NEW YORK (Feb. 19)
The Denver, Colo., house occupied briefly by Golda Meir is temporarily safe from demolition due to a 10-day restraining order imposed February 13 by Denver District Court Chief Judge Clifton Flowers.
The state-level trial judge was reacting to a suit filed the same day by the Golda Meir Memorial Association (GMMA), claiming that the Board of Appeals of the Building Inspection Division of the Denver Public Works Department does not have the authority to determine ownership, and thus the fate, of the house. The house could have been razed as early as February 15, the Board had ruled on January 15.
Indeed, ownership of the former home of the late Israeli Premier is under contention. Deputy City Attorney John Spossel, while not commenting on the pending litigation, asserted that the city has a signed contract of ownership with the predecessor of GMMA. Yet, Mel and Esther Cohen of Denver and GMMA claimed ownership by GMMA. The Board ruled in favor of the city on January 15, but Board chairman Ralph Nordhauser said that ruling “may well be” wrong.
Flowers will hold a hearing on February 20 to consider imposing a preliminary injunction that would restrict the city from demolishing the house, now sitting in disrepair on steel beams in a city park. No date has been set to hear the suit, according to the plaintiff’s attorney, Jim Bretz.
The suit raises a laundry list of disputes. The plaintiff contends, in addition to the jurisdictional argument, that the Department and Board, in particular Board chairman Ralph Nordhauser, are prejudiced against the house.
Esther Cohen claimed that Nordhauser, who lived in the house as a child, recently told her, “Sure, we had a famous movie star’s relatives there all the time … Willard the rat.”
In response, Nordhauser said that Cohen “has no sense of humor.” He contended that his primary concern was public safety. When he visited the house in January and December, he said he found the fences around it insufficient to stop potential visitors and in fact saw children and a dog at play beneath the house. He added that he had pushed for city funds for refurbishing the house under the previous mayor.
His safety claims were corroborated by Robert Alson, chief structural engineer of the Division. While not commenting on the suit, he told JTA that the Division has maintained for several years that the house is unsafe.
Divisional inspectors had found last December and earlier in the year that portions of the fences around the house were down, allowing easy access, and that structural damage to the walls and roof presented a potential danger to the public.
However, Esther Cohen claimed that the five and six-foot fences and the boards over of the windows and doors were all that reasonably could be done to ensure safety.
In the suit, GMMA also is asking for six months to demonstrate its ability to the Building Department to renovate and utilize the house. Katherine Archuleta, a representative of Denver Mayor Federico Pena, noted that GMMA has missed several such deadlines, which Cohen acknowledged, most recently the 30-day one imposed by the Board on January 15. But Cohen said she felt “coerced” into accepting the deadlines by Archuleta.
Archuleta had no comment on the suit Tuesday, but she did maintain that the Pena administration had attempted to find a use for the house from 1983 through late 1986. Then it became clear to the administration that perhaps the house could be refurbished for $150,000-$250,000, but probably was beyond repair, she said. Moreover, she found insufficient private interest, even among the Jewish community, in restoration.
But Mel Cohen claimed the house can be fixed. “You’re not looking at it as it was, or for what events took place in it, and the beautiful restoration that’s going to be,” he said. “There’s a beautiful, beautiful, set of plans that the city paid for, that the architects did three years ago.”
Archuleta confirmed the existence of the plans, and noted that the city paid $30,000 for them and for moving the house to the park in the summer of 1985. She blamed the current problems of the house on GMMA’s inability to raise the funds for restoration, which she said it promised within three months of when the house was moved.
Mel Cohen said the Allied Jewish Federation of Denver can’t afford to help, and attributed GMMA’s lack of a treasury on “the constant negative words that are used in describing the house … We’ve gone ahead and busted our asses for four years to overcome the negatives and opposition we’ve encountered primarily from the city.”
Added his wife, “We’re not mavens on money-raising.”
The house has been vandalized with graffiti, and a fire destroyed part of the roof. Nevertheless, Eugene Padon of Eugene Padon Engineering, Inc. of Denver told the Board of Appeals January 15 that the house could be placed on a foundation and completely refurbished for $65,000. He also contended that it posed no danger. “I have been in it in the last six months,” he said.