 822 12th St. in downtown Golden, is in the process of reassessing what can be done at the historic building.
At a July 21 meeting of city council, Richie presented the most recent idea for the Astor House — a beer museum.
A beer museum would accomplish a number of things, Richie said. It would preserve the building and celebrate the history of Golden, he said. Plus, he added, beer is a broadly appealing topic and the museum would most likely be economically viable.
Because it was a study session meeting, city council did not vote on the idea. But councilmembers did voice their initial thoughts and/or concerns.
The Astor House is aesthetically appealing, and it should be a place that people want to go back to, said councilor Saoirse Charis-Graves. She would like to see the Astor House “be the gem that people talk about.”
Councilor Marcia Claxton added that she was “intrigued” by an idea to turn the Astor House into a national boarding house museum, which was one idea that came about early on in the reassessment process.
“You don’t want to lose the history of the house to a beer museum,” Claxton said.
The sustainability of the Astor House — no matter what form it takes — is “really important,” Mayor Pro Tem Joe Behm said, of which all councilmembers agreed.
“This is a valuable resource in our community,” said Rod Tarullo, Golden’s director of parks and recreation. He added he expects a lot of different reactions from the community concerning the beer museum idea.
Councilmembers asked Richie to provide them with further information, including an understanding of what the draw to a beer museum would be and how it would affect other amenities in the city such as parking, the buildout cost and more about sustainability.
Concerning the Astor House, nothing is a definite decision as of yet, Richie said. Right now, the history museums is gathering feedback on both the feasibility and favorability of a beer museum.
And “there absolutely will be a community input process,” Tarullo said.
Some community members already have some major concerns about turning the Astor House into a beer museum.
There are already enough attractions surrounding beer in Golden, said resident Judy Denison.
Furthermore, “the uniqueness of the Astor House was that it represented a fixture of previous times — the boarding house,” Denison said. “It was interesting to step into another era and see how people lived then. It was our only opportunity to do so in Golden.”
But that opportunity “has been destroyed,” she said, referring to recent changes to the property.
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 on May 6, and the Astor House is now in the construction phase of the project, including stabilizing the structure.
The items within the Astor House also went through a deaccession process. According to Richie, deaccession is normal protocol — and the city’s designated process approved by city council in 2014 — to improve a museum’s collection.
Everything inside the Astor House was analyzed, Richie said. Deliberate decisions were made to keep items that had specific ties to Golden and to get rid of the rest that did not have historic accuracy or value.
A few items went to the cabins in the history park in Golden, off-site storage, other educational institutions and the Arvada Historical Society, Richie said. Everything else went to auction.
About $10,000 was made from the auction, Richie said, and the proceeds went into a special fund that can only be used for direct care of items already in the collection or to purchase new artifacts.
Some community members disagree with the decision that the items were auctioned off. The argument is that it was done clandestinely — dozens of Golden residents donated the items and the donors had no notice, and were not able to get their stuff back.
“They should have alerted the citizens that they were preparing to do that,” said Gene Child, a longtime Golden resident and one of the organizers of the Golden Landmarks Association, a nonprofit historic preservation organization founded in 1972. The museums “need to be more accountable for what they do.”
Richie said that in the future the Golden History Museums will notify the public of any future decisions to sell or donate items.
Richie said no matter what the museum becomes, it needs to change into “a more sustaintable and appealing destination.”
“Part of the attraction of visiting a museum is the experience,” he said, and added that changing Astor House has “been the plan to change it for a long time.”
The Astor House should remain as a museum that illustrates Golden’s past, Child said. Any community needs to maintain a connection to its history, he added.
The “Astor House is one of the few remaining visible connections” in Golden, Child said. “It’s a matter of community identity.”
A $200,000 grant offered by the State Historical Fund was turned down in the spring because it would have “bound our hands on what we could do” with the Astor House, Richie said.
“It became clear that the Astor House has limitless possibilities,” he said. Accepting the grant would have put “a lot of restrictions on viability.”
The national boarding house idea is still a good idea, Tarullo said.
And, he added, “there may be other ideas that we haven’t thought of.”
The rehabilitation of the Astor House alone costs approximately a half a million dollars, Richie said, and is on track to wrap up sometime near the holidays. There is no reopening date for the museum, pending a decision about its future.
The Astor House is “a real asset to the community,” Richie said. “We’re not going to tear it down. We’re investing in its future.”
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