Koenig recalls Aspen’s early `exciting’ days | AspenTimes.com

Koenig recalls Aspen’s early `exciting’ days

Betty Koenig first came to Aspen in 1953.

Five years later, she and her late husband, Lowell Koenig, opened the Limelite Club, a popular club that enjoyed two successful years before it was sold and turned into the Limelite Lodge.

Betty, however, never stopped coming to the valley. This is her 50th year in Aspen.

Although she and husband Bernie Greenwald continue to split their time between Aspen and Evanston, Ill., they’re not your average second-home owners.

“For awhile, we had the distinction of being the only house on Red Mountain without a garage,” Koenig said. “Now we’re the only one-car-garage house on Red Mountain.

“This is the way a mountain house should look,” she said. “It’s not a trophy house.”

Lowell Koenig, who died in 1975, introduced her to Aspen and skiing in the early 1950s. Shot down in the Pacific in World War II, he survived for several days on a life raft before being rescued.

“He started skiing in Alta, [Utah],” Koenig said. “He had a group of friends that were skiers, guys that were in [the war], and they were just having a good time because they got out alive.”

The two met in Chicago and used to frequent a folksinging nightclub called the Golden Horn. One night, they came up with the idea of opening a similar club in Aspen.

“We thought, `This is what Aspen needs, Aspen could use a club like this,’ ” Koenig remembered. “We were totally innocent and naive.”

But the club worked. They would just ask musicians if they wanted to play in Aspen. “Some said yes, some said no.”

On the opening night, they learned that by law they wouldn’t be able to serve booze because they weren’t serving food. Solving the problem, Koenig rushed out and returned with bread, cheese and salami.

Because Aspen was so remote, musicians wouldn’t just play one or two shows, but several over the course of two or three weeks.

“Aspen felt very, very remote at that time,” she said.

Prior to the opening of the Limelite, Koenig said the only live entertainment came from the owners of an Italian restaurant in town.

“[They] would come out and sing snippets of Italian opera,” Koenig said.

But after the Limlite opened, Aspen changed a little.

Acts such as Bob Gibson, Marilyn Childs, Judy Collins, Shelly Berman and the Smothers Brothers performed at the Limelite.

“It was very exciting for all of us,” she said. “It was a big thing because there wasn’t a lot of entertainment in Aspen at that time.”

Koenig said a Charlie Chaplin film inspired her to name the club the Limelite. The musical group The Limeliters were inspired by Koenig’s club.

“It was a very popular place,” Koenig said. “People stayed all night because they loved the entertainment.”

Aspen was a lot different back then, though.

“It was friendlier and more fun at that time,” Koenig said. “It was social, but in a small town way. More people knew each other.

“All you needed was a pair of blue jeans and a pair of ski pants.”

There were no sidewalks and few streets, and the place was full of characters, Koenig said. She can remember walking down a street talking to a friend when she stepped into what she thought was a puddle.

“I fell in up to my waist,” she laughed.

Koenig said if you wanted to get any skiing in before noon, you had to be at the lift early in the morning. The single chair lift generated such a line that she can remember waking up before dawn to get her place.

She would only stand in the line once a day, but not just because it was crowded.

“I was lucky if I could get down alive on one run,” she said. “I’m still skiing, and when I die they’re going to put on my tombstone `Eternal Intermediate Skier,’ ” Koenig joked.

Now 72, Koenig remains in great shape. On her 70th birthday, she walked 60 miles in three days, from Kenosha, Wisc., to Chicago to raise money for breast cancer.

Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com

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