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A dream no one else shared

Willoughby CollectionFrank Willoughby, shown here rappelling on Aspen's Shadow Mountain in the 1930s, had an intimate connection to the cliffs that led him to reject Hans Gramigers restaurant proposal.
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Frank Willoughby, my uncle, mastered succinct statements. After Hans Gramiger paid us a visit in 1965, Frank said, That guy is nuts.Gramiger had consulted my uncle because he was a mining engineer. Hans wanted to know if he would design a shaft and tunnel to access a restaurant to be built on the top of Shadow Mountain. Gramiger thought an underground connection would be the most practical way to get patrons up the steep slope and it would create a dramatic historical entrance. My uncle, like many Aspen residents, did not want to see a restaurant on the top of the mountain. He curtly dismissed Hans, telling him it would cost too much.Gramiger, a realtor and developer, was never short of entrepreneurial schemes, but his dream of perching a restaurant on the knife ridge of Shadow Mountain was his greatest passion. Hanss land deals were legendary in a community where real estate transactions are the primary business. He amassed land over a couple of decades, including mining claims on the west end of Aspen Mountain.One story illustrates Gramigers persistence in promoting real estate deals, his desire for the Main Street property that is now LAuberge. In the 1960s the cabins were owned and operated as a lodge by Mary Perkins. Hanss realty office was at the end of Main Street, a small building he constructed on an empty half-block between seventh and eighth streets. He walked downtown to the post office each day, passing LAuberge. Whenever he saw Mary Perkins outside, he would make some kind of offer to sell her property for her or to develop it with her. One day Hans proposed marriage, with the understanding that we could make a fortune with her property. Mary Perkins laughed off the encounter, while acknowledging that Hans was not joking.Hans began his restaurant construction in 1965 without any building permits. He would hike from his office to the top of Shadow Mountain, where he tried to clear a flat space by pushing rocks over the edge. West end residents quaked in fear as rocks, and sometimes large boulders, flew down the back side of the mountain, severing tree trunks, setting other rocks in motion and occasionally rolling all the way to the streets below.Several West End youths decided to signal their displeasure with Hanss rock rolling. They used a large mirror to flash sunlight in his eyes when he was at the summit. This kicked off a battle between the grassroots protesters and a persistent Gramiger.Hans decided that installing a light at his restaurant site might be a first step toward getting neighbors comfortable with the idea of a building there. The light only escalated the turf war. One might think he would use a battery-powered light, but Hans strung a lamp cord from the mountaintop to his realty office. Each night he would plug it in.The youths responded by inserting staples strategically into the lamp cord, causing the circuit to break. Hans hiked alongside the cord, located a staple, ran back to his office and plugged in the cord to see if it would short out. After removing the first staple, only to discover that the cord still shorted, he had to climb the route again, only to find more staples.If you have ever climbed to the top of the cliff where Hans wanted to construct his restaurant, then you would have to admit it would have been the best dining view in Aspen. But imagining the towns view of a building on the mountain skyline is abhorrent.The community never warmed to Hanss dream. He pushed the limits of what he could accomplish without a building permit by erecting his own mini-tram to move building materials. Denied a building permit, he tried to win approval through the courts. An 11-year battle with Pitkin County culminated with Gramiger selling his land in 2000. At age 76, he had had enough and moved away. Aspen lamented losing one of its most interesting characters, while breathing a sigh of relief.

Tim Willoughbys family story parallels Aspens. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.Yore Aspen is a regular feature of the Aspen Times Weekly.


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