Residents fear one of Steamboat’s historic barns nearing the end after years of neglect
Steamboat Springs — Before it was boxed into a corner by a busy parking lot, tagged inside by heart-shaped graffiti and littered by trash and a shopping cart, the Arnold family’s barn was a prominent landmark in the Yampa Valley.
The metal-roofed barn, constructed in 1945 in the green meadows just below the slopes of Storm Mountain, stored livestock and hay for the Arnolds after they moved to the Yampa Valley from Nebraska.
The iconic structure was an isolated centerpiece in a photo Jim Temple took in the 1960s from the Emerald Mountain quarry.
In Temple’s viewfinder, the barn was not yet spoiled and dwarfed in the landscape by tall condominium buildings, busy streets and hotels.
Today, 71 years after the Arnold family constructed the barn as part of its ranch complex, and decades after it was used as horse stables and a rustic backdrop for corporate photo shoots, the barn sits neglected.
It’s in such bad shape, some residents and elected officials are starting to fret that if nothing is done soon to shore up the sagging structure, the rare reminder of Steamboat’s western heritage will collapse and fade away forever.
“There’s a concept called demolition by neglect, and I think that is what we’re seeing underway here,” historic preservationist Arianthe Stettner said Wednesday. “I think some people are hoping if we wait long enough (and it falls down), it’s not our problem.”
The wooden planks on the sides are warping and peeling, and sections of the metal roof are gone.
This barn, on busy Mount Werner Road, does not draw the camera-carrying crowds that the nearby More Barn does following a successful preservation effort.
And aside from a fox or two and the visitors who leave litter, cans and graffiti behind, it doesn’t draw many visitors.
Barring an intervention, this barn is destined to fall.
The history of this iconic barn wasn’t well known to many people in the community until Stettner decided last year to interview locals and dig through courthouse records, newspaper articles and museum files to piece the barn’s history together.
Even on Tuesday, some community members interviewed for this story guessed that the barn wasn’t built until the 1970s and may not have as much historical significance as other structures.
But fresh research from Stettner is setting the record straight and bringing the origins of the structure to light.
Stettner discovered that according to assessor records, the barn was constructed in 1945 at a time when agricultural production in the area was at its prime.
The barn’s history starts with the Arnold family, which moved to Routt County from Nebraska in 1915.
Walter Arnold purchased the parcel the barn currently sits on in 1927, Stettner reports.
Stettner found that according to a Steamboat Pilot ad, the Arnold family invited readers to a winter ski hike at the ranch in 1932 and operated the Cloverdale Dairy, selling whipping cream for 45 cents per quart and milk for 30 cents per gallon.
The barn was then added to the property in 1945.
After their farming days were numbered, the Arnolds sold the property in December 1961 to the Storm Mountain Ski Corporation.
The ranch house, outbuildings and corral would disappear.
Since its sale, the barn has been used to stable horses and as a backdrop for ski area ad executives eager to market Steamboat’s western heritage.
But in recent years, it has mostly been ignored aside from making an appearance as a western backdrop for Ford Mustangs racing across the Meadows Parking lot.
That was until Stettner’s husband, Paul, and City Council President Walter Magill started inquiring about the maintenance responsibilities of the barn.
The city now finds itself tangled in a potential legal debate over who should be maintaining the structure.
Asked Tuesday who is currently responsible for maintaining the dilapidated structure, City Attorney Dan Foote said he wasn’t prepared to answer that question.
Foote has been asked by some of the city’s elected officials to look into whether the owners of the property should have been maintaining and preserving the structure.
Foote said he’s collected several documents, but the situation is “pretty complicated” after ownership of the parcel has changed hands in recent years.
He’ll be discussing the situation with the council as soon as next month.
“The foreclosures (that previously occurred on the property) are an issue,” Foote said. “The recession kind of blew things up. It complicates the issue of who is on the hook” for maintaining the barn.
When developers of the Wildhorse Meadows project got approval from the city in 2006, one of the original conditions of approval was for the barn to be maintained in place. A landscape plan and interpretive signage was also supposed to be constructed.
But the City Council at the time struck that condition of approval and replaced it with a condition that the developers pursue relocating the barn to the grassy knoll in front of the Steamboat Grand.
That never happened, and the development planned for the area never went through following a bankruptcy after the 2008 economic downturn.
In 2013, Real Capital Solutions acquired the barn parcel in a multi-parcel purchase from Bank of America.
A message left Tuesday for a representative of RCS to discuss the maintenance and future of the barn was not returned.
Council President Magill said Tuesday he now fears the structure could collapse during an upcoming winter.
“I think it would be a shame due to council undersight and nobody following up on the maintenance agreements that the barn would just collapse,” he said. “It’s part of the western heritage of Steamboat.”
Last year, the city’s planning department sent the current landowners a letter reminding them that the preservation and maintenance of the structure is required by the city’s development plan approval for the property.
The letter encouraged the property owner to consider adding the building to the Historic Register.
The property owner also was sent Stettner’s research on the barn and a list of options for the structure ranging from stabilizing it to rebuilding it elsewhere.
Stettner even got a proposal from a Fort Collins company that specializes in taking apart and reconstructing historic structures.
RCS has not responded to the letter or the proposals.
The barn has taken on many names since it was known as the Arnold Barn.
Stettner reports it was subsequently called Gordy’s Barn — for Gordy Wren, the ski area manager who stored equipment in it — and as the Butterfly Barn because of the decorative metal butterflies that were nailed to it.
“This barn has a very interesting story, and once it’s gone, it can’t be replaced,” Stettner said.
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