AURORA | Are nearly a hundred years of memories worth $5 million dollars?
That is the approximate cost, according to University of Colorado officials, it would take to renovate the boarded-up, long-abandoned Red Cross building that sits in the center of the Anschutz Medical Campus on East Montview Boulevard.
City and university officials met July 1 as part of an ad hoc committee to address what to do with the strikingly white Mission Revival-style building, whose original cruciform structure and red-tiled roof dates back to 1918.
“Everybody has a story about the Red Cross Building,” said Councilwoman Sally Mounier. The structure was built as a temporary entertainment and gathering space for patients and soldiers during World War I and comforted them well into World Word II (where two additional wings were added) — even into the Vietnam War.
Mounier, who is chairing the committee and whose ward includes the Anschutz campus, said she would like to see the building memorialized.
Jeff Parker, University of Colorado vice chancellor for administration and finance, said a gazebo would be an ideal use for the location, and it would provide a way for the university to keep some historical remnants of the building while enhancing the park-like feel of the area.
“We don’t have a nice gazebo that will hold 50-80 people,” he said. “If we have a memorial, we have a space that could preserve the doors, the cupolas, and we’ll have something that will get used.”
Aurora Deputy City Attorney Nancy Freed added that with the realignment of the RTD Aurora light rail stop for Anschutz being moved from Montview to further north along Fitzsimons Parkway, far from the center of campus, the location would be ideal for shuttling students back and forth from the station.
“Integrating that transportation in this campus is a huge challenge,” she said.
Parker said that the university, which serves as a de facto property manager for the Anschutz Campus, had tried for over a decade to find money to repair the building. CU officials recently asked the American Red Cross if they would be willing to take it over and fund the repairs. Gino Greco, CEO of the American Red Cross Colorado/Wyoming region responded in a letter May 5 that he could not justify the cost, and declined the offer.
“I do not believe that the millions of dollars needed for this building move/restoration, given the number and frequency of significant disasters in addition to the everyday home fires we respond to, our service to the military and their families, international services and health and safety training, would be the most prudent request or use of our donor’s support,” he wrote.
University officials said that it would also be impossible to physically move the building, as so much of it has already deteriorated. The building has remained vacant for over 15 years and is riddled with asbestos hiding in its plaster, and its utilities have been turned off since 2004.
Lilly Marks, University of Colorado vice president of health affairs, told Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan in April that over the last 10 years, the university has spent more than $50,000 to to preserve the building so it would not fall into further disrepair and to keep rodents and wild animals out of it. “The Red Cross building has become an obstacle, at best, and an impediment at worst,” she wrote.
Hoga said in a phone call about the building that the city and university have plans for widening the street. “We have to improve Montview Boulevard through the middle of campus,” he said. “That improvement is not just for the next 5 years, it’s for the next 50 years. It requires widening, and everything that goes along with taking a 1920s street and turning it into a 2015 street.”
This year, the campus broke ground on the 112,000 – square – foot Bioscience 2 building, which will accommodate approximately 250 students and provide space for potential bioscience starter companies to grow, adding even more students and workers to a campus that already employs around 20,000 people and has more than 4,000 students.
Visitors can’t walk into the Red Cross building now without wearing a hard hat and protective goggles. Pieces of paint litter the hallways and the floors from wings added during WWII slope downward, literally pulling away from the main structure. Crooked, musty curtains now hang from the mezzanine that once looked down on lively Friday night dances, and plays performed and written by soldiers on the main stage.
But Lynne Evans, a a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission who spearheaded a campaign earlier this year to save the structure, said if the building is demolished, it will permanently remove from public memory a part of not only Aurora’s, but the nation’s wartime history.
“It’s the only one that still exists in the United States,” she said of the cruciform structure.
Mounier said the committee will meet two more times and will recommend to Mayor Hogan what to do with the building by the end of August.