Off Limits

The wine kept flowing at last weekend's First Friday gallery openings, despite whispers that police might bust those establishments that dared to serve up swill without a liquor license.

At last month's festivities, Dina Castillo, owner of the D.C. Gallery on Broadway, found herself on the wrong side of the law after a neighbor -- another gallery owner, in fact -- complained that revelers were standing outside of D.C., cocktails in hand, while inside, Castillo unveiled the Sophisticated Tiki Group Show. "I'm a little tiny business," she says, "and they sort of swarmed my gallery, so I couldn't tell who was served at my gallery. My neighbor -- who's none too nice anyway -- called the liquor board on me, and I got a cease-and-desist order."

Although the tradition of serving wine or beer at art openings is longstanding -- and much beloved -- the practice is illegal. Doesn't matter if the booze is free. Doesn't matter if the server cards. Doesn't matter that every gallery in town does it. If the gallery doesn't have a liquor license and the opening isn't a private party, the place should dry up. "If you are providing alcohol -- selling, distributing it -- you have to have a license, period," says Stephanie O'Malley, the director of the city's Department of Excise and Licenses. "That's mandated by state statute."

Obeying that mandate isn't cheap: An "arts" class license carries a $1,400 city/state application fee, and once a license is granted, the gallery has to kick in another $350 a year to keep it. As an alternative, "I've suggested they do invitation-only parties, which will provide the means by which to give their guests alcohol," O'Malley points out.

Which is exactly what Castillo did for the opening of the Lindsey Kuhn exhibit on January 7. Worried that the cops might be out in force, she posted a doorman at the gallery entrance, who carefully checked any would-be patrons of the arts against the invitation list. "This is not encouraging the growth of small business," Castillo notes. "I know the mayor wants to make Denver an epicenter for the arts, and I'm very disappointed in this state law. I would like to participate to make a change."

We'll drink to that! And in the meantime, a few more reasons to toast: Despite owners' concerns, the cops did not stake out First Friday -- and Off Limits hears that as long as galleries don't charge for alcohol, the city won't crack down on one of the art community's most liquid assets.

Don't ask, don't tell: If you're hunting for new digs in the southwest suburbs, you could probably do worse than a two-story, four-bedroom house in the Chatfield Estates subdivision, priced to move at $267,500. According to a recent sales flier, the 2,500-square-foot home, "located in a quiet cul-de-sac" not far from Columbine High School, boasts skylights, a gas fireplace and a finished basement with a new bath, and is "pet free" and "smoke free."

What it isn't free of is a certain dark history. One detail scrupulously omitted from the listing is that this is the former home of Columbine killer Eric Harris, who kept an arsenal of weapons in his basement bedroom. That's also where he and buddy Dylan Klebold filmed videos outlining their plans to "kick-start a revolution," shortly before the two killed twelve students and one teacher and then took their own lives.

The Harris house has been on the market since last August; Eric's parents, Wayne and Kathy Harris, reportedly no longer live there. That it's still available is probably more a result of the sluggish economy than its link to the 1999 Columbine shootings: Under a little-known provision of Colorado real-estate law, brokers showing the house cannot disclose non-material facts that "might psychologically impact or stigmatize" the property. That includes any felony, murder or suicide that might have occurred there, any prior occupancy by someone with AIDS -- or hatching plots for mass murder.

The metro area has had its share of stigmatized properties, such as the JonBenét Ramsey house and the Lakewood townhome where Cody Neal fatally bludgeoned three women. But the Colorado Real Estate Commission hasn't fielded any complaints from buyers who acquired more notoriety than they bargained for. "More often what we see is a complaint where there is actually something physically wrong with the property," says Debbie Campagnola, director of the CREC.

If a prospective buyer asks pointed questions, Campagnola explains, an agent can provide more information; it just can't be voluntarily disclosed. "They have to say what they know," she says. "They can't lie."

On the Record:

Carl Blesch sees dead people. Still, the Jefferson County coroner managed to keep a low profile during the post-Columbine infighting, and then the Pinky T infighting, that have plagued numerous other officials holed up in the Taj Mahal, and when he submitted his resignation, it was without a hint of scandal. The county is now searching for an interim overseer to serve until a new coroner is elected in 2006, but state law isn't particular about who handles the dead. The only requirements are that a coroner be eighteen, have lived in the county for at least a year and have no felony convictions. Thankfully, Jeffco's added a few more stringent qualifications, like five years of experience in medical/legal death investigation. Before he left office on January 11, Off Limits asked Blesch for some parting words.

Q: What advice would you have for the new coroner? Something you wish somebody would have told you?

A: I don't know that I have advice, but I can say that coroners are folks who combine -- and this is awfully self-serving -- a scientific background with a willingness to help people having the worst days of their lives. Plus, you have to be on call for homicides every night.

Q: The state sure doesn't set the bar very high for a job with those kinds of demands.

A: The state law is intended to be minimal because it applies to the entire state. But no one can do everything.

Q: Is the job anything like Six Feet Under, in terms of quirky characters being involved?

A: Well, that's a funeral home; we're a scientific facility. Our pathologist refers to the folks who come in here as his "patients." And he's not kidding. Let no one mistake the fact that he refers to himself as their last "doctor."

Q: Is there a case from your almost four years in office that really stands out in your memory?

A: There are a number of such cases. The Chatfield traffic accident in which three kids were killed was particularly sad. I had the duty that evening to go to each of those families and say their kids weren't coming home.

Q: Does that really wear on people in your profession, making for short tenures in the coroner's office?

A: No -- I'm a total bum. There are people in the state who have done this for fifteen to twenty years.

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