Column: Historic Preservation Turns 50 in Arvada!

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The celebration of the Arvada Historical Society’s 50th anniversary this month provides an opportune time to reflect on the role played by the organization and its partners in the preservation of historically significant and important sites in the community.

Arvada’s rapid growth and development over the past five decades would probably astound the town’s founders, who at the same time might very well be pleased by those local landmarks that the community has managed to preserve.

These are the places that give Arvada its distinctive character and identity and differentiate it from surrounding suburban communities in ways that enhance the community’s quality of life.  

Historic Olde Town Arvada is the local place to start in reviewing preservation progress because it remains the historic heart of the community — in part because many organizations have worked hard to make it so. One of the first preservation successes was the completion of a historic property survey in Olde Town that set the stage for future efforts. This survey led to the designation of the Arvada Downtown Historic District and the adjacent Stocke-Walter and Reno Park historic districts. In tangent with this effort, a system of interpretive panels tied to a walking tour brochure highlighted the individual building’s histories and architectural character and helped build pride in their preservation.

This recognition spurred incentives for rehabilitation of historic facades through eligible funding sources such as the History Colorado State Historical Fund, the City of Arvada’s Community Development Block Grant funding, the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority, and other sources, all matched at some level by private property reinvestment. The development of design guidelines for all new development, as well as for the redevelopment of historic properties, has been mostly successful in preserving the overall identity of the historic district, despite significant pressures.

None of this should be taken for granted and ongoing vigilance is necessary to protect these historic assets that while mostly privately owned, are valued as community assets. The Arvada Historical Society has played this advocacy role with vigilance over the years and led the way with their own preservation projects such as the McIlvoy House and the Arvada Flour Mill Museum. The preservation of the iconic water tower in Olde Town, by the City of Arvada, also remains a visible symbol of the community’s historic and ongoing identity.

More broadly out in the community, there are other important landmarks that have been preserved, ranging from the Haines Log Cabin on display at the Arvada Center for the Arts & Humanities, the Churches Ranch Barn and Ranch House, and more recently, Denver Tramway Streetcar #.04. The streetcar, commonly known as the Arvada Trolley, was placed on Colorado’s Most Endangered Places List in 2015 and has been beautifully preserved and now awaits the development of its display site, also in Olde Town.

Also listed on the endangered places list was Ralston Cemetery, which was championed by a local high school student who convinced the City of Arvada to step up maintenance of the site, which is now officially declared a save. The city also championed the preservation of the Allen House on West 64th Avenue, and the Enterprise Grange Hall #25and the Moore Farm, both on 72nd Avenue. 

Much of this preservation activity, and the many players involved, is well documented by the Arvada Historical Society in several books, oral histories, and in the society’s rich archives which continue to provide guidance for historic property owners in how to preserve their properties. Preservation is not about freezing a place in time but is rather a thoughtful process of building a future with history.

Arvadans should be proud of these efforts and should join the Arvada Historical Society in celebrating and ensuring the continuation of this preservation legacy.

Kim Grant is director of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places for Colorado Preservation, Inc. (CPI), a statewide historic preservation advocacy, education, and technical services organization that works with Colorado communities to build a future with historic places. Colorado’s Most Endangered Places is celebrating it’s 25th anniversary in 2022.  

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