Louie’s Spirit House " 1950s Christmas Spirit
December 19, 2007
Christmas window displays do more than move mountains of merchandise. Children find them as magical as movies. New York City has its Macy’s and San Francisco, its Gumps. In the 1950s Aspen had Louie’s Spirit House.
Louie’s, named after its proprietors, Louie and Irene Pastore, opened in 1946 as Aspen’s only package liquor store. Louie’s was always cool to cold inside. It was the cleanest establishment in town, perhaps more antiseptic than the doctor’s office, and it offered a unique fragrance comprised of cold glass, wood and cardboard boxes, and aged wine escaping through cork.
Adults raised in big cities remember family outings to downtown department stores to view decorated windows. Louie’s was in “downtown,” if you can so describe a half-dozen city blocks. I lived only a half-block away and could go there at will, and did, often several times a day.
The Spirit House featured two large plate-glass windows, the bottoms of which extended just below the eye level of a small child. My eyes beheld a winter village in each window complete with miniature houses, trees, cars and people. The winter sun dipped below Aspen Mountain around 3 p.m., then as now, so it would be a night display by the time I walked home from school. Tiny light bulbs inside the houses suggested evening family habitation. The carpet of cotton snow looked so real I wanted to ski on it. The most exciting item each year was a frozen lake complete with skaters. The magic was a mirror, but it wasn’t until I was older that I figured out just how that illusion of ice was made.
There is a thin line between reality and imagination when you are a child. It only takes wanting to believe for a second to have a miniature village come to life, and Irene Pastore’s gift to the community each year did that for me. Hours at home paging through the Montgomery Ward Christmas mail-order catalog prepared me for the display’s catalyst for imagination. Pages of miniature farms, garages, firehouses and military machinery fashioned from plastic served as toys for tots. The catalog was filled with photos that made the models even more real than the toys themselves. I wished for them all and had more fun using the pages to initiate dreaming than I ever would have if they had found their way to a spot under my Christmas tree.
When I was older I played with and constructed model train scenes. I was in a transition phase where I still used my imagination to enter a different reality, but since I was setting up the train and trying to create my own scenes, I was more often confronted with the reality of the model. During my train phase I enjoyed Louie’s windows even more because the village, crafted with care and creativity, became a treasure of ideas that I could construct on my own. Cotton balls made good enough snow, as did rolled medical cotton. Soap flakes sprinkled on trees loaded them with the appearance of a good dump, as long as water didn’t turn my effort into a bubbly wonderland.
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These days it seems that merchants, if they have walk-by windows, devote all of that space to pushing their goods. They rely on merchant associations or city governments to decorate. This situation makes me want to start a store on a main street to pass the magic to another generation. It may be that television and computer screens have hard-wired children’s brains in a way that warps window imagination, but, “If you believe” …