Legends & Legacies: The 1960s building boom | AspenTimes.com

Legends & Legacies: The 1960s building boom

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Construction of the Bayer tent in 1965.
Aspen Historical Society/Courtesy photo

Today, many construction projects drag on and on and are nearly all rebuilding older structures. The 1960s was a decade-long building boom. A look at just 1965 shows the volume for nearly every year of that decade.

Building permits in 1965 broke the record from the previous year, going from $3.7 million to close to $10 million, an astronomical number for that time, but one project today would exceed that. That included a record 44 new single-family homes.

Downtown, the historic Tomkins Hardware building on the corner of Galena and Cooper, one of the largest buildings in Aspen, was torn down and construction began on a replacement, the home for Bert Bidwell’s store, the Mountain Shop. He saved the bricks, storing them a half-block away in an empty lot on Cooper. He intended to renovate the building, but before he could begin work, the building roof collapsed in a heavy snowstorm. He used the brick for his new building.

Since I lived across the street from it when I was a grade-schooler, I lamented its destruction. It was a favorite place for me to wander looking for parts for projects. My favorite part of the building was the platform elevator, about 10 feet by 10 feet in the middle of the building, used to haul large objects from the basement.

The huge, concrete foundations’ pedestals from a building that was part of the Park Tram, at one time one of the tallest structures in Aspen, were turned into a new home for the Copper Kettle restaurant. It survived there for many years then became The Tippler. The surviving building from the tram had already been converted into the Tippler Inn.

If you needed a place to live or to stay, options expanded in 1965. The Aspen Alps added three more buildings designed by Fritz Benedict, each with eight three-bedroom units. The Alps also added a tennis court. Three projects — the Alpenblick Townhouses, Fasching Haus, and the Fifth Avenue condominiums — added 50 residential units.

The Timber Ridge condos on the corner of Dean and Center Streets added another 21 units. They sold for $18,000 to $24,000 ($135,000 to $185,000 in today’s dollars. Vivian and Bill Goodnough constructed the 29-unit Snowflake Lodge. She was an accomplished ski racer and also won many horse-show events. She and Bill started a riding school. He was a major organizer for Wintersköl in the 1950s.

The most controversial project was Ralph Melville’s expansion of the Mountain Chalet. His eight-story addition was the tallest building in Aspen that most disapproved because it blocked the view of Aspen Mountain from Wagner Park across the street. While it was tall, it was only eight units, one on each floor. The following year, the complex of buildings became summer dorms for the Music Festival and the location of its dining hall.

Aspen Highlands added a new lift: the Thunderbowl Lift. In addition to increasing the skiers/hour for the mountain, the run was widened to be the widest in the Aspen area. Lift plans and beginning work began on Snowmass lifts that would open the following year.

The new Pitkin County Library, on Main Street across from Paepcke Park — a major project that included matching federal funding — broke ground. The library at that time was in the Wheeler; the new library had a large meeting room and tripled the shelf space for books.

Aspen’s school population was growing rapidly. The new high school, moving from town to Maroon Creek, began construction. It was designed by local architect Sam Caudill.

The number of students at the Aspen Music Festival also increased. It opened its Castle Creek campus the summer of 1965. But the major project was the construction of a new amphitheater: the Bayer tent. The $160,000 project ($1.2 million in today’s dollars) increased seating capacity to 1,200 and created a larger stage for the growing orchestra. The result was not controversial, but in the planning stages, a year-round performance hall was discussed; concert-goers were adamant that duplicating the atmosphere of the existing tent was their expectation.

The new tent was inaugurated in July with Colorado Gov. John Love attending a festival orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concert conducted by Walter Suskind and with soloist Jacob Lateiner at piano. The library was dedicated the same day with many of the same dignitaries present.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.