Abuse of Denver Historic Landmark Certification

As a landscape architect, Saco Rienk DeBoer’s (SR DeBoer) work can be experienced in a number of city parks and many private gardens throughout the city and the West. As a city planner, he co-authored Denver’s first zoning code, devised many of its roadways, and led in the development of mountain parks. The residents of the City of Denver are fortunate enough to have the ability to visit many parks (including the Botanic Gardens) where they can experience SR DeBoer’s work. Those parks include, but are not limited to, the Denver Botanical Gardens, Red Rocks Amphitheater, City Park, Washington Park and Sunken Gardens.

Therefore, the family feels that this should be enough for the residents of Denver, and that the family’s private property should not be up for grabs through the attempted abuse of historical landmark designation simply because SR DeBoer owned it at one time. For this fact alone, the family wonders why the City of Denver would want to assist “neighbors” in essentially a “taking” of the last remaining inheritance SR DeBoer left his family? Are the many parks SR DeBoer helped design to beautify the city not enough?

It has been 33 years since his passing. During that time the “neighbors” of the property have never discussed their supposed feelings with SR DeBoer ‘s family. In fact, SR DeBoer ‘s own daughter was overwhelmed by the property’s heavy amount of upkeep and over the years sold pieces off to the people now trying to “take” the rest of the property from the family. It was not until his daughter’s (Elizabeth Wright) passing in July of 2005 and the advancement towards selling the property by her remaining children, that the “neighbors” ever sought to designate this property historic. Therefore, the fact that they are acting as supposed “heroes” for his legacy over his own family is clearly an obvious attempt to use his memory and minimize his own family’s history on the property (86 years) for obviously selfish gains.

The LaFons and the neighbors who signed the petition for the historical designation do not have the first-hand experience with SR DeBoer as the DeBoer family does. The SR DeBoer family personally experienced what happened on the property and know his ultimate wishes for the property. SR DeBoer passed away in 1974 and none of the members of the neighborhood ever personally knew him.

Currently, the Historical Society of Denver and neighbors of the property on East Iliff Avenue in Denver are trying to designate an historical district, which includes several surrounding properties. Leigh and Mark LaFon entered the application for historical designation without the consent or knowledge of the SR DeBoer family and obtained signatures of members of the neighborhood.

Leigh Lafon specifically wrote a letter to the Landmark Commission asking for the process to be “fast-tracked” and that her request needs be kept a secret from the family of SR DeBoer. The City of Denver employees granted her request based on her alleged concern over imminent demolition of buildings on the property. There have never been demolition permits on any of the 3 buildings on SR DeBoer’s property and the family of SR DeBoer was never notified of the initial hearings with the Landmark Commission. The employees of the Landmark Preservation Commission could have easily found out that there were no demolition permits obtained, but chose not to. There is no doubt that the false accusation of demolition fueled the contrived sense of alarm the Lafons were raising within the neighborhood.

The first (out of 4 total attempts due to corrections made based on SR DeBoer’s family’s rebuttals) application was a 45-page document that contained numerous misrepresentations and historical errors. Leigh and Mark LaFon have had numerous opportunities to appear before the historical commission and other city organizations to argue their points while the SR DeBoer family have had virtually no opportunity to do so.

Ana Novas, who lives in the farmhouse adjacent to the SR DeBoer property and SR DeBoer’s actual home during his lifetime, was initially interested in selling her property along with the SR DeBoer family and even provided a developer’s name. However, she then signed the petition with the neighbors later on. The neighbors of the SR DeBoer property, including the LaFons, refer to this property as “their forest”,”forested enclave” and “their sanctuary” and have long enjoyed the efforts of SR DeBoer’s family to maintain this heavily-treed property. Due to financial issues and the passing of Elizabeth Wright (SR DeBoer’s daughter) her children were forced to put the property up for sale. Without direct knowledge and fearing development, the neighbors chose not to address the issue with the family, but to underhandedly seek historical designation so the family could do nothing with the property.

