CHPC: Billionaire levels local history

Commission members said they knew Bailey was thinking about getting rid of the buildings to keep horses there, but they had hoped to negotiate with him to try to find a way to save them.

In a startling event that was divinely timed to coincide with the Carbondale Historic Preservation Commissions presentation to the town’s trustees, Tom Bailey destroyed a house and barn that represented the unique history of the Carbondale area. Our presentation to the mayor and trustees was focused on the need for immediate action and financial support of historic preservation. Our commission has been in existence for over a year. In that time we have created our by-laws; developed internal procedures; obtained state grants; achieved Certified Local Government status; produced both our historic design guidelines and the economic incentive/planning perspective… in short- we’ve been busy.

We are laying the foundation for a commission that we hope will have a long future in this valley. On the day of our presentation to the new trustees, which included three newly elected individuals, we received word of the loss of a unique structure originally built in circa 1875. The following is the article in the local paper with a link to a PDF of the print version.

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Aspen Daily News, July 18, 2008

CARBONDALE — Long before this town was known for its swanky restaurants or groovy Mountain Fair, it was known for its potatoes, and Eugene Grubb was the potato king, traveling the world to both gather and spread new varieties of spuds.

Until recently, Grubb’s century-old Victorian home stood on the edge of town as a reminder of those days. Then, several days ago, the 20th-century potato king’s home and adjacent barn were razed by 21st-century financial wizard Tom Bailey, the billionaire Janus mutual fund founder turned cutting horse impresario, known locally for moseying into town on horseback and tying up at his downtown lot while filling up at a local watering hole.

“I just assumed — I guess I shouldn’t have — that he would take steps to preserve the house,” said Jean Perry, whose grandparents, Crystal River Valley ranching pioneers Bob and Ditty Perry, lived in the house before they sold their ranch to Bailey in 2006.

A message left with Bailey’s personal assistant through his real estate agent was not returned.

The loss highlights the changes in Carbondale over a century. Potato fields now sprout million-dollar mansions. The potato magnate has been replaced by a mutual fund giant.

With an estimated $1.3 billion, Bailey, 71, is ranked as the 897th richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine. He left Janus in 2002 to raise cutting horses in Carbondale. A frequent rodeo competitor, he owns the 200-acre Iron Horse Ranch along the Roaring Fork River, masked from Highway 82 by a wall of trees.

Bailey is among about seven Colorado billionaires, including Charles Ergen, Phil Anschutz, John Malone, James Leprino, Pat Stryker, and Thomas Marsico. Others with Colorado ties include Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, ranked No. 15, who recently bought a home in Wildcat Ranch and also owns a home in Snowmass Village proper.

Perry, who is president of the Mount Sopris Historical Society, said she was saddened when she drove by Monday and saw the home she used to visit as a child, and lived in for a time, had recently been destroyed, along with the adjacent barn. Her aunt had lived in the home until the sale. “There are so many grants he could apply for,” said Perry, who admitted the house had fallen into disrepair. “I don’t understand why it was necessary to tear it down.”

The demolition came as a blow to the town’s Historic Preservation Commission, which has been working to find ways to protect Carbondale’s historic buildings. Nothing it could have done would have stopped the demolition, though. The turn-of-the-century Grubb home sat outside of town limits in Garfield County.

This undated photo shows the old Grubb house, located off of what is now Highway 133 south of Carbondale.

It couldn’t have done much had the home been in town, either. The commission’s guidelines are voluntary. They offer some incentives for keeping historic buildings, but they can’t keep owners from tearing them down.

“We can’t paint Tom as a total villain,” said architect Ron Robertson, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission. “Yeah, we can. I’m trying to be diplomatic, but it’s pretty disappointing that it can happen.”

The spacious home sat just south of town on Highway 133 by the Division of Wildlife fish hatchery. Commission members said they knew Bailey was thinking about getting rid of the buildings to keep horses there, but they had hoped to negotiate with him to try to find a way to save them.

“It’s a serious blow,” said Suzannah Reid, the staffer working with the commission. “The whole ranching context, the image of the ranch house and barn and agricultural fields is really disappearing from the valley, and Garfield County in particular. Any loss on that scale is a pretty big loss.”

The home was partly significant for its style — a fairly rare two-story, late-Victorian ranch house that represented a certain level of prosperity, Reid said. The home had a spacious attic, a turret and pitched eaves over upstairs windows.

But it was also significant for its former occupant. Grubb stood at the center of Carbondale’s reputation as a top potato producer back when the town raised more spuds than Idaho.

“It was just devastating to the committee,” Robertson said. He noted that he had hoped the commission might find a way to save the structures, possibly moving them elsewhere. “I wish I could run the film backwards to put them back up,” Robertson said.

To the commission, the destruction underscores the vulnerability of other historic buildings in Carbondale. The roster includes an old livery stable, the Odd Fellows Hall, the downtown Dinkle building and several Victorian homes and barns.

The commission, which operated on a shoestring budget last year, put forward the idea of mandatory protections, but town trustees and Planning and Zoning Commission members opposed them, as did some town residents, who saw them as too onerous for a low-key town that wanted to avoid the bureaucracy of upvalley Aspen.

Instead, the commission has tried to create incentives for protecting historic buildings — such as zoning variances, tax rebates and loans. A mandatory demolition stay in the town’s historic core delays the wrecking ball to give town officials time to negotiate with landowners, but nothing can prevent owners from destroying or changing historic buildings. And because the Grubb home lies outside town limits, town regulations would not apply there anyway.

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