Drake-Atha takes place among historic properties in downtown Steamboat
Steamboat Springs officials announced Monday, April 10, that the Drake-Atha building at 734 Oak Street has been placed on the Steamboat Springs Register of Historic Places, joining a distinguished list of significant buildings.
“That really makes me happy because it’s such an interesting house, and the Athas have been such great stewards of the property,” said Arianthé Stettner, emeritus director with Historic Routt County.
She said the downtown property was nominated by Historic Routt County thanks to the Museum and Heritage Fund Advisory Board that oversees the Routt County property tax mill levy that helps the local museums and Historic Routt County.
Historic Routt County felt the property was significant because it is an example of a Craftsman bungalow home, a widely popular design in Steamboat Springs throughout the 1910s and 1920s. Southern California architecture firm Greene and Greene introduced the style in 1903, and it quickly spread throughout the country thanks to popular magazines and pattern books for builders. Lumberyards sold completely pre-cut packages of lumber and detailing for bungalows that would be shipped by rail to their destinations, including Steamboat Springs. Once there, the homes were assembled by local workers or the homeowners. Stettner could not say if the Drake-Atha residence was a kit home but said there is a high possibility.
“There were catalogs for the (kit houses) and lumber yards would sell either the catalogs that showed how to build your own bungalow, or they would sell the kit,” Stettner said. “For $500, the railroad would put all the parts on the train, and then bring them to the customer as far as the train would go. That house looks just like a kit house in one of the house kit catalogs of that day.”
Caitlin Berube-Smith, historic preservation planner, said this home’s importance goes beyond its cobblestone foundations, shed dormers and its gabled roof with wide overhanging eaves, and the decorative half-timbering and full porch with square columns.
“Aside from its architecture, it is also historically important, that kind of social history, that the place holds for us,” she said.
Frank D. Sharp, a well-known entrepreneur, purchased the vacant lot in downtown Steamboat Springs and built the home in 1915. According to a 1917 advertisement in the Steamboat Pilot, Sharp was a plumber by trade who also operated the Orpheum Theatre and owned a sawmill near Rabbit Ears Pass.
However, in 1918, Sharp sold the sawmill, sold the downtown home to Ralph and Delia Drake and moved from Steamboat Springs to work in the shipyards of Vancouver, Washington.
The new owners Ralph and Delia Drake were prominent cattle ranchers near Moon Hill along the Elk River north of Steamboat Springs, and used the bungalow as a winter home. They owned the parcel until 1928 when they moved to Nebraska.
After the Drakes left, the ownership changed hands a couple of times before Roy and Kathryn Hofstetter bought the home in 1932 Roy Hoftstetter was elected the County Assessor after World War II and the couple owned it until 1962.
In 1965, members of another well-established local ranching family, Robert and Amelia Selbe, purchased the property and owned it for another 30 years.
During that time, they started leasing the space to professional photographer Russ Atha in 1985, who used it for his on-mountain photography business, Hot Shots, and later moved his other concept, Photo Express House, from 11th Street to the Oak Street location.
Russ Atha and his wife Carol “Shine” Atha purchased the property from the Selbes in 1994 and ran Photo Express House out of the location until 2019 when they shut the doors.
“We did all the processing and printing there, but of course it is a different world now with the digital aspect of everything. It would be a whole different ballgame today, but that was then, and this is now,” Russ Atha said. “We ran it from there until 2019 when we finally realized that the digital world was just choking us … so, we finally decided to shut the processor down.”
Today, the building is home to the Community Agriculture Alliance. Russ Atha was thrilled the building has been included on the Steamboat Springs Register of Historic Places. The property already has historic designation from Routt County, but Russ Atha said being on the city’s historic register offers even more protection.
“We just wanted to upgrade it to get a better protection,” Russ Atha said. “We also just want to try to maintain some of the old feeling of town, and we have no good reason to develop that corner. In my view, the Community Agricultural Alliance is doing quite well, and we’re pleased with how things are working out.”
Other properties that have recently received historic designation from the city include the Light-Nolte home on Eighth Street in 2019, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 846 Oak St. in 2020 and Yampa Valley College at 813 Pine St. and 251 Eighth St. in 2019.
There are now 22 properties on the official Steamboat Springs registry as historic resources and seven listed as historic landmarks.
Stettner said resources are designated properties that have some protection and are mostly privately owned. Landmarks are properties that cannot be demolished, unless severely damaged in some way, and are all owned by the city.
“It’s a pretty cool thing when we do place a new property on the register, because it does not happen all that often.” said Caitlin Berube-Smith, historic preservation planner. “We want to encourage more residents and owners of commercial buildings to consider putting their property on the register, so it’s nice to celebrate.
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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