Supposedly, the main issue lies with the possible demolition of what is termed “the office” of SR DeBoer and other dwellings on the 1+ acre site. No demolition permits have ever been obtained for SR DeBoer’s former office or any other building on the family’s property. In the application (s), Leigh and Mark LaFon (in addition to The Cultural Landscape Foundation) claim that the property located at 515 East Iliff Avenue was once his house and is of a rare architectural design. In fact, “the office” was never his home. They also claim that the property is a display for different architectural designs throughout the years and insinuate that it should, essentially, be frozen in time.

The application for the historical district contains Leigh and Mark LaFon’s house (which they claim a heavy connection to artist John E Thompson and SR DeBoer), the entire property of the Elizabeth Wright Trust (which ends up being 60% (or more) of the proposed historical district), the farmhouse where Ana Novas currently resides, and the home of Elizabeth Wright located at 575 East Iliff Avenue that was built in the 1950s. Also, there is a small dwelling on the property referred to as the “cottage” that the LaFon’s claim to have a strong connection to John E Thompson, a local painter in Denver, CO.

While John E Thompson did rent the cottage for 2 years using what is now the LaFon home as a studio, the heavy connection to SR DeBoer they are claiming simply did not exist beyond just being friends. John E. Thompson never lived in the present day home of the LaFons. The LaFon’s have termed the entire SR DeBoer property as being a past and present artists colony. This fact has never been substantiated and though the family has done extensive research in defense of this designation they have never found any evidence of an artist colony, nor is there a present day colony.

The grandchildren of SR DeBoer have testified on several occasions in Landmark hearings that they grew up on the property (all are in their 60’s or nearly 60) and that there was never an artist’s colony or formal gathering of artists, nor did SR DeBoer “host” artists for the means of furthering the artistic community, as the Lafons claim. Yet, the City of Denver continues to aid the Lafons with their plight to rob SR DeBoer’s family of their property rights.

The application(s) submitted by Leigh and Mark LaFon grossly overstate the historical importance of these properties. Examining each:

· Leigh and Mark LaFon’s House; 2260 South Pinon Court (formerly 519 East Iliff Avenue)
Leigh and Mark LaFon’s house has received major renovations and additions over the years since the home was originally built. Leigh and Mark LaFon have added over 1500sq ft and a detached garage on this property. Their addition(s) are not “sensitive” additions as they claim. In fact, the differences between the original building and the addition(s) have been documented and the Landmark Commission did not recommend their home as historic.

· Farmhouse residence of Ana Novas; 501 East Iliff Avenue
Ms. Novas’ house has also received major renovations and additions over the years since its original construction. The farmhouse that Ana lives in is a mere shadow of its former self, yet the LaFon’s claim it’s the oldest house in South Denver, even thought the majority of the original construction has been overwrought by newer construction. In addition to the Lafon’s home, Ana Novas’ home was also not included in a recommendation for historic status by the Landmark Commission.

· Elizabeth Wright residence; 575 East Iliff Avenue.
This residence was constructed in the 1950s by TW Wright and not by SR DeBoer like the application claims. This building was not influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, as the Lafons claim. This is at best, a total stretch and an outright fib.

· Elizabeth Wright Trust/ The Office; 515 East Iliff Avenue
The “office” was constructed around 1931 to act as SR DeBoer’s office. This location never acted as a home for SR DeBoer and has not been substantiated in the application. The architect for the “office” was not SR DeBoer as also claimed. The “office” is claimed buy the Lafons to have beams that were hand painted by John E. Thompson. This claim is, as well, false and has never been substantiated. The Lafons did include a supposed interview in their latest application where SR DeBoer is claimed to have been interviewed and mentioned the beams. The family of SR DeBoer has never seen this interview and the interview was not referenced by the Lafons appropriately in their application so this claim, also, can not be substantiated.

· Elizabeth Wright Trust/ Cottage; 517 East Iliff Avenue
The “cottage” is claimed in the application to have acted as a haven for starving artists and is also included in the historic designation. Simply put, the “cottage” has never acted as a haven for starving artists. The “cottage” was used as a rental over the years and the majority of the time it was rented out to people not considered to be artists. In fact, the historical address listings, found in the Denver Public Library, confirm that the “cottage” was occupied by people who considered themselves artists for a very short amount of time. Therefore, the claim that this property was a haven for starving artists, is again, false. It was used as a home for one of the sons (not an artist) of Elizabeth Wright for 30+ years and was merely a uninsulated building until 2004. This dwelling has received substantial renovation and began life as a glorified shed. Approximately 3 years ago, the inside was gutted and half of the stucco on the outside was removed. The largest part of the remodel has been finished, but there is still a great deal left undone due to financial issues. The claim of the “cottage” being an integral part of the artists colony has never been substantiated and is not true.

