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Gunslinger Saloon owner appeals rejection of new façade

Gunslinger Saloon, Main Street, Deadwood, S.D., from 2021 image online.
Gunslinger Saloon, Main Street, Deadwood, S.D., from 2021 image online.

A Deadwood property owner has appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court to overturn the city’s denial of his planned renovation. Harlan Kirwan wanted to cover the façade on Gunslinger Saloon with rough-hewn pine, but the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission said no.

The Deadwood City Attorney told justices at oral arguments on Wednesday, Aug. 31, that Kirwan wanted to use a style of architecture from a time earlier than the construction of the building.

Gunslinger Saloon is one of the oldest buildings in Deadwood. It is located on Main Street’s Phoenix Block, so named because those buildings arose from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1879.

City Attorney Quentin Riggins told Supreme Court justices that the building’s owner, Harlan Kirwan, had plans for a façade that was incompatible with the rebuilt structure and the buildings around it.

“The changes that Mr. Kirwan sought to make were to take that building back to a prior architectural period, a boom-time architecture that consisted of canvas buildings and rough-sawn wood buildings,” Riggins said.

He said the oldest known photo of the current building was taken in 1913, and the current architecture follows that style.

Kirwan’s attorney is Kimberly Pehrson. She told justices that the Historic Preservation Commission did not follow criteria outlined in its own ordinances, as well as state law. And she said the city did not have a reporter to create a transcript or even provide accurate minutes of its meeting in which it denied Kirwan’s application for a certificate of appropriateness.

“Deadwood’s argument, in this case, kind of boils down to, ‘It’s close enough for government work,’ but with power comes responsibility, and the Historic District Commission has the power to decide what an appellant… in this case, the appellant… can do with his property, his historic building,” she said.

Pehrson said the Fourth Circuit judge who upheld the city’s decision did not have enough information to assess the historic commission’s process, and she told justices she hoped they would give Kirwan a certificate.

The Supreme Court will deliberate and issue an opinion at a later date.

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007. She Retired from this position in March 2023.