The county seat (1878, 8,750 feet), born amid a gold strike, boomed again as a ski resort a century later. The town's Victorian architecture, world-class skiing, and summer festivals have attracted a sophisticated population. Megatrendsauthor John Naisbitt has built a “mega-cabin,” and Hollywood stars have bought old Victorian homes or built new ones in a town often described as the up and coming rival of Aspen.
Although mines operated until the 1970s, their twentieth-century production never matched that of the nineteenth-century boom. Between the 1920s and the 1970s Telluride stagnated, with very little new construction. Poverty preserved the town, as did its remote location at the dead end of a country road. The isolation came to an end in 1969, when Joseph T. Zoline, a plastics manufacturer from Beverly Hills, California, announced plans to build the Telluride Ski Area. Within months property values jumped 150 percent. Newcomers streamed in, mostly monied transplants from other parts of the country. A summertime series of bluegrass, jazz, film, wine, and mushroom festivals also helped turn the town into a popular summer destination.
Old downtown Telluride was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1961, and a 1974 local preservation ordinance restricts alterations, new construction, and demolition within the historic district. The town's Historic and Architectural Review Commission guidelines include a 35-foot height limit, setback requirements, and a ban on raw redwood in favor of painted frame. The “typical” Telluride house is a gabled frame building with simple ornamentation. Many of these modest houses have been overwhelmed with added towers, bay windows, and decorative shingling, which met the new construction guidelines for size, scale, and material but obscured the original design.
Despite ever-mounting development pressures, Telluride has managed to hang on to much of its historic architecture. The main street, Colorado Avenue, supposedly built extra wide to accommodate the turnaround of mule trains, continues to be the commercial center and has retained many original buildings. Telluride's better residences, hospitals, churches, and schools occupy the sunny northern hillside. In the mining era engineers or managers from the East Coast or England lived here, while Italian and Irish families lived down the hill. On less desirable, lower land south of Colorado Avenue lived Telluride's laborers, many of whom were Scandinavian, in a neighborhood bordering the San Miguel River and the railroad tracks.
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