While Leigh and Mark LaFon have billed themselves as saviors of historically-valuable property, they did not seem interested in historical values when it meant constructing an addition to their residence or adding a garage(that are not sensitive to the design of the original building), both of which would have been denied to them had their residence been deemed a historical landmark PRIOR to the construction. How convenient for the LaFons that now that their additions are added, that they are NOW seeking historical classification and using the supposed preservation of the SR DeBoer legacy as a convenient excuse to halt advancement or sale of the SR DeBoer property.

Additionally, the LaFons are now maliciously trying to block the family of SR DeBoer from taking actions (selling) with the property that are allowed by any property owner – primarily because the LaFons do not want to lose the privacy they feel the SR DeBoer property affords them. The Lafons have seen fit to slander members of SR DeBoer’s family publicly and now have included friends of the family in order to get their way. It is obvious that when the truth is not on ones side, playing dirty is the only way one will get what one wants. The City of Denver has aided them in their efforts through enormous corruption of city employees and organizations.

The LaFons are welcome to purchase the property located at 575, 515, and 517 E. Iliff Avenue from the SR DeBoer family, as is anyone interested in the property, for fair market value. Thus, the LaFons can then ensure that the trees (of which most are so old, they are end-of-life and considered dangerous by professionals) on the SR DeBoer property remain intact. As with the so-called “historical” areas while also allowing the SR DeBoer family to relieve themselves of the ongoing financial burden imposed by maintaining this property. But by no means is the property of historical value claimed by the Lafons and the SR DeBoer family should be allowed to sell their property as planned. It simply isn’t possible that people, who never met SR DeBoer, have more invested in his memory than his own family.

SR DeBoer’s family feels that SR DeBoer is more than honored in various ways throughout the City of Denver, including a park named in his honor. Not long after his death in 1974, his daughter, Elizabeth Wright, donated some of his personal items to the Denver Public library for public enjoyment. For this reason, the family feels it is their right to move on with their lives and do what was instructed both in SR DeBoer’s will when he left his property to his daughter (Elizabeth Wright) and then upon her passing in July 2005, equal division between her remaining children. This should be able to occur without the ongoing harassment from “neighbors” of the SR DeBoer property and the City of Denver.

As of late, the Lafons have now managed to get two more hearings, without the family of SR DeBoer’s knowledge, with the Denver Planning Board. The most recent Landmark hearing attended by all parties was on November 21st, 2006 (the first was in June) with the next scheduled hearing with Blueprint Denver on January 10th. The family (nor their lawyers) did not receive notification that their property was scheduled on the Denver Planning Board’s December 6th agenda.

The next hearing is scheduled for January 3rd (immediately following the New Year’s holiday) and the family only found out about it on December 26th, 2006 by chance. The family of SR DeBoer has learned that the information contained in the latest application submitted by the Lafons was forwarded to the members of the Planning Board in their meeting packets without the rebuttal document or any additional information submitted by the SR DeBoer family. This is yet another blatant attempt to conveniently leave out the family’s views and rebuttals to outright falsifications contained within the application(s) Leigh and Mark Lafon submitted.

These hearings, coincidentally, are happening during the holiday season and no doubt were an attempt to capitialize on the fact that the family was unaware and busy with holiday schedules. During the entire ordeal, which has been nearly all of 2006, the family has found out about the underhanded manuevers of the Lafons and the City of Denver employees they happen to know, by sheer happenstance.

The corruption that SR DeBoer complained about during his employment at the city apparently continues to this day. One would think that property owners would be the first persons contacted for issues pertaining to their own property. Apparently not, because it’s the neighbors who seem to have the control over adjoining properties. Of course, those who have connections within the city, that is.