Crappy is as crappy does
Stop! Look! A considerable swathe of downtown Aspen – several entire blocks bordering Wagner Park – has been reduced to a gigantic hole in the ground.Stop! Think! That hole will soon creep up Aspen Street onto the lower slopes of Aspen Mountain, swallowing even more of downtown.Stop! Chuckle! With all that in mind it has to be amusing to realize that the latest heated debates du jour are focused on the fate of a handful of crappy old buildings.And, yes, there are some truly crappy buildings at the heart of our solid-gold magnificence.Let’s start with the fight over the Bidwell Building, on the corner of Cooper and Galena. In some odd way, it is fitting that this building is the spawn of an odd coupling: one of Aspen’s meanest old coots, Bert Bidwell, and one of its largest-hearted benefactors, Fritz Benedict.Bidwell’s heirs want to tear the building down in pursuit of a profitable redevelopment. Benedict’s fans want to preserve it as “historic.”Frankly, I would think that true fans of Fritz would want to see that ungainly dysfunctional building leveled as quickly as possible. (We all make mistakes. Doctors bury theirs. Newspaper columnists count on people wrapping fish in theirs. But architects? We all have to live with theirs.)What’s wrong with the building? Where to start? How about this: a restaurant in the heart of Aspen with outdoor seating that has no view whatsoever … because it’s down in a pit!There’s plenty more, but let’s not go on – except to note that, like most buildings thrown up in Aspen in the ’50s and ’60s, the Bidwell Building is a rapidly deteriorating monument to shoddy construction.The only grounds for historic designation for that building would be in memory of the mean-spirited Mr. Bidwell himself, who used to race out and turn a garden hose on the “dirty hippies” who dared to sit on the street-level wall surrounding that sunken courtyard.The real battle should not be over whether to save that building – it ought to be an effort to ensure that Bidwell’s heirs do not throw up (pun intended) something shoddy and exploitative that earns them a quick buck and scars downtown Aspen for decades to come.Then there’s the fight over the Wienerstube building, which, lest we forget, was originally Aspen’s main post office. I don’t think anyone’s claiming that building’s worth saving (“a classic example of the ‘dreary school’ of bureaucratic architecture”?). In this case, at least, the debate is over what will replace it.And, in this battle, thank goodness, at least one council member is keeping his eye on the ball.Torre (Damn it, boy! Break down and buy yourself a last name) is apparently standing alone to demand that developers actually create an “exceptional” building – and an “exceptional” building is, because of the intricacies of the land use code, what they are required to provide.Torre did manage to get several of the proposed affordable housing units shuffled down in price, to a point at which they might actually be affordable. But he’s still fighting to keep the rents at a couple of the planned retail shops affordable, too.And, oh, by the way, he can’t help but point out that he thinks the building’s big and ugly, too.Well, you go, boy!Tear the crappy old building down – but let’s replace it with something that’s an actual “plus” for the city (and not just the developers).And finally, there’s the squabble over the new building planned to replace the old Stage 3 movie theater – which was another crappy old building.In this case, I guess, the fight’s finished. The city has approved the new building.But I have to point out that most of the objections to the building came from condo owners at Concept 600, across Main Street.The new building, they said, will block their view. I do sympathize. Sort of. But only sort of.I sympathize because the new building will indeed block their views and blocking views is a bad thing.But I only sort of sympathize because once upon a time, Concept 600 was lambasted for blocking everyone else’s view, as it loomed over Main Street, hulking, intrusive – and, oh yeah, definitely crappy.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Columnist Roger Marolt is learning to hold his breath longer during these hot, dry summers, he writes.