Willoughby: How Aspen changed in the ’50s | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: How Aspen changed in the ’50s

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Izler Solomon conducting the Festival Orchestra in 1960.
Aspen Historical Society — Durrance Collection

The city of Aspen did not grow much between 1950 and 1960. The census showed 1,094 residents, up from 916 in 1950. Pitkin County, which had shrunk between 1940 and 1950, nearly doubled in population to 13,507. The census found 75 ranches in the county.

What did grow was Aspen’s tourist infrastructure. Hotel capacity grew by 43% between 1959 and 1960, resulting in 1,860 beds. There were so many restaurants that the Chamber of Commerce created the Aspen Restaurant Association.

Still surviving from 1950 were the Golden Horn, Edie’s and the Red Onion. In that decade Guido’s and the Crystal Palace opened. In 1960 the Crystal Palace move to its building in the brick building now under renovation, and the Delice Pastry Shop moved to a new building on the Hyman mall.

New restaurants opening that year included Trader Ed’s Chinese Restaurant, Arthur’s and the Steak Pit. The Sundeck opened in the summer for lunches.

The skiing infrastructure also doubled. Aspen Mountain doubled lift capacity using five lifts. Aspen Highlands opened in November of 1958 and featured Stein Eriksen as the ski school director. Stein also opened a ski shop in town. Buttermilk opened in November of 1958. 

Aspen started construction of a new building to house the elementary school in 1959. It finally opened in November of 1960. Today that building is called the Yellow Brick School. The new building was needed since district enrolment had grown from 258 in the 1955-56 school year to 425. The faculty grew to 23 teachers.

For many years, the lot the school was built on was a free skating rink. A new location across the street from Little Nell was donated, and it opened in December.

Silver mining ceased in 1950, but in 1960 a new mine opened, for iron. Pitkin Iron began hauling ore from above Ashcroft to Woody Creek, where it was processed and loaded on train cars. The road to Ashcroft was not paved at the time, but the county and Pitkin Iron began paving to handle trucks heading down the road five to seven minutes apart in four daily time periods.

Between 1950 and 1960, the Music Festival split off from the Aspen Institute to form the Music Associates of Aspen. The student population grew to above 300 students with 35 faculty members. It had settled into three concerts a week and staged the opera “The Magic Flute” at the Wheeler.

The conductor for the season was Izler Solomon, who was the conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony. His career featured the introduction of contemporary compositions. That variety there, and in Aspen, attracted the Voice of America. Aspen began recording concerts played on several continents.

In 1960, in the off-season, you could fly Aspen Airways to Denver and back on Tuesdays. Those were the only flights all week. The roundtrip cost you $22.50. The airport reported that flights were way up. In the first three months there were 943 flights carrying 1,956 passengers, that was more than over six months the previous year.

One of the biggest changes to Aspen’s daily routine began in 1960 when a new post office was constructed at the corner of East Hyman and South Spring. For years locals got their mail in the Elks Building. The new building enabled more post office boxes, and it was a better place for loading and unloading the mail, but change is not always welcomed. In this case new was not better. The post office also announced that it was not going to begin delivering mail, something many were hoping for.

A new craze came to Aspen — karts, or go-karts. One of the dealers was Harold Motors, which advertised the Dart Kart, “the Ferrari thrill on a bicycle budget.” Youths who could not afford the manufactured ones built their own with lawnmower gas motors.

In 1960 no one uttered the word “condominium.” Large buildings with many units, and rapid population growth, dominated the next decade.

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


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