Council pans trolley plans
The Aspen City Council Monday let some of the air out of a plan to place six immobile trolleys around town as “artwork.”
A presentation by local designer Terry Olson at the council’s brown-bag luncheon failed to arouse any enthusiasm for the idea among council members. Some members, in fact, started a discussion of how to get rid of the run-down vehicles, which are owned by the city.
Olson, who has a business called Old World Interiors and a custom cabinet shop in Carbondale, proposed restoring all six cars for display as art around Aspen. He told the council he intended to commission sculptors to create life-sized bronze figures to complete a life-like scene around each vehicle.
He said the trolleys would be permanently installed on public property in such places as Paepcke Park, the Mill Street Mall, the Historical Society’s museum and near the Banana Republic store. The project would be done with funding from investors, at no cost to the city, he said.
After they were restored, Olson continued, the trolleys would each be auctioned at Christie’s, a prominent auction venue, to private sponsors. He said he expected the auction sale to bring in two to three times the cost of restoration, an estimated $250,000 per trolley.
“The whole purpose is to bring back the ambience of the turn of the century,” Olson said.
Olson also said he would “do a PBS documentary” and write a children’s book on the Aspen trolleys.
“I’m not crazy about this,” said Councilman Tom McCabe. He said he couldn’t see the point of having trolleys on display in Aspen if they are not part of Aspen’s history and they aren’t functional, either.
“I have to say I don’t agree with the idea of putting six of them around town,” said Mayor Rachel Richards. “Tom’s right. There’s no historical context in Aspen for these.”
Aspen has never had trolley service, and all but one of the cars were imported from Portugal.
Council member Tony Hershey agreed with Richards that perhaps one such immobile trolley would be appropriate, but not six.
Richards asked Olson whether the vehicles would be restored to running condition, and Olson said they would not. But he staunchly defended his proposal.
“This isn’t going to be some Mickey Mouse project,” Olson said. “People will come from all over the world to see this.”
The remaining two council members, Terry Paulson and Jim Markalunas, maintained the trolleys should be restored mechanically as well as esthetically, and Markalunas said they should be put into service somewhere, if not in Aspen.
“The intrinsic value of the trolleys is in that they have the potential to be functional,” Markalunas said.
Richards advanced the idea of getting the trolleys to a place where they would be saved from deterioration.
“It’s like having a puppy dog that you can’t keep in your apartment,” the mayor said. “I’d like to see a good home for these.”
She added that Aspen Parks Department officials have brought it to her attention that it’s not appropriate to keep the vehicles stored on city open-space land. Five are stored at Cozy Point Ranch; the other is at the Pitkin County landfill.
The cars were imported from Lisbon by a group of locals, organized as the Aspen Street Railway Co., who envisioned the cars moving along a set of tracks to provide a unique form of in-town mass transit.
The trolley group’s vision never gathered momentum, though, and they eventually sold the cars to the late Michael Hernstadt, who donated them to the city. Only one car ever saw use – as an information booth at Rubey Park – though discussions about a trolley line in Aspen have resurfaced several times over the years.
Late last year, the City Council decided not to budget $40,000 in matching funds to reanalyze the feasibility of putting the cars into service.
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