Su Lum: Slumming
September 15, 2009
Just before a Historic Task Force meeting commenced last week, Michael Behrendt came up to me, saying that when, back in the ’70s, my decrepit miner’s shack had been designated as a historic resource, I had been outraged. Why, he asked, had I now “gone over to the Dark Side,” transmogrified from an opponent of historic preservation to one of its most avid supporters?It was a serious question and deserves a serious response. It is true that when I received the initial designation letter for my hovel almost 40 years ago, I was both astounded and amused. I shot back a photograph of my shack, with a message saying, “surely you’re joking.”My miner’s shack is an 1,100-square-foot non-entity containing three tiny bedrooms (one without heat) and no redeeming features – no gingerbread, no charm, an attic containing a cobwebbed gable showing that the existing shack was a combination of two old mining cabins cobbled together, hardly a thing anyone would want to preserve unless the two cabins were exhumed and renovated.I could have appealed and tried to get my property de-listed, but it was a costly endeavor in itself and, since I had no cash or plans to demolish or expand it, lassitude took over. I like my little house; it suits me. I took a whack at getting it de-listed in the ’90s, mainly wanting to get an inside look at the process and write about it – that lasted a couple of months and then I went down with hoof and lung disease and it became a non-priority.Meanwhile, it had not escaped my notice that over the decades the town I loved was being eaten away, bit by bit and chomp by chomp. Lovely, modest dwellings that were integral to the character of the town were being replaced by large, pseudo-French chateaux, the infamous trophy homes that sprang up like toxic weeds in the West End, then moved east to what was always considered the dark, cold side of town (my side) and even down to Oklahoma Flats, the very darkest and coldest corner of the forest, now a sea of empty, stony edifices. Aspen was inundated. It was a profiteer’s real estate market, and spec home holes made residential areas look like gravel pits, with the culmination being the destruction of the Boomerang Lodge and the Holland House and the erection of the mega Limelight Lodge and the Dancing Bear, while more proposals for the core waited in the wings or in the courts.I told Michael Behrendt that I hadn’t gone over to the dark side, I had seen the light.If we don’t do something, Aspen’s character (what’s left of it) will disappear. Our history, in all of its guises, is a large part of our town’s character. Turn it into Aspen-at-Vail or Aspen-at-Snowmass and our visitors (what will be left of them) will be people who are attracted to instant resorts, rather than those who return again and again because they love Aspen for more than its slopes or shops, but because it is a real and vibrant small town, full of diversity, not a big City with a Big City mentality.My little mining shack may not be the most sterling example of an Aspen Victorian, to say the least, but it’s kind of a statement amidst the condominiums in front, behind and on both sides of it. Little back yard. Clothesline. Raspberry bush no bear has shown the slightest interest in, ditto the garden.But to me it’s home. When I bought it in 1972 it was like most of the smaller houses in Aspen, maybe a little better because hey, it had a washer/dryer, a dishwasher, a self-defrosting refrigerator AND a garbage disposal! Maybe it’s too pretentious, with all those extravagant amenities, to be truly representative of the times, but it’s one of the last ones standing, and I’m glad it will be preserved, if only as the mud room of a mushroom behind it after I’m gone, feet first.Su Lum is a longtime local who didn’t understand at the time that her shack was a treasure. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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