Aspen Times Weekly: Memories from Main Street
The purple building on Main Street is an Aspen icon. And to those of us who work — or who have worked — within its walls, this building is more than just a place to go from 9 to 5. It’s where we have learned the ropes of the newspaper business; it’s where we’ve laughed and cried, whispered and screamed; it’s where our kids go after school; it’s where we watch the Fourth of July parade. This funky building is our home away from home.
Of course Those of us who currently work for The Aspen Times aren’t the only ones who’ve called 310 E. Main St. home. The Times has been around for more than a century, moving from an office on Cooper Avenue to Main Street in the early 1900s, when the Aspen Democrat merged with The Aspen Times to become the Aspen Democrat-Times. In 1927, the paper again became The Aspen Times, and has remained the same — and in the same location — until this very day.
But next week, the Times is moving. Our building was sold to the owners of the Hotel Jerome last year (for what purpose, we don’t know yet), and the parent company of the Times found us a new home in the renovated Mother Lode building.
Our new building, or at least its façade, is still historic. And our offices will still be in downtown Aspen. But it’s going to be different, very different. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It remains to be seen.
Regardless, we will carry with us the memories of days and nights spent in the funky purple building on Main Street. Here are a few of those stories, collected from employees past and present, in their own words.
The “big purple building,” as my son Charlie calls it, has been my home away from home for the last 12 years. It is not the most glamorous place to work, but I never complained. I love my job, and especially the people and animals I work with. Sometimes it was more of a danger zone than an office, but that is kind of what gave it its appeal. If the building could talk it would have stories that would blow all of our minds. For me it is bittersweet to leave this piece of history and start anew two blocks away; so much of my life was created within these Aspen Times walls. I will be sure to take all of my memories and the stories of newspapers past with me as we start anew in the Mother Lode building. And even though we are upgrading our work environment, I am happy to let you know all of the quirky people are coming with us to keep creating new stories and new memories in our new work space. I am looking forward to it, even though I am sure going to miss the purple.
— Gunilla Asher, publisher
I will never forget the first time I visited The Aspen Times. I was new in town and looking for work as a journalist and met with Tim Mutrie, then sports editor, for coffee. After stints as editor at both a snowboarding and surf magazine in Southern California, I thought he’d be my best shot at doing some writing about the sports that I love. I was greeted by a sneezing, red-nosed Tim who was having yet another allergic reaction to the resident cat, Scoop. That damn cat loved to be by Tim. He’d curl up on top of his computer, underneath his desk, anywhere he could be close and Tim tolerated Scoop the best he could, more out of respect than love. That was back when Mike Hagan was editor and Stewy and Chad and Jeanne comprised the editorial team, whose offices looked more like a college dorm with the odd-angled ceilings and slightly off-kilter floors, memorabilia tacked all over the walls, and of course the several pair of skis laying around. There were just as many dogs as derelicts, including my own beloved Psycho Paws, a canine criminal who once chewed the door to The Aspen Times when he was left there alone for too long one day when Tim went skiing. Tim says no one ever noticed the damage and that says everything about the kind of place it was — where free spirits could roam and maybe chew a door or two without restraint. It was a place where character was celebrated in every nook and cranny of that decrepit old building. I walked in thinking I’d write about sports and walked out with a weekly column about my life and love in Aspen that would continue to sustain me as a writer for over a decade. I will never forget my first visit to that old purple storefront on Main Street when I knew, like you only know when you’ve found a true love, that this was my place.
— Ali Margo, columnist
When Gil Rudawsky and I worked there in the early 1990s, the office upstairs at the back (where our desks were) was about 95 degrees in the summer (at least it felt that way). Pure misery. The owners finally put a huge cooling system up there, with an enormous fan. It was like sitting near an airplane propeller. And the thing sucked hot air out like a wind tunnel.
Gil would take random pieces of paper and throw them up in the air. The papers would float about, then, getting near the fan, go “whap” and get stuck to the office side of the fan. It was pretty funny. Kept us amused for hours.
— Cam Burns, former reporter
During the 1980s and 1990s, The Aspen Times building hosted more than its fair share of impromptu music events. Often, when the mega-weekly edition was finished for the week (the daily edition was just a pup then), writer/columnist Paul Andersen would team up with photographer extraordinaire Frank Martin for a quickie concert back in what was then the photo studio/climbing wall.
