Fate of Unique uncertain

posted by EarleK on March 8, 2007 at 9:45 pm

SALIDA, CO — The City of Salida, Colorado will loan as much as $125,000 for two years to the new owner of the Unique Theater to stabilize the walls of the historic landmark by March 16 and remove the damaged roof by March 23, according to an agreement ratified last night (Mar 6) by city council.

The back portion of the building, which contains the 650-seat theater, was condemned Feb. 8 when City officials and a structural engineer inspected and reported it was in, “imminent danger of collapse.” Adjacent property owners and businesses were warned and several have closed until the threat is lifted.

Meanwhile citizens interested in saving the historic building have called a second meeting for 7 p.m. tonight (Mar 6) at Victoria Tavern, another 19th Century building within the City’s downtown national historic district. If the community will help raise money, the new owner said he would wait until August 15 to exercise his option to demolish.

The City’s Historic Preservation Commission gave permission for partial demolition of the affected building following a well-attended public hearing Feb. 22.

The front portion of the building appears structurally sound with potential for adaptive reuse. It includes the lobby flanked by storefronts and a large second floor meeting room that has been sealed off and unused for perhaps 50 years. A coat of stucco applied sometime during the 1960’s conceals all the original brick on the front facade and the tall, arched windows in the second floor. Ironically, the stucco job that was meant to beautify the structure now prevents the building from contributing to the downtown historic district and from competing successfully for public funds for its rehabilitation.

The building opened in 1889 as the Salida Opera House with the upstairs meeting hall used by the local Masonic order. Built of brick, it replaced the wood opera house consumed by fire the year before. Local preservationists hope to find photographs of the front facade. Only one historic illustration of the front is known to exist at the Denver Public Library. It shows a wide-arched entrance flanked with storefronts and the tall second floor windows. The original cornice and pediment at the roofline are the only remaining visual elements of the original theater on the exterior.

Unfortunately, decades of deferred maintenance have rendered the interior of the theater unlovely, and now, unsafe. Most original detail has been lost because it was modernized several times as a movie theater under the name Empress, Osnos, Salida Theater and finally, the Unique. Triangular steel brackets were installed sometime in 1980’s to buttress the roof and ceiling where it meets the walls.

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