Jim Markalunas: Guest opinion
As we enter another offseason, it’s a good time to make the “New Aspen” aware of the many changes that have taken place over the years, lending much truth to the adage, “The only constant is change.” In my lifetime, travel in and out of Aspen certainly has changed! During the ’30s and ’40s, it was the Cannonball, a daily mixed train of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad that brought mail, freight and an occasional passenger in or out of Aspen, a sleepy ex-mining town at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork Valley. If you missed the train, you could hire Hannibal Brown in his green Hudson to bring you up a lonely, unlighted two-lane highway devoid of any commercial activity between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. There were no private jets or aircraft of any kind parked on a then-rutted dirt airstrip during those bucolic times.Lodging was available at the Jerome, then the only hotel in town, or at Waterman’s cabins on the west side of Aspen and at Cooper’s Hollywood, east of Aspen on the way over Independence Pass to Leadville and Denver. The Crystal City Inn and Angie’s Cafe were favorite eating spots, if you wanted a good home-cooked meal. For a cold beer, Tim Keleher’s Saloon was the place to quench a thirst. Evening entertainment was a three-reel movie at Parson’s Isis or a game of cards with the neighbors. Summer eve activities were fishing on the Forks or kicking the can under street lights before bedtime.With the first snows of winter, it was time to hunt rabbits on Red Mountain or deer and elk on Owl Creek bordering Jens Christensen’s Glendale Stock Farm or high above the Kearn and Sinclair ranches on Brush Creek. School days at the old Washington School ended when it was torn down and its brick used to build a one-story “Red Brick” school in 1941 to house all 12 grades. During the war, the school population was slightly more than a hundred kids. The class of 1948 was a large 18, but my class of ’49 was small, with only seven boys. The only two girls had left in the prior year. Sporting activities, other than skiing, consisted of basketball at the Armory Hall, as there was not a school gym at the time. Aspen had a peculiar home team advantage, due to truss rods placed above the armory’s floor that interfered with long hoop shots by the visiting teams.If you were in need of medical attention, your only option was Dr. Twining or for a dentist, Dr. McKenna. After the end of the second war, doctors Lewis, “Bugsy” Barnard and Bill Comcowich took care of Aspen’s local needs. The old citizens’ hospital, built in 1890, still served as Aspen’s only hospital and was staffed by local nurses such as Elizabeth Zupancis or some good-looking young nurses who had discovered Aspen while serving in Glenwood at the Navy hospital. The Citizen’s Hospital also served as an “old folks” home for disabled indigents. If you were not a local rancher or ranch hand, your employment opportunities were limited to working as a miner at the Midnight Mine, on the back of Aspen Mountain, or at the Smuggler Mine as a leaser. The Twin Lakes diversion tunnel provided Aspen with jobs during the ’30s and Climax and Camp Hale also provided employment during the war years. Some members of my family were able to have employment at the hydroelectric plant on Castle Creek.During the war years, as a young boy, I became acquainted with the hydroelectric plant and I soon filled in as a relief operator while attending high school. A schoolmate of mine became an operator at the Shoshone power plant. Commerce in Aspen was limited to fishing and hunting supplies at Magnifico Sports, hardware at Tompkins, dry goods at Kalmes’, liquor at Louie’s Spirits, coal from Ed Teideman, groceries at Beck & Bishop or Paige’s and building supplies at Sardy’s Aspen Lumber and Supply. An extraordinary purchase, such as a new or used car, entailed a trip to Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction.Growing up in Aspen during the “Quiet Years” was a time I now cherish. A time of simple pleasures and tranquil moments far removed from the troubles of an outside world. But those bucolic times were to change with the discovery of Aspen as a ski mecca and cultural capital for music and the arts. Now all the world comes to Aspen. The “nouveau riche” and famous seeking pleasure or wealth. Brick and stone structures fill the once-vacant lots where once stood derelict frame and log structures left over from Aspen’s mining era. Now, million-dollar homes occupy every possible building site on the hillsides above Aspen like planets; satellite villages orbit the ski areas surrounding Aspen. Emigres from around the nation and the world now have discovered Aspen. “Thar’s gold in them thar hills” banner the slick advertisements that now fill two daily papers with glossy photos puffing million-dollar homes for sale. Our local economy continues to swell exponentially. City and county budgets are more than a thousand times greater than they were, before the present-day gold rush in development. One needs only go back in time and look at the numbers, whether they be budget dollars or employees, to realize the changes that have taken place. Sadly, Aspen has become more a commodity than a community. But for those of us who have come to appreciate the more simple joys of Aspen, we must continue to cherish and protect the environmental and historic values that still remain unspoiled. So, I close with this excerpt from my book “Aspen Memories”: “Aspen was built on the dreams and visions of the early pioneers. We owe it to our founders and our forbearers, but most importantly, to ourselves and our progeny, to live up to that dream.”Jim Markalunas is a longtime resident of Aspen.