‘From donuts to cashmere …’
The year was 1982.The oil-shale industry in Colorado, centered in Garfield County but directly affecting all local economies within a 150-mile radius, was going belly up with a suddenness that indirectly plunged the whole state into a long fiscal slump.The 49ers beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI at Pontiac, Mich.; Pope John Paul II survived an assassination attempt in Portugal; Phyllis Schlafly claimed credit for defeating the Equal Rights Amendment; and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined $25,000 for tax fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
It was a strange year, by any measure.Meanwhile, in what some now view as Old Aspen, you could still get haddock at the Aspen Fresh Fish Co. on Original Street, around the corner from the old Pitkin County Tamale Factory and Antique Clothes Store. Breakfast was good, cheap and plentiful at the Aspen Mine Co., and big-format calendars were available at the Timberline Newsstand & Bookstore, across the Hyman Avenue Mall.
You could get a prescription filled at Crossroads Drug at Galena and Cooper or, rumor had it, combine dinner with a different kind of drug purchase at Abetone’s Italian eatery on Hyman.The Steak Pit, considered by many to be the best place to eat in town, period, was in the basement of the City Market grocery store building (today it’s still below ground, but at the corner of Monarch and Hopkins), while R. Pea’s pizza joint and the store Waterfall Hope held down the northwestern corner of the building adjacent to Wagner Park (the location today of D19 and Pacifica).The Parlour Car restaurant served delectable meals in the private rooms of a real, old-time railroad car at the west end of Hopkins Avenue, where it was virtually alone under the shadow of Shadow Mountain. Today the same block is awash in luxury homes standing cheek by jowl with some affordable housing units.Paddy Bugatti’s, in the basement of the Continental Inn on Dean Street, was one of the premier late-night party spots in town. Patrons were known to strip down and dive through windows that opened directly onto a below-grade, covered swimming pool and participate in watery delights of all sorts.
The Mesa Store was a home-furnishings business, and Elli’s clothing store commanded what was then known as the best corner in town, the southwest one at Mill and Main.And long-time locals with a literary bent might remember that the Pitkin County Library was on Main Street, between Garmisch and Aspen streets and just across from Paepcke Park. It was also around that time when Marvin Davis, then-owner of the Aspen Skiing Corp. and Twentieth Century Fox, began subsidizing direct air service from Los Angeles to Aspen, an occasion that some feel marked the beginning of Aspen’s “glitzification.”Today just about the only way to recall those long-gone names and locations, beyond relying on increasingly uncooperative memory cells, is to consult an old copy of Chris King’s Picture Map of Aspen.King came to Aspen in the late 1970s and, while searching for his destiny, wound up working with a man who wore a signboard around town and published the first picture maps. King eventually bought the business from him, in 1980, and it became his sole means of support.”The whole thing was so seat of the pants,” he recalled. “I learned as I went. The thing that got me into it was, I could draw.” All the representations of those little buildings are his work, King said. He has also been doing the same type of maps for Jackson Hole, Wyo., since 1980.
King actually started the Jackson Hole enterprise before he bought the Aspen one. “It’s worked out beautifully,” he said.As a snapshot approach to Aspen’s history, King’s maps provide an admittedly selective view of what has happened – businesswise, at least – over the past 25 years (some of them are now in the archives of the Aspen Historical Society). Because he included the names of only those businesses that paid him an advertising fee, some never made it onto the maps, regardless of their central roles in daily life in Aspen.Elli’s, for instance, was shown as a building but not named, while the business that now occupies its remodeled spot, American National Bank, is prominently identified.As evidence of the wisdom of King’s approach to advertising, within a decade the folding map’s format had grown by two folds to accommodate the increase in advertisers. The map’s perspective view of Aspen and environs went all the way to Snowmass Village. The print got bigger, as did the little pictographs that represented buildings.By 1992, the Continental Inn had become the Grand Aspen Hotel, and Paddy Bugatti’s had become Butch’s Lobster Bar. Nearby, the Ritz-Carlton Aspen had been built on the ruins of the old Blue Spruce and other funky lodges, and McStorlie’s Pub had taken root in the Centennial Square complex on South Hunter Street.
Palazzi’s gas station, at the corner of Cooper and Hunter, had been demolished and the Hunter Plaza built in its place, featuring Mezzaluna and a host of boutiques. Redevelopment of the Independence Square Hotel had eliminated Chisholm’s country-and-western bar in the basement and Crossroads Drugs on the main floor. And the Ajax Mountain Building had twice the number of shops listed on the map as before, evidence of the growing popularity of either advertising on the map or of the retail space in the building.The changes were coming fast and furiously, and King’s maps chronicled Aspen’s annual transformation. By 2002, the base of Aspen Mountain showed a blank space where the Grand Aspen used to be, as its owners got set to demolish the old hotel and build a new, much larger Hyatt Grand Aspen.By 2007, the base of Aspen Mountain had a walled-in fastness, with massive structures strung along Durant, Galena and Dean streets, from Spring Street in the east all the way west to Monarch.Former Aspen mayor John Bennett, who started the now-defunct Pour La France coffee shop and restaurant on Main Street (now Asie), sat down one morning to pore over the maps and reflect. He said the maps elicit a variety of responses in him. And while he recalled noting that the town was changing back in the 1980s when he was running the restaurant, he hadn’t really paid too much attention at the time.
“It’s hard to notice when you’re in the middle of business,” he explained. When you’re focused on the details of day-to-day survival, he said, “you often miss bigger changes happening.”Saying it was fun to look over the old maps, Bennett added, “One thing is reminiscing over these once very familiar names that are now ancient history … the places that used to be such an important part of Aspen.” And, he noted, “Just in terms of the built environment, the center of gravity of Aspen has shifted to the south.” He pointed as an example to the huge, hulking structures that now line the base of Aspen Mountain, from The Little Nell to the St. Regis (formerly the Ritz-Carlton).And entire blocks that were nearly empty in 1982, or at least empty of businesses interested in advertising with King, are now chock-a-block with stores and restaurants.Bennett pointed to the south side of the 400 block of East Hopkins, where in 1982 the Brand Building, on the east end, and the old Aspen Hardware store, on the west end, were separated by little more than a lumber yard and a vacant lot. Today, the block is sky high with shops, a nightclub and more, from one end to the other.”That’s a huge transition,” Bennett exclaimed.
And while the number of small shops around town has remained fairly constant over the years, Bennett was quick to note that the names, customer base and prices have undergone a transformation of their own.”From donuts to cashmere,” he quipped, pointing to the 1982 site of a once-popular local donut shop, Fry by Night, that on King’s map (precise locations are impossible to determine) is now the place to buy such luxurious items as Manrico cashmere sweaters.Moving on to the corner of Galena and Hyman, Bennett recalled Tom’s Market, a small grocery store that once held the street level corner of the Elks Building.”I kind of think of it as disappearing back in the ’70s,” he mused. “That represented a different kind of community altogether – the quaint, funky little grocery store where they know everybody on a first-name basis and they’d deliver your groceries to your home if you wanted.”
For Bennett, one of the most intriguing changes that Aspen has undergone over the past two and a half decades has nothing to do with a brick-and-mortar business. On King’s map, the lower slopes of Aspen Mountain have recently become promotional billboards of a sort, whereas in 1982 and 1992 nothing was listed there.In 2002 the map urged customers to contact Five Star Adventures for sightseeing tours, and in 2007 it advertises “Aspen’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Tour,” with an 800 number printed below.”That says something about the way the town is headed,” said Bennett.It’s just one example of many – as seen through the eyes of a businessman and map maker – of how Aspen has changed.John Colson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org