Guest commentary: Aspen Armory – Getting back to historic roots |

Guest commentary: Aspen Armory – Getting back to historic roots

Ann Mullins and Tom Moore
Guest commentary
Aspen City Hall.
Aspen Times file photo

It’s been seven years since a group of local citizens we supported had a dream of returning Aspen’s Armory Hall back to its former use as a community center with its original floor plan including the basement and addition. Their vision and a positive nod from council initiated an educational outreach effort, named “Citizens for Aspen’s Community Center.”

Council decided to put the building usage question to a public vote in November 2015 due to controversy over a new city hall adjacent to Rio Grande Park, which has now been completed. Some people wanted the city to keep some of its offices in City Hall so it could build a smaller new building. In the end, citizens selected “Community Use” over “City Offices” by 86 votes.

The Armory building vote came on the heels of an intensive, six-month campaign by the citizen’s group, whose vision statement was at the core of the messaging. It read:

“A group of long-time residents envision returning historic Armory Hall to its former glory as a multi-use community center and meeting space for the benefit of the public. We believe in celebrating our rich community spirit through the possibilities inherent in such a restoration.

“Our concept is for a diversity of public uses such as community dances, music and dance performances, athletic activities, arts and science lectures, political gatherings, an indoor winter farmer’s market, a roller skating rink, community meetings and much more.“

The campaign reached 14 nonprofit/group meetings and 59 one-on-one meetings, totaling 134 individuals plus another 2,000 through mailings and 300 people through an election forum. The group met with 12 newspaper editors, columnists and radio/TV stations plus an editorial board. They produced fact sheets, a direct mail card, social media posts, presentations and a letter-to-the-editor plan. They heard clearly that people wanted a community gathering place downtown.

Fast forward almost a decade. The city is ready to hone in on what “community use” means currently and determine how to renovate the vacated City Hall, so a brief walk down history lane may serve useful.

Built in 1892, the Armory is believed to be the oldest of the 19 armories built in Colorado and of 12 still standing in Colorado. They were built between the 1890s and 1920s to house militia protecting the territories and later miners and ranchers. The militia eventually became the Colorado National Guard. The armories morphed to primarily community use by the 1940s and became most cities’ social hubs.

There’s long been support for use of the Aspen Armory as a community center, with dozens of articles written about the effort over the past 100 years. Hosts of old timers tell stories of great times there, remembering school dances, social balls, roller skating, flower shows and hosting the 1950 FIS racers and the Silver Queen. The Armory was truly the community’s gathering place.

But, as with many causes in Aspen, the process was fraught with controversy. At one time, council considered tearing down the Armory, but the community protested. The resulting study revealed an unaffordable cost, but a proposed sales tax to cover the price was killed. Two companies who owned the building at different times each went bankrupt, so the city took quiet title to the building in the mid-1950s, securing the funding for a remodel, but they failed to get a building permit for the project, resulting in the council discussing how they should punish themselves! Since 1957, it has been Aspen’s City Hall, but now that it is vacated, it is available to revert back to the community use it was built for.

And why do we love this building? It has always been more of a social hub than a military facility, it is a one-of-a-kind armory in Colorado and probably its oldest. It has hosted some of our most important events, had its share of controversy, been worked and reworked, but, with its fine-looking architectural simplicity and knotty past, it still perfectly represents the history and the heart of Aspen.

We encourage you to share your support by filling out the city survey at before April 24. You will need to register, but you can fill out the survey anonymously.

Ann Mullins was on the Aspen City Council from 2013-21. Tom Moore was born in Aspen in the 1940s and has a long history with locals groups and the namesake of the Moore Open Space.