The Message

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In his column, Laugesen described Charlie as "disabled" and wrote that the hip "throws the girl off-balance, causing her to collide with windows and walls" -- the implication being that if she hit a low-level pane too hard, the damn thing might bust loose and behead her. Wenig concedes that this characterization is "slightly exaggerated. She's still falling a little here and there, but she's doing better." Moreover, historic-preservation planner Hedgecock says Wenig never mentioned potential hazards to his children during the initial round of discussions about replacing the windows.

"Paul came in and talked to me in May, and I told him we'd take the matter to our landmarks design review committee -- and safety didn't come up in either of those instances," Hedgecock recalls.

In the end, the committee concluded that taking out the original windows would violate Boulder policy by adversely affecting "the special character or special historical, architectural or aesthetic interest or value" of the Wenig home. Members also concluded that "alternatives exist to significantly improve energy efficiency without negatively impacting historic materials or character." As a result, Hedgecock says, "the committee wanted to see Mr. Wenig work toward restoring the windows rather than replacing them."

That wasn't good enough for Wenig. His family had been staying in a rental property during restoration, and to expedite their move into the Mapleton house, he and Rosenburg chose to ignore the committee's decree and replace the windows anyway. They hired Eric Doub of Boulder's Ecofutures Building Company to put in double-paned windows that looked as close as possible to the originals but were more trustworthy and economical. In late June, Wenig contacted Hedgecock's staff for permission to paint the sashes and trim, and approval was quickly granted, as personnel assumed that the original windows were in place. They found out differently the next month, when one of Wenig's neighbors informed the city that the original windows had been removed. Upon confirming this tip, the city sent Wenig a letter telling him that he was in violation of local policy. The responses this correspondence received included a missive from Doub declaring that the edict compromised "health and safety."

Hedgecock says Doub's statement was the first time safety came up as a motive for swapping out the windows. The issue arose again at an August 4 hearing before the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, which determined that the concerns of Wenig and Rosenburg could have been mitigated without replacing the windows. Because this decision suggested that the city wanted the couple to extract the new windows, which cost them over $20,000, and put back old ones that would require expensive repairs, they asked the Boulder City Council on August 17 to overrule the board. The council declined, but passed a motion requesting staff to took a fresh look at the historic-preservation standards. City Attorney Ariel Calonne also sought middle ground. "Basically, he said that as a common sense approach, we need to decide what the policy is going to be before we make anybody rip anything out or put anything back," Hedgecock stresses. "And I think Mr. Wenig was aware of that."

Wenig confirms that he was. "The city attorney was supposed to begin a dialogue about what was going to happen," he says.

That conversation didn't get very far. After reading about the controversy from an August 22 piece in the Boulder Daily Camera, Laugesen phoned Wenig, who had never heard of him or his column. Upon being informed about Charlie's hip dysplasia and other details that didn't wind up in the Camera article, Laugesen was outraged. His first instinct was to write about this dilemma, "but I knew that a column wasn't going to change anything," he says. "The column would come out, people would read it, some of them would applaud, some would boo, and at the end of the day, this guy would still be faced with the order of putting the windows back, and it would haunt him until he did what they told him." The only solution he saw was for the original windows to disappear.

How could Laugesen make this miracle happen without getting Wenig in even hotter water? One option was to use his column to urge others to confiscate the windows and dispose of them. Unfortunately, Laugesen says, "the windows had unsafe glass in them, and they also had chipping pieces of lead-based paint all over them. It didn't seem responsible to encourage people to actively engage in something dangerous." The solution, he realized, was to personally take on the risk, and after doing some research, "I thought I could do it safely. I could put on gloves and a mask, and I had access to a dump truck. If I dropped them from up on the truck, it would be safer, and it would cause more destruction."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts