Stone: Playing the Aspen Name Game: history embalmed
September 5, 2013
Given the nature of newspaper deadlines, I am writing this column on Monday, Labor Day, that bizarre holiday on which we celebrate hard work by not working at all.
It's as if we celebrated Independence Day with handcuffs and chains or celebrated Armistice Day by declaring war.
Or — hang on, minor detour ahead! — if you're looking for a truly vile contradiction, consider the words of Eric Canton, Republican House majority leader, who said on Labor Day 2012, "Today we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success."
That's right whether in ignorance, arrogance or intentional dishonesty, this paragon of Republican democracy declared that Labor Day was intended to honor management.
Anyway, this holiday weekend features, among many other events, the MotherLode volleyball tournament — a vital affair named after an extinct restaurant.
It makes me think of Salvador Dali's surrealistic masterpiece "The Persistence of Memory." You know it: the one with the melting watches.
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The Mother Lode restaurant is gone, but the name persists in our memory. It lingers on in the volleyball tournament and in the "historic preservation" of its name, which is still nailed to the facade of the old Mother Lode Building.
That name preservation is a strange one. The building is old, but the Mother Lode restaurant wasn't really that historic. It dated back into the 1960s. It had a good run, but that hardly goes back to those really historic mining days, does it?
But much more annoying is the fact that the "preserved" Mother Lode lettering has been painted black — against a dark-gray background.
It's a sort of camouflage: We're preserving it because we have to, but we don't want anyone to actually notice it. (Nothing kills a good party like someone noticing there's a corpse in the corner.)
Dressed in its black-on-gray color scheme, the building looks like it's in mourning — and with the standard third-floor brick condo on top, the final effect is like a poor old widow, all in black, shuffling down the street with a heavy load of bricks on her hunched back.
A sad story.
And now the building's new occupant — The Aspen Times — can't put up a proper sign of its own because the facade is already filled. So the Times, a truly historic local business, remains almost invisible in its new offices under the mournful reminder of a not-really-historic restaurant.
Meanwhile, over on Main Street, the building that the Times occupied for more than half a century still has the Times' name in big gold letters across its purple facade.
What will happen to that building, now under new ownership (as they say), is anybody's guess.
Are those words — "Aspen Times" — officially "historic"? And, if so, will the new owners, saddled with that historic lettering, go for black camouflage?
Maybe those new owners could open a restaurant in the old Times space — and call it The Mother Lode. Then they could just swap signs.
One way or another, both of those buildings eventually will fall into the Aspen one-upmanship geography game of "where things used to be."
You know how that goes: "I'll meet you across the street from the old post office. You know, where the Wienerstube used to be. Where they're building that hideous new art museum."
Ah yes, the persistence of memory.
But now that we're playing the Persistence of Memory Name Game, I'm reminded of the historical mirror-image of that preserve-the-historical-sign effort: the "Andre's Building."
You know that Galena Street building, I'm sure, now proud home to a Prada emporium. If you stand across the street (safe from the mobs of billionaires' wives battling over the last $10,000 fur-covered Prada handbag) and look up, you can see "Andre's Building 1885" at the very top of the building.
That sign bothers the heck out of me — and has since the day the building's new owner put it up there to commemorate, well, himself.
Andre did not erect that building in 1885. He bought it, close to a century after it was built, and then nailed his name on it — unlike most owners of historic buildings in town who proudly preserve the names of the original owners. (When Dick Butera bought the Hotel Jerome, he didn't change the name to Hotel Dick, did he?)
Many people, I am informed, have fond memories of the disco Andre stuffed into that old building, complete with a roof that would open to the sky when an evening reached the appropriate level of frenzy. Personally, given my deep aversion to any place that calls itself a "disco," I never set foot in the joint. But the disco-ness is irrelevant. The name change was — still is, always shall be — obnoxious. Worse: tacky.
But that's the endless wrestling match of preservation and memory. Or is it just history and ego?
What do we save? What can we really save? A name? A building? A memory?
Salvador Dali was Spanish, so let's stop to consider another loony Spaniard: Queen Juana la Loca (which translates as Joanna the Mad or, as I personally prefer, Crazy Jane), queen of Castile in the early 1500s.
Truly and deeply insane, Crazy Jane went completely nuts when her husband, Philip the Fair (gotta love those names) died suddenly.
Distraught with grief, Juana refused to allow Philip's body to be buried and as the story goes, she carried the embalmed corpse around with her for years, propping it up for meals and conversations and, some say, sleeping with it — or at least in the same room with it — until finally they hauled her away and locked her up.
Is that Aspen? Keening and crooning over the embalmed bodies of our dearly departed until they haul us away and lock us up?
Or do we just slap on a new name and a fresh coat of paint, tear the top off the corpse and disco until dawn?
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. Email him at email@example.com.