June 1, 2023

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Boulder to work on language that protects the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse interior

Boulder to work on language that protects the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse interior

Boulder on Tuesday continued a public hearing regarding a landmark designation for the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse but agreed it will work with Friends of the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse to craft language that protects the interior of the iconic 13th Street building.

Advocates with Friends of the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse and Historic Boulder have been pushing to protect the interior of the building as well as the exterior, though it’s a move that historic preservation planner Marcy Cameron said she’s yet to see in her time with the city.

Generally, Boulder uses landmark designations to honor, preserve and protect buildings and areas with special character and historical, architectural or aesthetic interest or value to the city, but the designation generally applies to the exterior of a building.

The Boulder City Council intends to approve said language on a consent agenda in an upcoming meeting.

“I think it’s better to do it right than to do it fast, so I totally support that,” Cameron said.

The city did not come to that decision lightly during the hearing Tuesday, and City Attorney Tom Carr at first said he was wary of changing the interpretation of the landmarking codes.

“When the community comes to trust the language and the law to be a certain way, before we change it, we take community input to do so,” he said. “We don’t just do it randomly.”

“I’m a municipal lawyer. We tend to be very conservative. We have a law that, since it’s been written, has never been interpreted to include interiors. Ever. We’ve had attempts to include interiors and haven’t done it,” Carr added.

However, Councilman Mark Wallach said he disagreed with the idea that the statute as written prohibits landmarking the interior. To argue that would not be “a common-sense reading of the language,” Wallach said.

“The concept that we’re doing something exotic in landmarking an interior is belied by practice in many other cities,” he said.

Ultimately, Wallach maintained he wanted to protect the interior of the teahouse but did not care how the city might go about doing so.

“You and I can have this conversation as to how to get there, but I want to get there,” Wallach told Carr on Tuesday.

The Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse is the byproduct of Boulder’s relationship with its sister city Dushanbe, the capital city of Tajikistan. The teahouse is built of colorful, intricately patterned handcrafted pieces, most of which were made in Tajikistan. It was constructed over two years, before being disassembled and shipped to Boulder in 200 wooden crates. After much debate about where to put the teahouse and how to fund it, the building broke ground in July 1997 and was finished in 1998.

Most people in Tuesday’s public hearing kept coming back to the beauty of the building. Failure to protect it would be similar to protecting an art museum and not the art that’s in it, Wallach said.

“This building really is that integration of art and architecture,” Cameron added.

Approving a landmark designation for the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse is more symbolic than anything. Cameron said in a prior interview it would serve as a formal recognition of the building’s significance in Boulder, and the designation would “preserve and protect it” for the future. Advocates say the building is fragile and believe the designation would be a proactive move.

Further, many noted the interior originally was designed to be the exterior, until the building was closed off to allow it to open year-round.

“I do not agree that this is a major camel’s nose in the tent that should cause a lot of concern … this interior cries out for landmarking,” Melanie Muckle said during public comment.

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