Garden Pests

I think I know.
First, I find it hard to believe that the commissioners went out to inspect the gift shop personally. There was no organized field trip, and I doubt that any of the commissioners took the initiative to inspect the area themselves. The name "gift shop" makes this portion of the building sound so inconsequential that it must have been easy to dispense with it mentally. But it's the first part of the main building visible to visitors on arrival.

Also, the commission is overworked. Commissioners serve as volunteers, and they spend too many hours on items of little consequence--most having to do with construction activities in Denver's historic districts rather than with actual historic preservation. At the same commission meeting where the DBG was sold down the river, there was a good example of this. Perhaps as the result of a pent-up need for exercising responsible oversight, which they effectively shucked in the case of the Botanic Gardens, the commissioners attempted to micro-manage the placement of the Mark di Suvero "Lao Tzu" sculpture just sited on Acoma Plaza within the boundaries of the Civic Center Historic District.

Hey, gang, it was the Botanic Gardens that needed your scrutiny, not the question of where to put a sculpture by a famous artist--especially not one that's been given to the city as a gift, unlike the mixture of public and charitable funds that will be used to vandalize the Botanic Gardens.

Another likely reason the commission rolled over is the sad legacy of the Zeckendorf Plaza fight--and the role played in that struggle by the powerful law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Strickland (as in U.S. Senate candidate Tom Strickland). The Brownstein Hyatt boys were the dream team for Adam's Mark Hotel owner Fred Kummer, who not only gets to destroy an I.M. Pei but has gotten the city to pay for it, too. In the Zeckendorf clash, the law firm saw as its goal not simply to subvert the city's landmark process but to completely discredit it.

As a result, the landmark commission is demoralized. Go to the body today and mouth the magic words "economic necessity" and they'd let you put a neon sign on the City and County Building. And with former commissioner Seth Rosenman gone (he resigned in disgust last year over the Zeckendorf fiasco), there seems to be no strong, clear voice left to provide leadership, or even common sense, to the group.

What makes the impending damage at the Botanic Gardens doubly sad is that there are many young architects working in Denver today carefully and thoughtfully making additions to historic buildings. Former commissioner Rosenman's addition to the Bryant-Webster Elementary School is an unalloyed triumph of self-effacement and sensitivity. It's the same kind of touch that David Owen Tryba used at the Park Hill Branch Library and is now applying to LoDo's Mercantile Square. Even the most persnickety preservationist would be hard-pressed to find fault with Steve Chucovich's revisions to the Knight Fundamental Academy in Belcaro. And the list goes on.

Won't someone in a position of power at the Botanic Gardens use his imagination to come up with a new site for an expanded gift shop? What about moving administrative functions or even the library off-site? How about a tactfully designed new building that would accommodate an expanded gift shop and add the desired new classrooms? Can't DBG administrators come up with a compromise that would satisfy the demands of neighbors and still preserve the integrity of one of the city's great buildings?

It's not too late--not a single stick or stone has yet been changed at the Botanic Gardens. Gift-shop volunteers haven't even gotten around to pushing aside the revolving postcard displays to make way for the workmen. This nonsense can still be stopped. Plans are made on paper, while the Botanic Gardens is made of stone, concrete, wood and glass. The former lives in the realm of ideas, the latter in reality.

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