Marolt: Preserving our financial viability by emphasizing popular history
Snowmass Village people don’t worry about historical preservation. The town hasn’t existed long enough to know what, if anything, is of significant historical value. Maybe they should have kept the old decking from the Timbermill Bar that was all splintered up from spring-break ski-boot dancing. At the very least, more things that locals want to remember and, more significantly, want to forget about have happened there than any other place in the village.
Aspen is another story. It’s at least 70 years older. I bet somebody there wishes someone had stashed away a little bit of something from the old Frank Marolt Bar. Then again, that might just be my idea of significant history.
The things that have me thinking about historical preservation are a recent trip to Italy and current penance served on the building committee at St. Mary Church, where we are raising money for a remodel and doing a little infighting over the design.
First, a little about St. Mary Church: It was established in 1882 by Catholic miners who came to the area seeking their fortunes and also needed a place to save their souls. The church building they put up is the same one used today. That’s significant, considering its existence is almost as long as the recorded history of Aspen.
A little more perspective: I have been a parishioner at St. Mary’s for 53 years. That’s about 43 percent of the time St. Mary’s has existed, which means, unfortunately, that I might soon be considered for preservation, too. Either that, or it really isn’t that old after all.
A funny thing in Aspen is that when you add something onto what is considered a historical structure, you can’t make the new part look anything like the old part. I am reminded of this rule every time I drive past my great uncle’s old house in the West End. The new owners built a big, modern addition that gives one the impression of the space shuttle giving birth to a wooden lifeboat from the Titanic. The irony is that each part of the house might be worth saving individually, but together they beg for someone to make an excuse.
And that brings me to Italy. It has nothing that has been purposely preserved for a measly 100 years. I believe a rule of thumb is that a structure must have evolved on its own for at least a millennium before anyone bats an eye, and even then, it’s not more than a twitch of the eyelid. Some of the big cathedrals took centuries to build. Most have had numerous significant additions and renovations made with the intention of making them blend in or improving the looks of the existing structures. As far as I know, none of the work was intentionally made to look anything like the original so that future tourists could easily tell the pretty darn old from the ancient.
I believe Aspen has gotten ahead of itself over preservation. Full-blown silver-mining operations dominated Aspen’s character for less than two decades of its recorded existence of, what, 140 years? Yet the mining theme is what we’ve chosen to define us. There was a huge iron-ore-mining operation here until the late ’70s, but we knew those miners. They were ordinary people living in ordinary houses, and the huge trucks hauling loads of ore down Ashcroft Road and Highway 82 every five minutes were hard to romanticize, so we’ve preserved nothing of that era. In fact, we went out of our way to eradicate any signs of that operation.
If you think about it with the aid of a timeline, rich tourists and real estate deal-making have had a much larger impact on what we are today. True history is often harsh.
What this means is that the history Aspen portrays is basically a history of its residents’ choosing, which most likely is the theme that can be jiggered to turn the greatest profit. Far more money will be made in one summer season off the modern tourist who is attracted to Aspen by its artificially bloated mining-history theme than was made in total from its actual silver-mining days.
I’m not accusing Aspen of rewriting its history. But there is not much doubt that we are steering it to be preserved according to our romantic notions. I’m not going to go so far as to say that’s wrong, but it doesn’t exactly feel right to call it historical preservation, either. But perhaps that’s appropriate for a town sold to the world as an escape from reality.
Roger Marolt believes that someday they will fight to preserve the old, quaint monster homes in Aspen. Email at email@example.com.
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