What Fritz would say
(This letter was originally addressed to the Historic Preservation Commission of Aspen. )Dear Editor:I read with great interest (and a good deal of nostalgia, as well) Janet Urquhart’s article in The Aspen Times (Dec. 15) regarding your discussions about the Mountain Plaza Building at the corner of Galena and Cooper and whether or not it should be considered for designation as an “historic structure.”In 1964, I was employed by Fritz Benedict as a project architect and would probably still be there if Fritz were still alive and in business. When Bert Bidwell came to Fritz in 1964 with the Mountain Plaza project, it was originally assigned to another of Fritz’s PAs, Jack Campbell. As the preliminary design was unfolding, it became clear that Jack’s and Bert’s personalities were not on the same page. Since I had been and was a good friend of Bert’s, I was asked to take over the project, which I was glad to do.Bert had only four requirements for the design; he wanted as much rental space as possible; he wanted us to stay within his low budget ($200,000); he wanted “Mountain Modern” and he wanted a sunken courtyard on the corner, because he was in negotiations to rent the lower floor to Sunny’s Rendezvous, which was located at the time in a similar space one block to the north under Aspen Drug.The building that resulted from our efforts was perfect for the program that Bert presented to us. We maxed out the space (18,000 square feet at the time); it was definitely “Mountain Modern”; Bert got his sunken courtyard (and a lease from Sunny); and the building cost came in at a paltry $9.33 per square foot, unheard of even then and far below Bert’s budget number. To say now that the Mountain Plaza is not one of Fritz’s more successful examples is grossly naive. If one considers it in the context of maintaining good client relations, meeting a constraining budget and creating an example of Mountain Modem that pleased the client, the Mountain Plaza is definitely “historic” and actually does represent Fritz’s best work.I know what Fritz and Bert would say now if they could sit in on your meetings and listen to the discussions about filling in the courtyard and doubling the height of the building, bastardizing it for the sake of more income, while at the same time ruining the character of the most important retail corner in Aspen. They would not want to have anything to do with the new structure and would advise that the building be torn down to join many other magnificent structures (some of Fritz’s included) that have suffered the same fate. That’s what I would do, too!Robert SterlingBattlement Mesa
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