Martin, of course, went on to a legendary music and graphic arts career in the Roaring Fork Valley after his time as a black and white photographer for The Aspen Times. Andersen went on to become an author and longtime columnist for The Aspen Times. The duo’s big hit of the day was a road song depicting the tortuous drudgery of an Aspen commuter. The tune, which was recorded and enjoyed local radio play, was called “The Downvalley Shuffle.”
The Aspen Times building has welcomed at least two winners of the Indianapolis 500 — Danny Sullivan and Eddie Cheever, both of whom were interviewed here. Both lived, for a time, in Aspen. The Times also has welcomed, on numerous occasions, race driver Janet Guthrie (of Aspen), the first women to drive in the Indy 500.
More motorsports history and the Aspen Times building: Drag racing icon Kenny Bernstein, the first man to go 300 mph in a dragster, also visited The Aspen Times. He was, for a time, a part-time Snowmass Village resident.
Also, during the 1950s, sports car races were held on the downtown streets of Aspen (many still dirt streets), sometimes zooming right down Main in front of The Aspen Times building.
Among the many, many reporters who have worked at The Aspen Times, one who had a memorable stretch along “reporters row” was author Ted Conover.
Conover worked at the Times to research what would be his book about Aspen. It was called “Whiteout: Lost in Aspen.” Many details of The Aspen Times offices, as they existed in the late 1980s, are recalled in Conover’s book, along with details of the many colorful characters who worked at or wandered into The Aspen Times.
— Dale Strode, sports editor
There was the night Dudley, Nate, Vonderhaar and I had to go to Glenwood to finish the paper because they couldn’t put out the electrical fire in the wall.
And there was the night I had to sleep under my desk because of the bears in the alley …
— Dan Thomas, copy editor
One late night I was drafted to help proof the Times Daily (you were sequestered in this little closet by the climbing wall), and I heard all this commotion in the upstairs office. Found out that the reporters were hanging out the window trying to see the filming of this soap opera in the Jerome hot tub below… (They had the best view to see if the glamorous movie stars had any clothes on). They wouldn’t let me near the window and yelled at me to get back to work, so we could all get out of there by the midnight deadline. I was sure they were all just in a rush to get to the J-Bar and join in the hot tub festivities… of course, each one was hoping to tell MEH the next day who was Around Aspen.
— Gayle Denise Johnson, former ad production staffer
Robert Grundy and I painted the front side of the building back in the ’80s — what an experience.
— Gary Hubbell, former columnist
There’s two bonuses I’ve not thought of. Getting away from all the dust and dirt. However, I will say this, best place I’ve ever worked.
— Paul Conrad, former photographer
I will bet there is still cocaine in that building.
— Mick Ireland, former reporter
Funny stories and ribald anecdotes can only begin to describe a building that held the soul of a newspaper and the people who worked there. Here was a building that defined a sense of place for those who grew up there, who learned life lessons and discovered themselves through the labors of producing a community newspaper.
Here was a building that knew the frenzied output of stories and photos and the challenges of pasting up (in the old days) five sections in three days — all produced in-house. Here was a building that knew the satisfaction of seeing the paper delivered by kids with canvas sacks slung over their shoulders. Here was a building that knew the gratification of a community that valued this newspaper as an honest representation of Aspen, with all its warts and beauty marks.
There were birthday parties for workers’ dogs complete with Alpo “birthday cakes” glowing with candles. There were impromptu gatherings at “The Sink” where we read postcards from traveling staff during off-seasons. There was the quiet of the early morning when the building was empty (except for mice or a stray cat) and with only the hum of one’s computer and the clacking of keys for company.
There was the time a Penthouse photo shoot was going on in the hot tub of the Hotel Jerome next door and a voluptuous naked model was flaunting her charms right below my office window. There were screams and curses as the original DOS computer system crashed — again. There were heated debates over page design, editorial content, photo selection and the proper way of paper training the new puppy.
The Aspen Times was an institution for misfits housed in a purple sanitarium on Main Street, an aggregate of flimsy shacks stitched together with baling wire, plumbing pipes and electrical conduit, but mostly held together by the love of those who found something of great value there, something personal, deeply felt, and gone — as permanently and painfully gone as our youth. My heart aches for it.
— Paul Andersen, columnist
It’s a miracle The Aspen Times building is still standing after the great fire in July 2002. A plumber doing some soldering work managed to set the place on fire. Everyone filed out of the building — multiple times — as they kept going back to retrieve more of their stuff. The firefighters charged through the back door and into the wall of newspapers we’d left stacked there. Meanwhile, we were all sitting out in the grass next to the Hotel Jerome and drinking beer. As it turned out, the blaze was contained and we all had to go back to work.
— Janet Urquhart, former reporter, as quoted in The Aspen Times
I’m always cleaning up around the Times, and several years go Bryan Gonzales and I were pulling out 60 years of accumulated stacks of newspapers. We found nests and little baby mice running around. It was awful. Lou Bendrick went to the pound and returned with a kitten who did a great job “Scooping” up the mice. Now, Scoop’s so well fed, he’s not a mouser anymore.
— Sara Garton, former proofreader, as quoted in The Aspen Times
The Aspen Times was my funky old second home for 47 years, starting back in the days when the paper was set on linotype machines and small Dickensian boys carried buckets of lead shards down to a roaring furnace in what is now one of the bathrooms.
Over the years the inside of the building has been transmogrified into a warren of little offices and secret cubbyholes. Down from the ceiling of the big back room came Bil Dunaway’s Art Cart Derby purple racing car, making way for a new second floor for editorial offices.
These changes were functional rather than aesthetic. Fashionable women would still gasp when they came into the front office and found a cat on the counter and 8 or 9 dogs, paws on their stockinged knees, begging for treats. And they hadn’t even seen the real bowels of the place.
I love the old Times building—a comfortable favorite slipper consigned to the trash. It grieves me to see it go. I can’t imagine what the Jerome will do with it (I suspect it will be Isis-ed) and have not yet mustered the fortitude to visit the new digs at The Mother Lode. Wait until they find all the lead!
I always said that as soon as I died the corporation would turn the place into cubicles, but they beat me to it.
— Su Lum, columnist & former ad representative
Stewart Oksenhorn’s office in the soon-to-be-old-Times building is a living shrine to the arts — all the arts — in Aspen over the past 15 or so years. I can’t imagine such a thing being re-created in a new location, and that’s such a great loss. In a just and fair world his office would be encased in amber and put on permanent display in the new Art Museum. (Just in case this does happen, make sure Stewart isn’t actually in his office during the amber-encasing process.)
— Barry Smith, columnist
The Aspen Times building is easily the crappiest office I’ve ever worked in, but it’s also the only office I’ve ever loved.
The emotional attachment certainly starts with the people, and the tortured, deadline-driven camaraderie of any newsroom. But it’s also related to the goofy purple firetrap — ice-cold in the winter and a heat-trap in the summer — and the pride we all felt working there.
As a rule, journalists aren’t country-club types and they tend to side with underdogs, dirt bags and varmints. In an overgrown country club like Aspen, it makes perfect sense that the local newspaper would reside in a dilapidated, mining-era shack with a bar on one side and a liquor store on the other. That’s where the pride came in.
It’s a miracle that 310 E. Main St. hasn’t gone up in flames, and those who have worked there can only laugh about it. Any other reaction would just deepen the fear, anger, resentment or some other cancer-causing agent. So you learn to laugh, which happens to be a great life lesson.
The funky building promoted funky conduct. Like when one of the staff’s many dogs would poop inside, and the first person to spot the accident would announce it on the PA system: “Extra! Extra! Dog pile in the production room.”
My wife, Elizabeth, always claimed the Times was a “sick building” full of dust, bacteria and substances of unknown origin, and she was certainly right. But the building also had ski-town mojo, owing to years of politically incorrect speech, thousands of paydays, drinking, smoking, impassioned arguments, a few fist fights, occasional sex (not sure on this, but don’t you think?), some ski tuning and, perhaps most importantly, more than a century of hard work publishing the newspaper.
I remember when Bil Dunaway died and we were able to remove the partition walls that formed his small upstairs office. Suddenly light poured in this huge plate-glass window on the back of the building. It was a strange upside to the loss of a father figure.
I have inhabited many desks and spent many years in that building and it saddens me to see the newspaper move. But recession and centralization have turned the place from a buzzing hive of activity into a mostly empty shell. Which happens, still, to be a firetrap.
So what’s the point of staying? It’s time for my friends and colleagues to wave goodbye, raise a glass and move on.
— Bob Ward, former editor
I’ll always remember the countless memos, emails and nasty-grams about the rampant disregard for flushing the bathroom toilets. But you can’t blame that on the building.
— Rick Carroll, editor
While the building seems cavernous now, that wasn’t always the case. Working at The Aspen Times used to require making the best of tight quarters.
