Finbro Construction Co. workers finish placing the finial atop the newly reconstructed tower on the Nugget Building.  (Photo courtesy of Melissa Plantz)

Earlier this year, when Bill and Katrine Formby, longtime owners of the Nugget Building, sold the 129-year-old structure, they brought to a close a 21-year project to restore this grand dame of Telluride’s main street to its former grandeur.

The sale, to the Telluride Film Festival for an undisclosed amount, was completed on March 31 and included a $2.5 million donation by the couple to help the festival acquire the building.

Even then, though, the Formbys’ work wasn’t quite finished.

Pandemic-related delays meant that it wasn’t until late spring when the finishing touches — shingles, copper gutters, hip-caps and surrounds, as well as an 8-foot finial covered in gold leaf — were ready for installation.

Those final steps were completed on June 1, and at Telluride Town Council’s June 29 meeting, Mayor DeLanie Young and Historic Preservation Director Jonna Wensel recognized the Formbys with a commendation, the Historic Landmark Award.

Given by the Historic and Architectural Review Commission (HARC), the commendation recognizes “outstanding contribution to the preservation of a local landmark.”

While HARC hands out a number of preservation awards bi-annually, Wensel explained that this time around the commission opted to create a new commendation to underline the couple’s herculean and sympathetic efforts to save and restore the Nugget Building.

“This is really unlike any other preservation project we’ve seen in Telluride,” Wensel said. “The amount of time, energy, money and passion that they put into this building is unprecedented in our town. The other consideration was that the building is a locally designated landmark structure, so that heightens even more the importance of its preservation. What they have achieved is extraordinary.”

When the Formbys purchased the Nugget Building in 1999, it was not in good shape. The original windows were boarded up with blue- and pink-painted plywood and the sandstone structure had been stabilized with shotcrete. 

The pair, who over the years spent $4 million personally on the building, set about the task of faithfully restoring the interior and exterior of the distinctive Richardsonian Romanesque structure that sits on the northwest corner of Colorado Avenue and Fir Street. 

It was a lengthy and complex project that culminated most recently in reconstruction of the Nugget’s “top hat” — the balustrade, parapet, tower and finial — which had existed on the original building when it was completed in 1892. 

“While we appreciated it in its previous state, now we can see what the building’s original intent was,” Wensel noted of the tower restoration. “It’s an extraordinary gift to be able to see what the building was originally.”

Wensel continued, “Katrine and Bill never gave up on the building. There were several milestones that they achieved with the building where other owners might have said, ‘We’ve done it, we’ve stabilized it and it’s able to be used. It’s time to stop.’ But the Formbys went the full distance.”

The town council meeting that included the award was held via Zoom. 

Speaking from her home in Austin to the meeting’s attendees, Katrine Formby praised the work of Fritz Klinke and Loren Lew, master restorers from Silverton who were completing restoration work on the Telluride Historical Museum over 20 years ago when the Nugget Building’s new owners approached them.

“We were lucky that we were able to hire Fritz and Loren and they held our hands throughout the entire process,” Katrine said, also commending the building’s manager, Amy Cook; the Town of Telluride, which early on secured over half a million dollars in grants for the work on the building; and Finbro Construction, Sante Architects and Pekkala Engineering, the trio of local firms involved in the final phase of restoring the tower that began in fall 2019.

According to Katrine Formby, she and her husband, who have split their time between Austin and Telluride for more than 30 years, decided to sell the building and complete the restoration when it became apparent that Telluride’s high altitude was not agreeing with Bill’s health. 

“We wanted to sell it to the right person or group of people who would love the building like we did and who would carry on our dream of making this an internationally well-known building beloved by Telluride,” she said. “We knew that the Telluride Film Festival was the perfect buyer.”

Constructed from native red sandstone, the structure housed the Telluride Power Company and a jewelry and sewing machine store, as well as the First National Bank of Telluride, following its completion almost 130 years ago.

Katrine explained that the original tower most likely was removed after the Cornet Creek flood of 1914.

“Historical pictures of downtown Telluride show a decorative tower on the southeast corner of the building, but historical photos after 1914 no longer show the tower,” she said. “It is believed that the devastating Cornet Creek flood that same year destabilized the building’s foundation, making the heavy tower a safety issue and requiring it to be disassembled.”

She added, “I’ll never forget what Fritz Klinke said to Bill and me when they began the restoration so many years ago. Fritz said, ‘The building is my client.’ I have never forgotten those wise words. Keeping in mind that the building is the client, I have tried over the past 21 years to always ask myself ‘What does the building want?’ before making any decisions. This has turned out to be a faithful, guiding light.”