Willoughby: Is your Aspen the same as mine? | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: Is your Aspen the same as mine?

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Werner Erhard, Buckminster Fuller and John Denver celebrating Buckminster Fuller's 85th birthday. This image is in the Aspen Times on July 10, 1980, pg. 14C.
Aspen Historical Society/Courtesy photo

The makeup of Aspen’s population changes frequently as some leave and others arrive. What people describe as “their Aspen” changes, as well.

You can pick any decade, and you will get a different description of “my Aspen.” Even in the same year in the same decade, there can be more than one “my Aspen” depending on lifestyle and social circle. 

Even for those of us who span many decades, “my Aspen” changes by decade.

As I was thinking of this, I decided to pick an arbitrary year and illustrate the idea. I picked 1980 and recalled several “my Aspens” and will contrast them with what others may describe.

Let’s start with a stop at my bank. My grandfather was a co-founder of Pitkin County Bank that became the Bank of Aspen. Its first location was in the Cowenhoven Building, where I lived as a child. It built a new building on the corner of Hopkins and Mill in 1962 (now Wells Fargo).

I lived a few doors down from the new location in high school when I was living with my aunt and uncle. At that time, that block of Hopkins, on the north side, consisted of several houses. The other side of the street housed the lumber yard, Berko’s Studio in an old house, and the dry cleaners.

One of the houses, the one closest to where I lived, belonged to Mrs. Wilson, an elderly miner’s widow. She still split her own kindling for her wood stove that cooked cookies that rewarded me when I helped shovel her snow.

The other house was the home of Quadrant Books, owned by Ivan Abrams. It was a cozy store with a woodstove that he would sit beside, smoking a pipe, and telling you — having read them — about any of the books for sale.

My aunt and uncle’s house turned into a restaurant, La Cocina, lasting the longest, then was torn down and a large building built in its place. Mrs. Wilson’s became a restaurant, one named after her for a while, and is now the Steak House. The bank built an addition, and Quadrant moved to the Hotel Jerome.

When the bank opened, it touted a Ski Up Window, the first outdoor depository in Aspen. There are now three banks in Aspen.

As you can see, that one location connects with several different decades of “my Aspen.”  Someone older may lament the bank moving since before then; the post office and the bank were across from each other on Galena Street. A more recent resident may be pre-occupied with finding parking to visit the bank.

In 1980, I was a teacher at Aspen Country Day School, commuting from Emma. With a toddler and that job “my Aspen” lifestyle did not include the available nightlife. I never set foot in Andre’s, Paddy Bugatis, Chisholm’s, Aviemore Arms, or the Rock’n Horse. Aspen was plagued with cocaine, with the DEA saying Aspen was a major distribution city and wanting to have undercover agents investigate.

Many of us watched marriages dissolve, families with teens disintegrate, and many losing fortunes. There were two different Aspens.

One of the contentious issues that year was the Little Annie Ski Corp. proposal to build a gondola from Ute Avenue to Little Annie and have lifts in the basin. For me, it was not a new idea — this was the third iteration of having a ski area there. But for those new to town, as usual, it was a divided issue — some for having another area, and others complaining about growth.

Another community divider was the Marolt family proposal to build 80 employee housing units and 32 market-rate units on their ranchland. I was on their side. With all my Aspen decades, it did not seem fair to me that a family that provided open space to the entrance to Aspen should be denied what newcomers were able do at other locations.

They planned a right-of-way to connect 82 to Main Street through their property. The process extended for a few more years with the city buying the property for open space. The road connection, for or against, has been on everyone’s “my Aspen” list decades.

In addition to teaching, I spent my summers working for the Aspen Music Festival at the tent. Aspen has a sub-population, those who come only for the summer primarily for the Music Festival and other cultural events. It always surprised me that many of those I knew never attended a festival concert. The students and performers have always had a different “my Aspen.”

1980 cultural events, for some, included lectures by Buckminster Fuller at the tent and at Windstar, and Aspen Institute lectures by John Gardner, founding chairman of Common Cause, and the annual one from Mortimer Adler.

The Music Festival hosted contemporary composer William Schuman. It has always had a policy of having a diverse program, not repeating the favorites too often. 1980 was the year for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Aspen Festival Chorus, conducted by Jorge Mester, beginning his second decade with the gestival.

That was over 40 years ago, so likely no more than 40% of current readers will have a 1980 Aspen. Forty years from now, what will yours be for 2023? Mikaela Shiffrin breaking the record, or maybe, one again, the Marolt Ranch highway connection?

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.