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Watts plan exudes history

Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

When Wally Cooper started restoring and rebuilding historic properties in the late 1970s, Parkites were beginning to realize that they wanted to preserve the city’s colorful history, choosing to make sure that the burgeoning ski industry did not overrun the remnants of the city’s mining heyday.

Since then, Cooper, an architect, has been part of the teams that have preserved some of Park City’s landmarks, like Miners Hospital. Cooper figured out how to turn the building into a library, which has since moved out, and the best way to pick up Miners Hospital and move it a few blocks to its current site at City Park.

Now, Cooper is the architect hired to restore the Watts property, with its garage and house, one of Park City’s best-known historic pieces of ground. Located on Park Avenue, just off Main Street, an entrepreneur wants to turn the property into a whiskey distillery.

"If there were a lot of projects (like) the Watts property, it would not be as important as it is," Cooper said, describing the significance of the restoration.

City Hall owns the parcel and plans to sell it to David Perkins so he can turn it into what is being called the Quaking Aspen Distilleries. The $1.4 million sale will not be finalized until Perkins receives the necessary permits to refurbish the property.

The government, which prizes the property, wants to ensure that it does not lose its historic feel as the distillery is started. Perkins has pledged that he will not wreck the historic nature of the property, frequently saying that people expect that whiskey distilleries will exude a historic character.

"That’s why I like it. Putting a distillery in a historic landmark is great," Perkins said in a recent interview, saying that the property’s history lends the whiskey a "whole brand persona."

Perkins recently approached the Park City Planning Commission, which is considering the distillery proposal, with a Cooper-authored preservation plan that has won supporters.

If the plan is approved as part of the overall distillery permit, Cooper and Perkins intend to have crews take down the walls of the National Garage in two-panel sections and store them somewhere off the property, perhaps in the Snyderville Basin. They would then dig a basement, build a wood frame and then attach the walls to the new frame.

The big Park Avenue-facing house, the plans call for, would receive footings and a foundation. It would be lifted three feet into the air and slid a little to the side to allow crews to put in the foundation. The plan calls for the house being relocated between five and seven feet to the southeast, Cooper said.

"They’re basically being renovated for the next 40 years," Cooper said.

Park City builders and architects have occasionally done similar historic renovations, especially as rising real-estate prices have made it feasible to complete the work and then sell the property, but the prominence of the Watts property makes it unusual.

Ron Ivie, City Hall’s chief building official, who has overseen renovations since the 1980s, is confident in the plans. He said similar renovations have been done in Park City "a few times." The garage, Ivie said, currently fails to meet building codes and he described the proposed renovation as "essentially a new structure."

"It’s not appropriate for human occupancy," Ivie said about the garage.

Ray Milliner, the City Hall planner assigned to the application, in mid-April issued a report outlining the benefits of the renovation method, saying that there would be "minimal movement" of the house and that lots of the original material would be used. He noted, however, that the work "could result in loss of valuable historic material" from the garage’s facade.

Perkins plans to connect the garage and the house with a new 1,000-square-foot building. Once the whiskey makers move in, grains would be mashed and fermented in the garage and then distilled in stills that would be put in the building connecting the garage and the house.

The Park City Council considered several ideas for the property, including a glass-blowing studio, a nightclub and a lodge for people who live in Promontory, before picking the distillery. The elected officials saw the distillery as the best option for Park City’s tourism-driven economy. Perkins intends to teach people about whiskey making as well as distilling the product, an attraction that interested the City Council.

Sandra Morrison, the executive director of the Park City Historical Society, praised Cooper’s hiring for the project, noting his work on Miners Hospital among other renovations.

"I think we’d all agree these buildings are fabulous," said Morrison, who has not reviewed the preservation plans for the Watts property. "He’s certainly worked on some of the most important historic structures in Park City."

Morrison said the garage dates to 1907 and the house to 1914. The garage, she said, was built as a stable but as automobiles became more popular, it was turned into a service station. It operated as Sinclair Park Motor in the middle of the century, according to Morrison.

Cooper said the renovation of the Watts property is important as Park City tries to tout its history even as the ski industry expands.

"The connection is being strained because it’s become a resort community," Cooper said.


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