Central City – Central City pioneered a new twist in preserving history
By Linda Jones
Back in the 1990s, the Central City Council and its preservation arm, the Historic Preservation Commission, pioneered a bold idea – legally protecting the interior of a Historic Landmark building. Central City has been an established National Historic District for decades, but that protection only extends to the exterior of historic buildings.
The impetus to preserve the first Victorian interior in Central City was the ongoing dismantling of the beloved Gold Coin Saloon. New owners were literally carrying away the memorabilia on the walls of the Coin and wrapping it for storage. The saloon, built in 1897, had looked the same, with the same pictures and ads, the same swinging doors, the same bar, the same player piano and more, for a century.
The Phillip Zang Brewing Company built the Coin building in 1897 and leased it to Bart Parteli that year when he came here from Tyrol, Austria. He leased the building until 1906 when he purchased it and bought out his partner. After his death in 1922, his wife Mary continued the business until 1943; although, during Prohibition it became a general store under the same name. In 1906, Bart had mortgaged the interior fixtures and they were recorded in the records of the Gilpin County Clerk & Recorder; almost every single one remained where they were listed in 1912 into the 1990s.
The four main criteria the City Council set were:
(1) The landmark is identified with historic persons or events.
(2) It embodies distinguishing characteristics or architectural style.
(3) It is representative of the work of a famous architect or builder.
(4) It reflects the broad cultural, political, economic or social history of the community, state or nation.
To qualify for interior protection, the landmark must meet one of the four: the Coin met No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4. Two additional criteria required that the space has historically been available for public access and that the owner of the structure has requested its designation as a Victorian Interior landmark. The last two criteria were met and the bar’s accoutrements were returned to their historic places in the saloon. The Coin received the first Victorian Interior designation in 1991.
The Coin still makes history annually as the site of the Bringing Down the Ceiling Party on Lou Bunch Day. Walk through the swinging bar doors into the 19th century and look up. All those dollar bills stuck to the wooden ceiling have been launched by the Coin bartenders, along with a tack and a quarter. The donor of the dollar, usually a tourist, receives his quarter back, along with an invitation to attend the Bringing Down the Ceiling Party, when the drinks are free as long as the bills last. This year’s Bringing Down party will be given on June 21. The Coin is owned now by the Grimes family, which has earned high regard for their respect of Central City’s heritage.
The second interior designation came the next year. Williams Stables was built in 1876, but Sheriff Dick Williams purchased the stables in 1880 and it will forever carry his name. The owner, the Central City Opera Association, agreed to the protection of the interior rock and brick walls, the original ceiling and internal roof of the second floor, including the animal stalls on the second floor and the exposed wood beams. Yes, the horses were kept on the second floor and brought in through the ground-level door on that floor from East First High Street. The first floor was used to store the fine carriages, buggies, wagons, surreys and sleighs for rent.
Gilpin County owned Clark School when it was designated in 1992; now the Division of Gaming owns it. The first school building in Central City is located above Clark School; the two-story stone schoolhouse, now a museum, was opened in 1870, but by the late 1890s, the building could no longer accommodate grades 1 – 12. In 1900, Clark School was built as an elementary school. Several interior features identify its use and are protected: the existing arches in the hallways, the main interior staircase with its banister and the railing around the stairwell, the windows and the load-bearing walls.
The Teller House (1872) was also designated in 1992 and the features to be preserved inside were listed: the Face Bar and its murals, bar, Face on the Barroom Floor and painted ceiling, the entrance lobby and grand staircase and Minerva, the atrium area, the ceiling mural in the Eureka Room and the second floor museum space. Minerva is the gold statue sitting at the bottom of the staircase and the legend has always been that rubbing her posterior brings good luck.
The first designation of 1993 was the Central City Opera House (1878). It hosted operas and plays until the town’s population and influence began declining; eventually it served as a movie theater. In the 1920s it hosted its last high school graduation. But a wonderful future was ahead for the Victorian jewel when in 1932 the current Central City Opera Festival was begun and its reputation spread internationally. This is the only Victorian Interior Landmark to be built by a noted architect, Robert Roeschlaub. The diminutive lobby is protected, as well as the stairs, ceiling murals, wall murals and seating area.
The last interior designation is the Coeur d’Alene Mine, which sits high above Main Street. The shaft house was constructed in 1894 and is the last surviving shaft house of the dozens that were once in Central City. The mine was operating into the 1940s, when the federal government shut down all American gold mines in order to shift miners to strategic materials mining. It was donated to the Opera Association, which opened it as a tourist mine in the 1950s and ‘60s. When the shaft house collapsed in the winter of 1986/87, the Opera Association donated the mine to the Gilpin County Historical Society. The Society considered giving the title back, but fortunately kept the heap of rubble because the shaft house was rebuilt in the 1990s with the generous help of grants from the City of Central and the State History Fund. The resulting $100,000 rebuilt the attractive red landmark. A dozen interior landmarks are protected; some are the head frame and sheave, the elevated boilers, two stage air compressor, cistern, dry building, powder magazine and hoist.