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Not Olde. Historic.

When you have a 'historic planner', anything is possible

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 22, 2006.

A noted playwright towards the end of her life once mentioned that being married to an archeologist had its decided upside. Among other things, she thought he found her of more professional interest the older she got. Actually, Agatha Christie didn’t know the half of it. At some point in the near future, old codgers will cease being elderly, annuity challenged, physically thwarted, or even barking dog bonkers, like me. They will be historic, and after a brief ceremony given a plaque to wear around their necks and everything will be free. Sorta.

Of course, to maintain that status, they’ll have to dress in the clothing styles of their peak years in their youth, and all wardrobe must be approved in advance by an elected or appointed committee of good-hearted citizens. The historic geezer can listen only to that music of his youth, and use no language construct that isn’t fifty years in the past. But, movies, doctor care, and liquor will be free. Historic, ya know? Old. And young people can take in the life and the sensibilities of that bygone era just listening to them endlessly babble on about the Beatles and the ERA and the damned hippies, and teenagers, a perennial favorite. And how hot Jim Morrison was, and Mary Travers. Really, and in the remote chance anyone cared they have old album jackets handy, and with trembling finger and rapid breath elbow their young friends with “See? A babe. Tell me that’s not a babe. Eh? Eh?”

This sounds, and is, really stupid but it’s not much more stupid than the intermediary step now in place: committees who designate Historic Districts and historic structures. About 99% of what is called “historic” by those cute little plaques isn’t remotely, it’s just old. A short bio of the property and area will reveal that, in reality, it isn’t even that old, but has been fixed up and rebuilt numerous times, and maybe not with authentic period architecture. Before it becomes historic, it was probably run down. Someone wanted a tax break if they fix it up. Someone wants their property value to go up if the dilapidated home next door is fixed and painted. It’s not about the history, it’s about the money. Don’t fool yourself.

I come from New England. I know historic. Historic is Faneuil Hall. Historic is the Charles W. Morgan in Mystic, which my great grandfather John Layton briefly captained. Historic is Bunker Hill, Walden, Concord Green. I’ve been to Europe. Historic is Westminster Abby. Notre Dame. Checkpoint Charley. Auschwitz.

I’ve been down South, and out here in the West. Historic is the Alamo, Eatonville, Wounded Knee, and the Brown Palace. Historic is not the birthplace of Randy Travis, George Wallace, the store where some female country singer bought her first cervical shield, the place where James Dean died, or Jimmy Swaggert had a drunken fist fight.

Much of New Orleans, Santa Fe, and St. Augustine are historic. The site of Bent’s Fort is as well. And absolutely nothing in the city of Boulder is. Get real, folks.

I say this because the Boulder City Council approved a new historic district on University Hill last night. And voted to keep St. Thomas Aquinas Church within it, despite objections from church leaders. Why? The Church wants to tear down some buildings which are correctly viewed as merely old. Now, they’re not old. They’re historic. And nothing in the Kama Sutra will be more painful and pointless for a simple goal than the bureaucratic horror the church will have to go through to expand.

As the attorney for the church pointed out, the Council had to determine whether there was a compelling public interest in making the historic designation. There is none, of course, and that was fine with the City, which said they’d worry about it when the Church tries to expand under the designation.

A gentleman described as “a city historic planner” – I mean, think about that, “historic planner?” - said 79 percent of the buildings in the proposed district contribute to its historic character. That may be. What is historic character, and why is it important? When it comes down to it, it’s the fallback position. Merely old. Some thought it important that children a half century down the pike could walk around in this area to see what Boulder once, and would still, look like. Really? Why?

But this is all smoke and mirrors. What the homeowners in favor of the designation want is a hammer to reduce the Hill’s liquor establishments into family oriented restaurants. This of course, won’t work since there’s no parking and 20k wannabe inebriates literally across the street looking for fun. And when University Hill continues its free fall with tax revenues, the City might not favor this capitulation soon enough. The only alternative is regular confrontation in the courts with the parents of the frat boys who are, at base, the entire problem here. After all, if they really want their grand kids to see what Boulder looked like, who’s going to play the part of the numerous drunks, drug dealers, Rainbow People, and latchkey punks hanging around? They want to create a pretend Boulder of the past now that their own partying days are gone. Somehow, it’s not petty politics; it’s history for the future. Won’t someone think of the children?