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Historic Boulder House At A Crossroads

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The house at 2118 Goss Circle in Boulder. (credit: Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera)

The house at 2118 Goss Circle in Boulder. (credit: Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera)

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) – The house at 2118 Goss Circle is tiny, just 556 square feet, and even in 1929, tax documents described it as being in “poor condition.”

It was also home to former slaves who were among Boulder’s first black residents, and one of the few remaining examples of a folk style of architecture they brought with them from the South as they sought new opportunities in the West.

In March, the Boulder Landmarks Board put a stay on a request for a demolition permit for the home, and it has asked the potential buyer and historic preservationists to work together to see if some portion of the home can be saved.

The stay is in effect through July, but the Landmarks Board might decide to lift it earlier. If it does, there will be a public hearing on the demolition request.

Boulder preservation staff members had recommended allowing the demolition.

“It’s a tough one because it’s a very interesting property and it’s in that Little Rectangle neighborhood,” Historic Preservation Planner James Hewat said. “But when we looked at the condition and the amount of historic material that had been replaced, it seemed like it had lost a lot of its historic integrity.”

The Landmarks Board voted 3-1 in March to put a stay on the demolition permit. Kirsten Snobeck voted against the stay.

Landmarks Board Chairman Mark Gerwing, who supported the stay, said the home may not have much architectural value, but it has enormous cultural value.

“It seems obvious to save the big family houses, but there’s also the question of saving more typical working-class housing,” he said. “But those smaller homes get changed the most, so they lose their historical integrity.”

Gerwing said the board isn’t calling for the house to be saved at all costs or in its current condition. Perhaps the most historically significant part of the house could be saved and incorporated into a new, larger home, or perhaps historic preservation groups will want to raise money to buy the home instead.

“Anything can be renovated, but it’s a question of cost,” he said. “We’re trying to balance the community’s interest in historic preservation with property rights.”

The home lies in the neighborhood formerly known as the Little Rectangle, bounded by Canyon Boulevard, Goss Circle, 19th Street and 23rd Street. At the time it was settled, the land was less expensive because it was on the outskirts of town and prone to flooding.

Two other homes in the Little Rectangle have received landmark status, the home of Ruth Cave Flowers, a Boulder lawyer and educator who was raised here by her grandmother and was an early black graduate of the University of Colorado, and the home of musician John Wesley McVey.

According the reports prepared by city preservation staff members, many of the homes had a “hall and parlor” folk style of architecture that is more common in the South, where many of Boulder’s black pioneer families had their origins.

Black families also lived in other parts of Boulder, but during the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan was politically powerful, Boulder became more segregated.

Dan Corson, a former Boulder councilman who now works for History Colorado, said the second and even third homes built on properties in the 1900 block of Goss are an artifact of discrimination, as the grown children of Boulder’s first black families couldn’t get homes outside the neighborhood.

According to the city report, the earliest recorded residents of the house were Frank and Lulu Hall. Frank Hall was a porter in a saloon, and Lulu Hall washed clothes.

Frank Hall’s parents, James and Martha Hall, were two of Boulder’s earliest black residents, arriving in 1876. James Hall was a former slave and a Civil War veteran who joined the Union Army in Kansas.

Corson said there isn’t definitive proof, but it’s likely that James Hall built the small home for his son and his new family.

Too poor to hire contractors, many of the Goss Street families built their own homes. The Ruth Cave Flowers home was built by an elderly woman and her two teenage granddaughters, one of whom was Ruth Flowers.

“There is no proof of that, but these homes were probably built by former slaves,” said Corson, who has written about the area.

Another former slave, Emily Ewing, born in Kentucky in 1818, lived in the home from 1901 until her death in 1911. The house was repossessed in 1908 and was vacant at least from 1916 to 1932, the report said.

The 1929 tax assessment characterized the home as being in “poor condition” and “salvage only.” Yet starting in the 1930s, it was frequently rented to laborers and porters and their families.

Manuel and Julie Avalos bought the home in 1963 and lived in it briefly before turning it back into a rental.

The Avaloses still own the home today, but the demolition permit was sought by Mark Riegel, who lives nearby in the 1700 block of Grove Street. According to city officials, he wants to buy the property and build a larger single-family home there.

Riegel and Steve Anderson, his real estate agent, spoke in favor of the demolition permit at the Landmarks Board hearing.

If nothing else, Corson said, the controversy around 2118 Goss Circle will raise awareness of this piece of Boulder’s past.

“Part of the reason for local landmark ordinances like Boulder has is to preserve the places that are important either in terms of architecture, the people who lived there, or the socio-economic trends,” he said. “If that portion could be saved, that might be a good way to start a discussion.”

- By ERICA MELTZER, The Daily Camera

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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