When I joined the staff in May 1987, the writers were piled into reporter row, which would make modern cubicles look inviting in comparison. Reporters were stacked up along the eastern portion of the building, adjacent to the Hotel Jerome. It was hot in the summer, cold in the winter and always noisy. You had to learn to filter out the chatter from your neighbor on the phone while you were conducting an interview.
When we created the Aspen Times Daily in November 1988, we added staff and the full-time daily employees had to relocate to the basement. We were shoehorned into an open space that was maybe 15 feet by 15 feet. Three reporters and a production person shared the space during the daily’s infancy.
As the daily outgrew its giant cubicle we were moved upstairs to share space with staff members of Climbing Magazine. Some of their crew got irritated by “all-call” blasts over our phone intercom system. When you couldn’t find a particular person, you would do an “all-call” that would reverberate through the office and, apparently, break some writers’ concentration. Climbing eventually left for Carbondale, reporter row was abandoned and all reporters and editors relocated to the luxurious upstairs space that now exists.
— Scott Condon, reporter
BACK IN 1952, when I started as a reporter- photographer with The Aspen Times, one of the reasons I got hired was that I could set up a darkroom, had an excellent camera, could
take photos, develop the film and print the photos. Verlin Ringle, the publisher at the time, had been wanting for a long time to use photos in the weekly Aspen Times but never had a photographer.
I SET UP the darkroom (he had bought an enlarger) in the bathroom, which was in the center of the building. Many evenings I worked late, developing the film from the day’s work and printing the photos to be sent off the next day. We had to have metal plates made of the photos which were then put into the pages of type.
I was only 23 at the time and still full of deviltry. David Ringle, their middle son and a senior in high school, often worked late on the press. So one night I was in the darkroom and I heard David on the press. I waited a bit and then sprang out of the darkroom, shouting like a banshee.
I really scared David and then how we laughed and laughed!
Mr. Ringle was quite handsome and there was an artist lady who had a crush on him. She would go to the office at quitting time and talk and talk to him.
Mrs. Ringle, who ran the office supply part of The Aspen Times office, didn’t like that much! She couldn’t get the artist lady to leave. So one afternoon, Mrs. Ringle locked the artist lady, who was in the back by the press, up and walked away with Mr. Ringle. Finally, after a few hours, she went back and let the lady out. The artist lady didn’t hang out at the paper anymore!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few other things about the Aspen Times building when I was a reporter-photographer again there from 1972 to 1993.
The 1970s were a pretty wild time in the building. Pot smoke was thick around the darkroom. Once, I had to talk to Chris Cassatt, the main photographer, about a feature story we were working on. I knocked on the darkroom door, it opened and a thick cloud of pot smoke poured out. The guys were all in there, Andy Stone, Chris, Beige Jones, Danny Dishong. They all shouted, “Go away Mary.”
About 1974 we were having our dinner party at the Captain’s Anchorage restaurant (where Sky is now). Everyone got roaring drunk.
Adele Dusenbury was editor then. She was so high she crawled under the table at one point. After the party, Chris was so inebriated that he crawled all the way back to the office, wearing the knees out of his jeans. He slept that night in the sink at the office. The sink was a real entity to everyone at the Times…whenever anyone went on a trip, they wrote what they were doing to “Dear Sink, c/o The Aspen Times.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, we were still doing cut and paste manually. We had until 5 a.m. to change anything we had written before Evie Graham, the typesetter, got to the office to put our stories onto her machine. Luckily I lived only a block from the office. All night after I’d written a story, I would rework it in my head. So I would finally get up, put on my bathrobe and walk over the office, type out my changes on my typewriter and then cut and paste them into the original copy that I had already hung on the typesetter’s hook.
Then when I’d get home, I could finally go to sleep. In the winter when I would rework a story, I would put on boots and a parka over my robe and head out into the snow — always in the middle of the night.
Some scenes in the Aspen Times building during my tenure as editor from 1977 to 1992 are still vivid in my memory. Mick Ireland was a reporter, covering crime at the time and getting some big stories, especially about drug rings in Aspen. Biege Jones was head of production and it was up to him to get all the pages photographed on the big camera and down to the pressroom on time so the paper could be printed.
Mick and Biege both had volatile personalities and though they were great friends, they would clash over deadlines. Biege would lock himself into the darkroom when they had an argument. Mick would put on his pink earmuffs and go and shout through the door. Biege would shout back, Mick would shout…”I can’t hear you.” And I would have to step in and say, “Look, we ARE a newspaper and the truth is important…but Mick, you have to get that story written!”
— Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, columnist (and former everything else)
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