The Victorian architecture of Aspen awakens a historical appreciation in all of us. The spirit of those who once walked the streets and inhabited its buildings, making a life for themselves here, adds to the romantic aura, or je ne sais quoi, that culminates in Aspen’s intangible allure.
Exuding character, colorful whimsy and the architectural frivolity of a bygone era, none of the Silver Boom Era addresses pulls at my heartstrings more than the Mesa Store, located at 4th and Main. Though it has been superficially transformed by a coat of deep blue paint and boasts a new-age yoga studio within its glass storefront, in my mind’s eye, I still envision its dusty red siding with bright white Victorian trimmings.
One summer day in the early 1960s, my father purchased the Mesa Store building. It was an old, dilapidated structure in need of salvation and human occupancy.
Gaping holes could be seen in the rooftop and the flooring inside was rotten.
The building desperately needed a new roof and, at that time, roofing companies were a scarcity. His goal was to get a new roof on before the winter snows arrived. He hurried back to Texas to round up a group of male laborers to assist him with the daunting, time-sensitive project.
When my dad, the proud new owner, first showed off this treasure to his wife, I’m told my mother turned to him with the classic spousal inquiry of, “Have you lost your mind?” Perhaps my dad had been grinning ear-to-ear or more likely, she recognized the challenges of resurrecting such an edifice in a remote little mountain town. My father worked hard to refurbish the old structure and was able to have it family-ready by the following summer.
Once the restoration was complete, he topped off the Mesa Store facade with a 5-foot-tall white statue, a semi-nude woman that he affectionately named “The Snow Princess”. For almost a decade she reigned proudly from atop her white pedestal, overlooking Main Street, her lovely gaze transfixed on Aspen Mountain. For years to come we would call upon the Snow Princess to deliver fresh powder to the mountain slopes.
Not long after the purchase, a man from Dallas leased the downstairs commercial space, which became the now-legendary Mesa Store Bakery. It still inspires salivary releases from older generation Aspenites who maintain memories of its gourmet sandwiches and delicious sweets.
Though I was just a little girl, I still have vivid recollections of certain aspects of the Mesa Store. The long, exterior wooden stairwell, which led to our upstairs apartment, was quite a climb for a child. If you look closely you’ll see that those stairs still lean a tad to the west, rickety and off-kilter. At the top, just inside the door was a steel trough that held our leather, lace-up ski boots. In the winter, the Mesa Store always grew gigantic, opaque icicles that would hang from the roofline downward, reaching below the second-floor windows.
I shared a front bedroom with my youngest brother; the foot of my bed abutted a large window facing Main Street. Every morning, I would awaken to a view of Shadow Mountain and “Ajax” (a ’60s moniker for Aspen Mountain that is still heavily debated). Both our beds were covered with Hudson Bay blankets, the thick, cream-colored wool ones with the primary-colored stripes of red, green and yellow, with black on the end. Beneath that blanket was another light-blue heated blanket, a warm cocoon on winter mornings, which made it hard for tired young skiers to crawl out of bed.
The smell of hearty breakfasts wafting from the little kitchen would finally lure us from slumber and on Saturdays we would walk down the street for a special breakfast at Arthur’s, just a few blocks away. Those early years were a struggle for me, from lacing my ski boots properly, not losing my mittens and keeping up with my three older brothers on the ski hill. I shed some tears but those childish hardships did not deter me from falling in love with life in the mountains.
Many people have crossed one of the Mesa Store’s thresholds, at some point or another, due to the multitude of businesses that have been housed there. Whatever their reason for patronizing her, their memories are usually favorable and warm.
We spent a few seasons in the Mesa Store but as my brothers and I continued to grow, more spacious quarters became necessary. Eventually my father sold 500 W. Main St., but memories of our time there endure. Somehow, through the decades of family shuffles, deaths and relocations, I ended up with the Snow Princess. To this day, she and I both continue to revel at the beauty of Aspen and the special life it offers.
Margaret Reckling lives in Woody Creek and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.