Preserving buildings, and not much else | AspenTimes.com

Preserving buildings, and not much else

Roger Marolt

It’s time to face at least one minor fact around here: We’re phony.”Phony” is spending lots of money to look like something we’re not. It’s being thankful that beauty is only skin-deep because there is always Botox. It’s the delusion that historical preservation in Aspen is maintaining anything other than our reputation as a fake.The Isis, the place where we escape into movies, represents our scheming well. The preserved facade on that modern Aspen cineplex goes only so far as to mark the time back in the late 20th Century when we believed, or at least convinced ourselves, that the town could be saved by keeping a few old bricks stuck together with some rotting mortar and bolting it to the face of a brand new building that’s air-conditioned, five-screen partitioned, and three times the size of the one it replaced. I am not ashamed to say that I am not so shallow in thought that this effort didn’t do much for me.Walking past or into the Isis these days I don’t get fuzzy feelings about old Aspen. Driving by, I don’t look at the aged bricks out front and wax warmly about golden days past. And this isn’t a complaint. I like watching movies there and I like having the choice of several to go to, plus they serve wine and beer. My point is: What’s the point? Looking at that structure, just what is it that I am supposed to feel or see that was worth all of the effort and cost that went into manufacturing it to resemble some artifact of our past?Was the cost of that “preservation” worth it? If that weak effort added significantly to the cost of the building, which I believe it must have, it served mostly to pile financial pressure on the owners. In our shortsightedness we forgot the old adage: a greed-head will never take a loss, they just raise the rents. So, that made it all the more difficult for a movie theater operator to run a profitable business there. If this is true, we have only our own well-intentioned selves to blame for being at the brink of losing it as a theater. It’s almost history. Nice work!If a small town leaves us with any lasting impression it’s because of the friendly people, cute restaurants, quirky little shops, and the like. It’s been so long since we’ve had any character here that we’ve forgotten what it is, but I think these things are what we are supposedly referring to. The buildings in real towns reflect the character of the people, not the other way around. We’re banging our heads against ersatz Victorian wainscoting here. Nice old-looking buildings will not bring back nice old people.Storefronts become quaint and charming in authentic towns because the same shops and restaurants reside in them year after year. No committee is telling them how to preserve dilapidated door jams and sagging soffit; they fix them so that they keep on functioning. The proprietors don’t have the time or money to build facades and their familiar patrons wouldn’t be fooled by them anyway.Charming homes are an expression of the people who live in them. When families reside in the same houses for generations, their past becomes manifest in the buildings’ appearances. For better or worse, this is what makes us feel comfortable. The appeal is in the familiarity that residents have with each other and the place they call home. You can’t regulate that, you have to foster it.Our stunning veneer is effective in continually attracting new people, but our empty soul isn’t enough to keep them. What you see is not what you get. Our ghosts may be well exercised, but they are living in good health elsewhere.I’m afraid that through all of our efforts to remain true to our past, we have become the bogus town that we formerly dreaded. We often laugh at Vail for being a faux Bavarian village, but honestly they are closer to being that than we are to being an old mining town. We’ve relied on a theme to re-build our town around. Themes are contrivances of reality. It’s all make-believe! Who did we think would be attracted to this? With every modern structure we’ve hidden behind the remnants of a few slats of old, splintered barn wood and crumbling bricks, we are less faithful to ourselves.In clinging onto the outside of the antique windowpane of our past, we pay great homage to the original land rapists and stock swindlers who came before us, while slighting the potential genius of our present. We have loved our Dear Lady to death for what she was. Inevitable? Maybe. That’s the easiest excuse to promote since we are to blame.Regardless, we will never know what Aspen could have been.Did Aspen evolve, or was it intelligently designed? Roger Marolt debates this at roger@maroltllp.com