To Landmark or Not to Landmark: That Was the Question

The decision to landmark our house in Fort Collins’ historic Old Town neighborhood didn’t come easily. It was about six years ago: My wife and I had recently moved to Colorado from an apartment on a busy street in San Francisco, and we were looking forward to owning our first house together—with as few complications as possible.

We had found a hundred-year-old American Foursquare-style house, also known as a “Denver Square” due to the style’s popularity in the Denver area from 1895 to 1930. The house was spacious, open, and located right where we wanted to live. It even had a bit of history: The first owners were a popular local college professor and the daughter of a pioneering Fort Collins family.

We offered to buy the house “as-is,” and our offer was accepted.

It wasn’t long before we realized that the house needed a lot of work—both cosmetically and to satisfy the homeowners’ insurance company. The prior owners had taken good care of it, but it was showing its age. The kitchen was hopelessly outdated and knob-and-tube wiring lurked under the lathe-and-plaster walls. The small front porch appeared to have been tacked on as an afterthought, and we came up with grand ideas for replacing it with a porch that wrapped around half of the house.

In the meantime, we considered our city landmarking options. I had made a few phone calls to check out Fort Collins’ landmark designation program, mostly out of curiosity. Our initial impression was that it would restrict our options for working on our home. One city representative said that some people landmark their homes as a way to keep the neighborhood’s character intact, while others sought the prestige that came from owning a house that was worthy of being landmarked. These ideas appealed to me, but they weren’t enough. My wife wasn’t interested at all.

Before and after images of the Brian Cooke house.

The Cooke's home before work began (left) and after work was finished (right).

Photo by Brian Cooke.

As we got deeper into the process and saw how much it was going to cost, we began to look more closely at the financial benefits of landmarking. There were several: Fort Collins has zero-interest loans for landmarked properties that would help us with several key projects, which included the cracked foundation, the outdated wiring, and the peeling exterior paint. We’d also be eligible for dollar-for-dollar state tax breaks on projects that were approved by the History Colorado Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. On the other hand, we’d be giving up things like the wrap-around porch, which would have drastically changed the look of the house.

Eventually we realized that, after buying and renovating our dream house, we’d have limited resources for these important but secondary projects. Either we’d never get to those projects or we’d be living in the house for years before we’d get around to them. Or, we supposed, we might get lucky with the lottery.

We took a deep breath and signed the landmark papers.

Now, five years later, my wife and I agree that it was the right decision. We’ve received several city loans that won’t need to be repaid until the house is sold, and we’ll be exempt from state taxes for a few more years. There was a lot of paperwork along the way, but we got a lot done. We even fixed up the front porch, which was threatening to fall off the house. And although it’s not the grand, wrap-around porch that we’d envisioned, I have to say that it looks pretty darn good.