Sat 18 Oct 2014
One of the older cottages near this old house is undergoing major renovation, probably for the first time since it was built decades ago. To give you an idea of the age of the cottage, not only is it sitting on the ground, having no foundation similar to the situation here at this old house, but there is literally only eight inches between the ground and the floor of the bathroom, barely enough room for modern plumbing. The descendants of the original family quit using it after the parents died back in the 1980s. The parents would come and spend all summer, rolling up the living rug to host dances for friends. The mother was also famous for keeping a close eye on the community tennis court, making sure everyone observed Quiet Hours and throwing scofflaws, who tried to sneak in and play on it, off. After they could no longer come, the house would sit unused for months, even years, at a time. Occasionally the son would come, bringing his much younger second wife, but they were always too busy with their life out-of-state to come much. Someday, they always said, the wife was planning on coming up and spending lots of time in the house but the sad news is, she contracted early onset Alzheimer’s disease, ending “someday” for her. As none of her children nor the grandchildren of the original occupants cared much about the house or the community, it was sold.
A couple from California bought it. Lovely people and a nice addition to the community. They have been working carefully with the Landmarks Board so as to not transgress the rules of living in a National Historic Landmark area when it comes to remodeling. It will be interesting to see that house revived and upgraded in the months ahead. It is a delight even now to see lights on there when the new owners would be in residence and even the construction workers give it a look of “aliveness.” A constantly dark house is kind of depressing, kind of like someone who won’t join in the party.
I suspect that if any of the original owners of that house or even the original Boulder Chautauquans were to show up today, they would be quite surprised. First of all, all the original tents have all been replaced by wooden cottages. Parking has been an issue up here since Day 1 but now it is with cars instead of horses and wagons. The public latrines and shower house have been converted to cottages and the cottages that were below the Auditorium are all gone. There are still a few apple trees left from the old orchard and the original ranch house is still here, though significantly upgraded. Trees were practically non-existent 100 years ago; now there are towering pines everywhere. The Dining Hall is now a fancy restaurant instead of a cafeteria where the whole community ate three meals a day together. The programming in the Auditorium is not constant nor attended by the whole community on a daily basis. The park is lived in year-round instead of from July 4th to mid-September. The University of Colorado now handles continuing education for school teachers instead of the courses that were taught in the Academic Hall. The Community House is no longer for the community to use at will but rather is a high-priced rental for wedding, Bar Mitzvahs and smaller programs, like author talks. No one cares who uses the tennis court these days.
Much has changed since this old house was brought up from downtown Boulder somewhere around 1901 and the house undergoing renovation was brand new. As with most changes, some are good and necessary. The people who come here 116 years after the founding fathers and mothers arrived have very different needs and requirements. Lots of organized social activities and entertainment aren’t necessary any more as people don’t associate in groups as they used to and there is plenty of entertainment to be found elsewhere. In fact, many who come here use it simply as a “motel” and never really engage with nor care about the history and traditions. Quiet Hours in the summer absolutely baffle many people who come from a 24/7 world.
It is good that the cottages have been upgraded and the streets paved. I am thankful there is electricity and other city services that tie this old house into the grid of modern conveniences. But I do think something has been lost. When people who have no idea of what community really means are in charge of making decisions about a community, efficiency and bottom lines usually win the day. People are simply a nuisance on the road to “progress.” People who are invested in a place ask questions, point out faulty thinking, push back on plans that seem short-sighted. People coming for a night or two don’t care about the larger history of a place. As long as the bed is comfortable and the place clean, they don’t care about long-term strategies that weaken community.
In fact, long-term communities that go back for multiple generations are not often seen as assets in the historic preservation equation. That is a shame as it was the historic community that rose up in the 1970s and saved the Boulder Chautauqua from demolition. If it wasn’t for those people who pushed back against short-sighted policies and general neglect, I probably wouldn’t be sitting in this old house writing this.
And what applies to a small scale community also applies to larger entities: municipalities, counties, states, this nation. Please don’t be apathetic. Please make sure you vote in as informed a manner as you can. Believe me, it doesn’t take much to destroy a community or a democracy if people aren’t paying attention.