The old Gables Inn on Mountain Road, renowned for its tasty breakfasts served to diners sitting outside under bright yellow umbrellas, was torn down last week.
The demolition last Wednesday afternoon caused many people heading up or down Mountain Road to pull over and take photos or video or otherwise watch the destruction.
According to Stowe assessor Tim Morrissey, the original Revival-style farmhouse was built in 1840. It was turned into an inn in 1938.
However, the 140-year-old structure had deteriorated to the point that the owners last summer asked for approval to tear it down.
Video of the demolition posted to the Stowe Reporter Facebook page also took some people by surprise. Some people expressed dismay; one person threw some of the now-requisite shade toward Vail Corporation. Some were just angry.
“A stunning example of greed and miscommunication to allow those involved to say the building was beyond repair after shoddy alterations,” wrote Pierre-Christian D. Frye. “It seems the town's building department was snookered on this one and now a key historic building from Stowe's past is lost.”
Despite the emotions expressed on Facebook last week, the Gables Inn had been slated for demolition for half a year. Its removal was approved by Stowe zoning officials last July.
The Stowe Development Review Board, in a decision July 29, 2019, stated, “The board concludes the condition of the building has been compromised and deteriorated to such a degree that rehabilitation and use of the building is not feasible due to structural and building code issues.”
Under the town’s zoning regulations, any historic building slated for demolition, either full or partial, must first be reviewed by the Stowe Historic Preservation Commission. That commission is advisory only, but it makes recommendations for or against projects and sends those to the development review board.
The review board has the authority to approve such projects and direct the zoning administrator to sign off on them.
The historic preservation commission unanimously recommended approving the demolition when it met June 12, 2019. According to the commission, the building “does not have historical or architectural significance or does not make a positive contribution to the (historic overlay) district’s streetscape.”
The commission cited zoning regulations that allow demolition if a building’s structure “has deteriorated to such a degree that rehabilitation and use of the building is not feasible due to structural or building code issues”; if “the condition of the structure has deteriorated to such a degree that it poses a threat to the public safety”; “the structure is determined to be a deterrent to a major improvement that will be a clear and substantial benefit to the community”; or “the cost of rehabilitation is significant enough that it would be an undue financial hardship to the property owner.”
Taking down an old building in Stowe has occasionally proved divisive and difficult.
The preservation commission, for instance, said no in 2015 to demolishing a blacksmith shop on Notchbrook Road. And the year before that, it recommended against knocking down an old gas station on South Main Street to make way for new condos.
Sometimes the review board takes the historic commission’s advice, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it compromises.
The review board in 2015 wrestled with the definition of feasible when the owner of the former Miguel’s Stowe-Away on Mountain Road said it wasn’t feasible for him to repair the building.
A decade-old estimate pegged renovation costs at nearly $950,000. And that didn’t count asbestos and mold cleanup, which added $135,000 to the price. That cleanup would have been necessary just to be able to have real estate agents show the building to potential buyers.
That’s a million dollars for an old building, instead of a similar price tag for a brand-new, modern, energy-efficient structure, the owner’s attorney told the board.
Despite the board’s decision to approve the demolition, one holdout voted against it, saying, ““There are too many examples of buildings coming back that are way beyond this one.”