Owners of historic F.M. Light house propose remodel to dismay of local historians
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Proposed changes to one of Steamboat Springs’ most iconic historic homes have created a quandary for local historians.
The current owners of the F.M. Light House, once home to the founder of Steamboat’s oldest business F.M. Light & Sons, have submitted plans for an expansive addition and partial demolition of the structure. While the city’s Historic Preservation Commission voted not to grant approval to the project Wednesday, the owners are still able to proceed as planned.
Because the home is eligible to be placed on the Steamboat Springs Register of Historic Places, it is mandatory for any alterations of the property to be reviewed by the city’s Preservation Commission; however, the committee does not carry regulatory power and can only provide recommendations.
Located at 204 Park Ave., the home is named after Francis Marion Light, commonly known as F.M. Light, and was built in 1905 by Tom and Elmer Baer. The home is 1 1/2 stories, located on a small hill and designed in Edwardian Vernacular style, with a steeply pitched roof of irregular shape.
The late Diane Light Parnell, granddaughter of F.M. Light, and her husband, Gerald, inherited the home upon F.M.’s death and worked to get it added to historic registers in the early ’90s. At that time, the city’s register did not exist, which is generally believed why it wasn’t placed on the Steamboat register.
The home was, however, designated a historic site in June 1993 by the Routt County Board of Commissioners and, a year later, placed onto the state’s historic register.
“This is a tough one, because it’s such a historic landmark for the city,” said Erica Hewitt, a consultant with the city that reviewed the design plan. “The significance and integrity of the existing historic property as well as the notoriety of being on the state and county registers make this review particularly challenging.”
This property is historically significant for its association with Light, one of Steamboat’s first and most successful businessmen, and for its distinctive characteristics. Rock from the Emerald Mountain quarry was used for the home’s basement foundation and walls. The lime used in the mortar was produced at a lime kiln in the southern end of the Brooklyn neighborhood in Steamboat. The brick chimneys and partitions in the basement were made with Trogler brick, from north of Fish Creek. Due to a miscalculation in the basement that caused it to be off level, famed historic local stonemason Carl Howelsen was hired to help fix the problem and performed much of the home’s cement work.
“Due to the significance of this landmark and its importance in our history, we have serious concerns about the drawings and plans that have been submitted,” said Candice Bannister, executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat. “The museum is very concerned that our community is losing more historic homes and properties at an ever-accelerating rate.”
Dave and Michelle Barnes, who purchased the home for $1.8 million, are seeking to nearly double its square footage, with an addition that will require the demolition of the home’s northeast side. A new, two-story addition has been proposed to replace what is to be torn down and built to match the style and decor of the original house.
“I know the Barnes’ feel they’re doing the right thing for the house,” Hewitt said.
The homeowners did not return a request for comment Thursday.
If a new addition to a historic building is to be constructed, “it should be designed such that the early character of the original structure is maintained. It should also be subordinate in appearance to the main building,” according to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standards guidelines.
There are a number of positive design choices that work well with the design guidelines and standards, Hewitt said, but quite a few have not been applied.
According to Hewitt, by removing a significant portion of the front and side facades, both visible from the street, and adding a significant extension will create a “false sense of history.”
“I believe the Barnes’ intent has been geared toward preservation this whole time,” Hewitt said. “But just keeping it in the same style … it’s not preservation.”
Hewitt explained that it should be clear what part is the historic house and what has been added on at a later time. Because of this, Hewitt had recommended the commission take no action for approval and did not endorse a certificate of approval for the project.
If the project does proceed without changes to its design, the home could be at risk of being delisted from historic registers, according to Hewitt.
“I hope that this project, and others before it, can help bring attention to our existing code that fails to provide protection to historic buildings of significance unless owners voluntarily list them on the local Steamboat Springs register,” Bannister said.
To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.
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