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A Historic Boulder protest sign sits in the front of the old Central School as it’s being demolished. Historic Boulder is celebrating its 50th anniversary. (Courtesy photo)
A Historic Boulder protest sign sits in the front of the old Central School as it’s being demolished. Historic Boulder is celebrating its 50th anniversary. (Courtesy photo)
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Susan Osborne won’t forget the feeling she had, gazing out the window of the Hannah Barker House at Historic Boulder’s holiday gathering this year.

Were it not for Historic Boulder, many of the buildings and a piece of Boulder’s history would be gone, Osborne noted.

“In this day and age, (maybe it) isn’t the most important thing in the world. There’s climate change, and there’s racial issues. There are a ton of things that take our attention,” the Historic Boulder board president said. “But a part of what makes a place a good place is this way of recollecting the history and telling the story of how we got to be.”

For many members, this is the role Historic Boulder plays in the community, and it’s why they feel so passionately about the work.

Historic Boulder, the first permanent preservation organization in Boulder, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a nonprofit that works to create historic districts, advocate for landmarking of structures and exploring sites for preservation.

The idea for a historic preservation group first began percolating at a meeting at the Boulder Public Library on Dec. 6, 1971, but the group was formally incorporated several months later in 1972.

In 1971 and 1972, some Boulder residents wanted to band together to save the Highland School, the Union Pacific Railroad Depot and the Central School, all of which were going to be demolished.

While the Central School, the oldest school building in Colorado still existing at that time, was demolished, Historic Boulder helped save the others.

“To Historic Boulder’s and the community’s credit, no historic building of such significance has been demolished subsequent to that time,” board member Dan Corson said.

Joyce Davies, an original Historic Boulder board member, grew up in Rhode Island, surrounded by historic buildings. She always had an appreciation for old buildings, but she did not begin advocating for historic preservation until she came to Boulder.

Davies, now 95, coordinated the original meeting at the Boulder Library on Dec. 6 — her birthday. She felt it was important to fight to keep the Highland School, now known as the Highland City Club.

“Somebody had the great idea that it should be torn down,” Davies said. “And I had the great idea that it should stay.”

“We worked hard to keep Highland School,” she added.

In order to do so, some Historic Boulder members came together to buy the school. Gretchen King, another original member, can still recall visiting the Highland School to collect rent in the months after she and others pooled their money to purchase the building.

This is perhaps what she appreciated most about Boulder. The town felt small enough to make an impact, King said.

“You could do something,” she said. “If you’re in a big city, you’re a tiny little morsel. … And you can’t get beyond a certain point.”

In its earlier years, the group also helped save the Hotel Boulderado and the Boulder Theater.

Further, Historic Boulder drafted and advocated for the 1974 Boulder’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.

According to the city, with the adoption of the ordinance Boulder became one of the first cities in Colorado with the authority to designate and prevent the demolition or destruction of historic, architectural and cultural resources considered valuable to the community.

For Corson, saving buildings is about more than saving and preserving history.

“It’s saving a sense of place,” he said. “The goal of historic preservation is not to save every building, but those that are significant in terms of their architecture or what happened there or in terms of the people who lived there that helped develop the community in various ways.”

Historic Boulder intends to host a celebratory event  in honor of its 50th anniversary, likely in the summer. To find out more about the organization, visit its website at historicboulder.org.

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