Thunderhead moving along

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Editor’s note: The Courier is tracking the restoration of the Thunderhead Inn, beginning with an article on Jan. 30. Built in 1935, the bar was part of Woodland Park’s bawdier days when gamblers and drinkers gave the place a shadowy reputation. In its new life as a private residence for the owners, Ann Battin, Karen and Doug Gilliam, the Thunderhead is being restored by general contractor Mac Pitrone.

With a vision of the future and reverence for the past, the owners of the Thunderhead Inn in Woodland Park are dedicated to preserving a piece of the city’s history.

Defying the doomsday directives from contractors who recommended destruction for the venerable building, the owners, Ann Battin, Karen and Doug Gilliam, found a serendipitous connection in Mac Pitrone and Mac’s Construction.

“I don’t think there’s any building that can’t be saved,” Pitrone said. “And the owners thought that restoring a historical building was more important than just tearing it down.”

Like others in the area, Pitrone recalls the glory days of the old inn which was built in 1935. “Oh, yes, I was a customer a long time ago. It was a watering hole,” he said. “This is where people came. If there was snow on the roof, they’d have 4 or 5 buckets around the pool table.”

Although burnished and battered by time, the Thunderhead retains its architectural tribute to nature’s bounty. In the dining room, once the saloon’s dance hall, Pitrone has refurbished the native-stone fireplace, polished the log rafters and buffed the oak floors. Local artist Jane Riege enhances the room with a Colorado nature scene in stained glass.

Although the Thunderhead will be a 2,692 square-foot private residence, the owners are preserving history with the bar intact but spiffed-up. As well the two historic woods stoves are up to code and in working order..

In the late 19th-century, the property was one of the largest ranches in Teller County. While the farmhouse was destroyed by fire in 1927, the barn and ice house remain.

With its sagging roof and rotted exterior, the ice house, no doubt, looks questionable. Not in Pitrone’s eyes, however. “Does that look like it should be pushed over?” he said. “We’re putting a new roof on the ice house.”

The project is causing a stir among the old-timers of Woodland Park. “In the 11 months we’ve been here, I don’t think there’s been anybody who comes in here who doesn’t have a story to tell,” Pitrone said. “Some of them might be embarrassing.”

Pitrone, along with Ralph LoCascio, civil engineer with Alpine Engineering, and Chuck Severance, CRS Architects, took the lead on the project which has boosted the area’s employment rate.

Once zoned commercial, the Thunderhead is now residential property on 3.5 acres, with the reduced tax load of 7.96 rather than 29 percent of the assessed value.