The new owners of Jack Nicholson's landmark home on Triangle Park posted a $30,000 security bond before they were allowed to raise the structure by one foot to allow basement excavation.
The new owners of Jack Nicholson\ Credit: Madeleine Osberger / Aspen Journalism

ASPEN – The home designated on the National Register of Historic Places near Triangle Park, formerly owned by actor Jack Nicholson, is undergoing a top-to-bottom remodel that appears to leave little that’s originally intact, other than its exterior walls.

Construction on the Queen Anne-style home, built between 1886-88, is under close watch by the city due to its historic significance. Its first owner was Charles Hallam who sold it to T.G. Lyster, an early Aspen banker. The Shaw family, whose name has been most attached to the home, acquired it in 1929 and owned it until the 1980 sale to Nicholson and a partner.

During a review last October by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), plans by new owner Andrew Hauptman to alter an original barn shed were scuttled.

The addition of a full basement, window wells and a new foundation were approved, however, as was the removal of an old cottonwood tree that one former HPC member thought should have been retained.

“This is a really important building to the community,” said Sara Adams, senior planner for the city of Aspen. The Shaw house is included on the city’s “Victorian” list, Aspen’s inventory of landmark sites and structures, as well as on the national register.

Nicholson and record producer Lou Adler purchased the home from the Dorothy Koch Shaw Estate in 1980 for $555,000, according to attorney Joe Krabacher, who was involved in the sale.

“They bought the house because they couldn’t get reception to the Lakers’ games” at Nicholson’s home in the Maroon Creek subdivision, Krabacher said. In the West End home, in an age before cable TV, reception was more than adequate.

Krabacher also represented the duo when the home sold last year for $11 million to an LLC controlled by the Hauptman family of Aspen and Los Angeles.

Aspen's Historic Preservation Commission denied the new owner's request to remove an historic and original barn door in order to provide a large garage. The door has been retained. An historic cottonwood tree was felled, however.
Aspen\ Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

No more carte blanche

When completed this winter, the home will top out at about 8,000 square feet, said project manager Don Carpenter. The building will be lifted about a foot off the ground to shore up the foundation and excavate a full basement.

“It’s quite an honor to work on this project,” Carpenter said. “This beloved structure definitely dials the intensity for the project team to make sure we do the right thing.”

The city’s purview only extends to exterior renovations, Adams said. But there is a restriction in place that protects the ridge line views from neighboring Hallam Lake.

Aspects of the home that aren’t original — such as the windows — may be altered, especially if it returns the structure closer to its original design.

Prior to the early 1970s, when the city became interested in historic preservation, homeowners had carte blanche to change whatever they wanted in a structure. “Judge Shaw’s house,” as it’s commonly called, located on the corner of Lake Avenue and Smuggler Street, was originally built with a screened-in porch that was later removed.

One aspect of the home that’s original — and that the HPC insisted be retained — is a barn shed feature. The new owners “wanted to do some changes to this area but the HPC said ‘no.’ So they figured out a way for it to function as a garage. That was huge,” Adams said.

Fletcher Brown, David R.C. Brown and Darcy Brown ride by the house  at 206 Lake Ave. once owned by Judge Shaw' in this photograph from 1918.
Fletcher Brown, David R.C. Brown and Darcy Brown ride by the house at 206 Lake Ave. once owned by Judge Shaw\ Credit: Courtesy photo / Aspen Historical Society

Memories of the house

Lisa Markalunas, an Aspen native and West End resident, said she remembers playing in the Shaw house — while it was still owned by the original family — as a child. She publicly objected to the basement proposal, as well as a request to remove a cottonwood tree.

“I was concerned they were raising the largest house ever lifted in town,” she said. “It’s twice the size of the ‘blue Vic’ on Bleeker Street.

“I went to the HPC and argued whether it was a good thing.”

The commission, on which Markalunas used to serve, determined that the house could be moved.

Markalunas also objected to removing one of the large cottonwoods.

“Every time a developer wants to take down a tree, it’s suddenly diseased,” she said.

Her appeal to the city on this issue also went nowhere.

Carpenter said the tree which “had maybe five to 10 years left of its life, wasn’t the healthiest.” He added, “the bottom line is all of the utilities come underneath the driveway and it’s a challenge to get proper separations.”

Following a meeting with the city arborist and city manager, a decision was rendered to allow the tree’s removal.

Markalunas, who admitted to being “a bit of a purist when it comes to historic preservation,” said, “If it had been one of the trees in the front of the house, I might have chained myself to the tree.”

That’s what the late mountaineer and Aspenite Fritz Stammberger did when trees were cut down to make way for the Miner’s Building on Main Street.

Carpenter reiterated that the home is being reconstructed with plenty of TLC.

“It’s a very special house in a special location,” he said. The owners posted a $30,000 security bond in order to lift the house off its current foundation to ensure it remains intact.x

When Nicholson and Adler owned the home, “it was fairly modest, by Aspen standards,” said Krabacher. “It wasn’t like they had gold-plated faucets or anything. It’s where guys could come to watch games.”

When asked, “if these walls could talk, what would they say?” Krabacher laughed and replied, “see no evil, hear no evil.”

Editor’s note:
This story was done in collaboration with the Aspen Daily News, which published the story on Monday, June 16, 2014. The story was corrected on June 17th to reflect the fact that the house was not originally built for Judge Shaw, but was purchased by him in 1929.