City commission votes to block demolition of Healy house in The Wedge

A city commission has voted to preserve a rooming house at the northwest corner of 24th & Colfax, denying the owner’s request to demolish the house.

The owner wants to sell the property for an apartment development, arguing that the structure has been altered to the point where it is no longer worth preserving.

The Heritage Preservation Commission, which typically makes unanimous decisions, took a split vote of 5-3 to block demolition of the house.

The City Council decided last year that the Healy house at 2320 Colfax is a historic resource. Consequently, Commissioner Susan Hunter-Weir said the only way they could now approve demolition is if the house is unsafe — which no one is arguing — and if it is economically unviable.

“I was not convinced the house was marketed as widely as it could have been,” she said. “The realtor said he only marketed it as a rooming house.”

Other homes in the neighborhood have sold for half a million, Hunter-Weir said.

“I wasn’t feeling like the house had a fair chance to be salvaged,” she said.

Property owner Michael Crow has said that even with all the publicity surrounding the house, no buyer has surfaced.

“I’m still here holding the bag,” he told The Journal in January.

Commissioner Robert Mack said HPC commissioners disagreed on the historic integrity of the building.

“The essential form of the building is still there,” said Mack, who voted to preserve the structure. “The basic window placements are still there, the basic design is still there.”

Architect T.P. Healy designed the home in 1893, his only surviving house from a year that marked a turning point in his style. Twenty-four of his properties are already historically designated as part of the Healy Block Historic District, located between 31st and 32nd Street and 2nd and 3rd Avenue.

Mack said he doesn’t buy the argument that the city contains plenty of Healy’s houses.

“If we have 100 of them, does that mean we take down 99?” he said.

The house is also called the Orth residence, named for the original occupant Edward Orth, the son of brewer John Orth.

Hunter-Weir, a historian, said she was intrigued by another of the home’s former occupants, Thomas Kenyon. She said he invented cold remedies, was considered a marketing genius, and ran a business that survived the Depression.

“Locally, he’s probably at least as important as the people who came up with the Burma-Shave signs,” she said.

The commission recommended interim protection for the house, and asked the city Planning Director to prepare a historic designation study. The property owner’s request for demolition next goes before the city’s Zoning and Planning Committee, followed by the City Council for a final decision.