Memories of Aspen in the busy 1960s |

Memories of Aspen in the busy 1960s

David Bentley
Aspen, CO Colorado

It was not a teacake that started my recall about the Aspen of 1963-64. Nor was it my morning slice of cinnamon toast that sometimes reminds me of the one-pound cinnamon bread rolls that were sold at the Little Cliff’s Bakery way back then. It was the image on a microfilm reel of The Aspen Times that announced the re-opening of The Thrift Shop on May 21, 1963.

Sometime during the following winter of 1963-64, I had bought three pairs of brand new factory-pressed knickers for $1 each. I remembered my purchase, but I couldn’t remember the store itself except that was very dark and gloomy.

To refresh my memory, I made a trip to the Aspen Building Department. Claude Salter and Dan Brabec found the building permit for converting a 16-foot-by-26-foot garage into a commercial space for The Thrift Shop. The permit was submitted on April 23 and the work was completed in less than a month.

This former garage just happened to be attached to the alley side of City Hall. It was provided rent-free. Anna Lookabill Scott, at the Historical Society, showed me photos of before and after. It looked like any of dozens of weathered ad hoc structures erected in back-yards over town during the quiet years. I’ve lived for 36 years in one that has survived.

While I was at the building department, we looked up the history of the two-story Victorian house at 703 E. Hyman, which was next door to the A-frames at 701, which were replaced by the Hannah Dustin Building. I think it was called “Brown’s Beds,” as opposed to another shack on East Hopkins called “Red’s Beds” that had been a feature in Life magazine the winter before as an example of slum housing for ski bums.

They found the demolition permit for No. 703, dated April 19, 1968. I knew that house because one of my friends, Jim Morrison, lived in a cellar beneath the kitchen floor that was entered through a trap door. It was roomy enough for his 6-foot frame and lined, naturally, with lots of shelves for canned goods that were now filled with books. At least six young men and their girlfriends shared the house of whom Jim Wingers is the only one still here that I know of. In February, 1964, several dozen of us from all over town were ordered to appear for the draft board physical exam with transportation provided by Uncle Sam.

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In the early ’60s, Aspen (at least in the winter) had once-daily stage bus service from Aspen to Glenwood. The bus station was kitty-corner from the Wheeler at 401 E. Hyman, in the structure now occupied by the Aspen Tee Gallery. It’s one of the least architecturally distinctive structures in Aspen to have qualified for historic preservation.

It was long after dark when a chartered bus came to pick us up. Interstate 70 was far in the future. U.S. Highway 6 went over the top of Dillon Dam and over Loveland Pass. My girlfriend, my first classical musician girlfriend, who had become a graduate student at DU, picked me up at the station in Denver and delivered me to the exam site in the morning.

Until I experienced airport delays later in life, I would never shuffle along in lines as miserably as I did that day. I was 4-F because of bilateral conductive deafness and an atrial septal defect, but I probably would have been disqualified by the IQ test ” I nodded off twice ” since I had had no sleep the night before. Going through that intake process was my closest experience of the organizational maw that was gulping what became a total of 3 million young men for service in Vietnam.

Almost every member of today’s Congress knows it would be his or her political suicide to vote to restore the draft as it was in my generation’s time. I’m sure that many prospective male ski bums of the late ’60s had to stay in school to keep their 2-S deferments. A statistician could probably pinpoint a cohort that couldn’t take a winter off to ski in Aspen during those years. I went back to school in 1965 because I liked to study. I didn’t return to Aspen until 1971.

Before I graduated in June 1968, I kept up with Aspen by reading The Aspen Times at the CU library. I recall seeing a photograph showing a delegation of local residents knocking at Robert McNamara’s front door to hand over a protest of the war. He had answered the door himself. He was the sitting Secretary of Defense in the middle of a war. Aspen has always had a tradition of civility that leaves famous people alone.

A few years ago, Wally Voigt, the floor covering guy, told me that he had come to Aspen as a U.S. Marine officer on leave and on one occasion, had gone skiing with the secretary’s daughter.

Any lawyer will tell you that if two people tell the exact same story, they are both lying. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who can correct and extend any detail I’ve offered. Contact me at