Willoughby: Conflict of 1960s churned out a different Aspen perspective
Legends & Legacies
For those who come to San Francisco/Summertime will be a love-in there/In the streets of San Francisco/Gentle People with flowers in their hair — Scott McKenzie’s 1967 song, a hippie anthem.
The flower people held their love-ins beyond San Francisco. Aspen’s elders derisively called them “hippies.” The town provided a Rocky Mountain high, literally and psychedelically, long before John Denver coined the phrase.
During the late 1960s, young people built shelters at high elevation near Aspen’s mine roads. Like-minded youth attracted one another, but bathing in cold mountain streams repelled them. They congregated in town, Paepcke Park and the fledgling Cooper Street Mall. Guido Meyer — widely known simply as “Guido,” and Bert Bidwell, Aspen’s most intolerant cantankerous men, confronted the interlopers.
Several Tenth Mountain Division soldiers settled in Aspen after the war to start businesses. Among them, Bidwell set up a sporting goods and bike shop. Due to age or economics, people who could not afford Bidwell’s goods sometimes shopped his merchandise for inspiration, with neither the means nor intention to buy. Bidwell would tell them to leave his store.
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Bidwell and Guido owned businesses on opposite sides of Cooper Avenue, where it intersects with Galena Street. They counted every penny that passed through their cash registers, and judged the strangers as bad for business. To their way of thinking, anyone with long hair lacked proper morals. And they suspected the intentions of any youth they saw hanging out on the mall.
Local daily confrontations marked long-lasting and widespread intergenerational conflict.
Access to affordable housing challenged most young newcomers during the building boom. Music students lived above the campus and off mine roads because they couldn’t afford rent in town. Seasonal construction workers camped out there, too. Although many of these youth did not fit the hippie mold, they felt culturally closer to the flower people than to their elders.
Guido had arrived in Aspen during the 1950s and opened Guido’s Swiss Restaurant. He imported workers from Switzerland to serve Swiss chocolate and spaghetti made with Swiss cheese. Cleanliness obsessed him.
Guido’s distaste for those who fell outside his definition of normal had taken root during earlier battles against beatniks. In a letter to The Aspen Times in 1963, he claimed that European visitors told one of his waitresses that they would not come back to Aspen because “they just can’t stand the beatniks, they ruin our vacation — I think they ruin the scenery too.” In Guido’s words, ”What they live off, the taxpayers, I suppose. Some of them look for jobs for two or three days and they move again after that. They like to look dirty, halfway dressed, the shirttails flying.”
In 1960, voters elected Guido as Town Magistrate, a judge for common offenses such as drunk driving. Miscreants approached his bench for drunk and disorderly charges. They disturbed the peace. Guido developed a loathing for those who drank, and he fined and lectured them.
After criticism arose regarding his vitriol, Guido resigned in 1963. A week later, a 17-year-old revved his motorcycle at a gas station diagonal to Guido’s Restaurant. Meyer crossed the street and slapped the young man.
Bidwell couldn’t tolerate noise either. He and Meyer ganged up to complain to the Music Associates that students who lived in the Independence Building had been violating an agreement that governed hours for practice.
In addition to Guido’s “no beatniks allowed” sign and Bidwell’s unwelcoming stares, the two escalated a battle with hippies. Youth perched on the fences and low walls next to the two men’s businesses, and observed the action at the mall. The men would turn garden hoses on the young people to drive them away. When that tactic failed, Bidwell added wrought iron spikes on the sitting spots to prevent anyone sitting on his wall.
Throughout history Aspen’s residents absorbed events with a sense of humor and tolerated unusual characters. The hippies enjoyed goading the two businessmen, and locals chuckled over a new chapter in the continuing saga of Aspen’s two old cranks.
But around that time, Aspen changed. Those who predated that time would sense an erosion of a collective sense of humor. The ratio of newcomers to old timers tipped rapidly toward newcomers, and people began to perceive every issue as a life or death situation worthy of intense debate. Some may say we take things too seriously. Perhaps we should wear some flowers in our hair.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Wayne Hall took a job as an air traffic controller at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in 2003 thinking he would stay for a short time. Instead he stayed for nearly 17 years and was promoted up to the position of air traffic manager. He reflected on the experience upon retirement.