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Saying goodbye to good home

Alison Berkley

It’s officially the end of an era in Aspen. I’ve only been here two years and would hardly call myself a local, but I have been here long enough to see one of Aspen’s oldest and far-from-finest institutions come to an end.

The Yellow House.

Situated on the corner of Aspen and Bleeker, nestled between the Sardy House and the church and Mary Eshbaugh Hayes’ old Victorian, everyone knows someone who has at one time or another lived in the Yellow House. What they probably didn’t know was that the dirt beneath this ugly 1960s-style ranch house is worth more than its weight in gold.

The house, on the other hand, isn’t worth jack.

Still, it’s on the market for more than $2 million, and even though it hasn’t sold yet (after three years), its beloved tenants have been asked to evacuate as of May 1.

These are the kind of tenants who represent the true-blue locals, the ones who actually work two or three jobs instead of getting money from their dead relatives. These are the people who are willing to do whatever it takes to be in Aspen, even if it means living in a ramshackle house that has been neglected by its owner for years because he knows the real profit lies in the value of the land.

I lived there once for 15 months, which is 14 months longer than I’d planned. Like most Yellow House alumni, I chose the place for three simple reasons: location, location, location. (It was also the only place I could find that would allow my bipolar, 90-pound chow/lab mix.)

When I found out the rent was less than four-figs and the deposit was only 30 cents, I mean $300, I was in like Flynn. For $725, I only had to share the place with five people and four dogs – mine being the smallest.

If I was being nice, I would say the house has a lot of “character.” If I was being honest, I would say I’m sure there are plenty of crack houses in Compton that are a lot nicer than this house.

The Yellow House really wasn’t a house at all but a dog kennel where the animals were gracious enough to share their space with the people. Walking in the door, one was greeted by a herd of our noisy, smelly beasts, growling and barking at the slightest provocation. Delivery guys must have dreaded us.

On an average day, you could expect at least four, maybe five dogs, depending on who was in town for a visit. During the Fourth of July one year, we had the four regulars plus a Newfoundland, a Great Pyrenees and a golden retriever – that’s roughly 700 pounds of dog under one roof. The couches were torn and faded, but the dogs never complained. They lounged about on the furniture all the livelong day, leaving behind a nice thick layer of hair the color of cobwebs.

On the far wall of the living room, someone once painted a rendition of Shakedown Street, the Grateful Dead dude in a green suit without a face, spinning his cane high in the air. I’m sure it had nothing whatsoever to do with all the drug use that was going on at the time. Stories about the house being a former methane lab way back when are part of its rich history, tales everyone loves to tell without really knowing anything for certain.

The decor was atrocious. The thin, red carpet in the kitchen (yes, carpet in the kitchen) bore large holes exposing the wood floor underneath like the top of a bald man’s head. Old dark-brown cabinets hung lopsided on one hinge or were missing altogether, so you could see all the pots and pans and Tupperware and crumpled up City Market bags thrown inside. A second living area functioned as an indoor garage, filled with bikes and junk people left behind, waiting to be claimed or thrown away. Eventually, someone would decide to tidy up, and they’d take everything and throw it outside, or on the roof if they were mad at the person who left it there.

Now that I have my own place, I can’t believe I lived there as long as I did. But looking back, it was one of the happiest times of my life. Aside from the guy who never came out of the basement (there were times I feared he might actually be dead) my roommates were amazing people who worked hard and really appreciated what it meant to be in Aspen.

But what really made the Yellow House special was it allowed regular people and freaks and Princesses and toads to be able to afford the magical experience of living in downtown Aspen: To be on a first-name basis with everyone who works in the liquor store at Carl’s. To be able to see the Sardy House Christmas tree lights from my bedroom window. To drag a beach chair a half block down to Main Street to watch the Fourth of July parade. And never, ever having to drive.

It’s sad to think that someone else won’t have the opportunity that I did. Maybe the ski-bum lifestyle – people and dogs sharing a small space, a dirty kitchen, and cheap rent within close proximity to the lifts – is a thing of the past.

I can’t help but think that when the Yellow House changes into whatever the owner chooses to make it, a piece of Aspen will change, too.

The Princess now lives in the ABC and gets bitter every time she has to sit in traffic. E-mail her anytime at alison@berkleymedia.com


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