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A grand Piano and a whale of a view on Main Avenue

The street view of 858 Main Avenue, which was remodeled in 2008-09 based on designs by Durango architect Dean Brookie. (Action Line)

Dear Action Line: What is with the round windows on the top floor of 858 Main Ave. Is there a shrine to the Titanic up there? – Call Me Ishmael

Dear Ishmael: Well, duh. That’s the contemporary Italianate look popularized by Renzo Piano. That’s so obvious!

You surely recognized this style seen in Piano’s celebrated architectural work at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, or, closer to home, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Action Line, just to double-check this, contacted Durango architect Dean Brookie, who designed the award-winning renovation there at 858 Main. Why, Action Line wondered, did Brookie choose the Piano look when the project screamed for the more apropos Gehry or Mies style?

OK, OK, you’re right. It’s all a boast. Action Line knows nothing about architectural styles, and knew zilch about Renzo Piano until Brookie patiently spelled out his name so Action Line could look him up on Wikipedia.

Brookie, who is finally able – after eight years of extremely eventful Durango City Council toil – to focus on his business, Brookie Architecture & Planning, was happy to discuss the 2008-09 renovation when contacted last week. He originally had plans to move his business into the space. Those plans fell through, but that’s another story.

“I’m glad somebody’s curious,” he said of Ishmael’s inquiry.

The work included replacing an old yellow brick façade with red brick, constructing the new third floor, and adding a band of round “oculus” windows. Oculus is Latin for “eye.” The oculus windows are the top of a progression that begins with the set of seven vertical windows on the second floor. “Kind of like the dot over the ‘i,’” Brookie said.

There are only six oculus windows, leaving room for a doorway in the middle to access a walk-out balcony. If you’re trying to take a peek, you’ll have to be on the opposite side of Main, and maybe standing on your tippy-toes, to get a good view of the oculus windows.

A drawing of the same building at 858 Main Ave. from the olden days. Schutt Mercantile sold groceries, dry goods and more there in the 1890s. This hangs in the Durango City Hall building. (Courtesy of Dean Brookie)

For the remodel, Brookie Architecture won the 2009 Colorado Governor’s Award for Downtown Excellence for “Best Building Renovation.”

The building has been around for a long time. One of its original tenants was Schutt Mercantile. Proprietor Jesse Schutt opened his store by the 1890s if not before. Schutt came to Durango around 1880 and was the guy who had the well-known Gable House built for his family in 1891-92 at East Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street.

The 858 Main building has also been home to JC Penney and Wallace Furniture, Brookie said.

Oh, and sorry Ishmael, there’s no shrine to the Titanic up there. And those aren’t portholes. You will get a whale of a view, but you won’t find Moby Dick swimming past.

Dear Action Line: Looks like someone was venting their propane tanker on the side of Colorado Highway 172, at the intersection of County Road 302. What is up with this guy? Is this legal? Certainly not environmentally responsible. I would have gotten a better video but this was already feeling too close. – Jim Smith

Dear Jim: Action Line should explain to readers that an attached video showed the incident. White steam is seen coming from an opening in the tank of an obscured truck. Come to think of it, this is just like spotting Moby Dick rising from the ocean swells: “Tanker to starboard! Thar she blows!”

So who regulates this kind of thing? Action Line turned to La Plata County, but learned that the county regulates only certain aspects of a propane tank, and that’s basically when it’s on the ground next to a home, said Todd Beattie, the county’s building and code enforcement manager. Beattie and a county inspector watched the video and concluded that a pressure relief valve was probably doing its job.

“Maybe the tanker was recently filled with gas or the tanker had warmed in the sun, causing an increase in pressure inside the tank forcing the relief valve open,” Beattie said.

Liquid propane can expand a great deal, and those who know what they’re doing will not fill tanks to anywhere near capacity.

Oversight of the transportation of propane in Colorado is shared by the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety, said Scott Simmons, the LP-gas/weights and measures supervisor with Oil and Public Safety. Yes, there is such a supervisor.

Liquified petroleum (LP) can be vented outdoors legally under conditions “that result in rapid dispersion,” according to code. Just don’t do this within 25 feet of combustibles, and don’t walk away during the process. That’s illegal.

Simmons said that propane isn’t considered to be a greenhouse gas or air pollutant by either the state Department of Health or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Simmons agreed with the county that the video likely showed propane being vented. His main concern was whether the truck was being attended, and concluded that “I am not overly alarmed by this process.”

Good, because there are already enough people walking around with prosthetic legs made of whale bone.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Full disclosure: Action Line has never read the book nor seen more than short movie clips of “Moby Dick.”

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