Tony Vagneur: Armory needs to return to being part of Aspen’s fabric for locals
Like an old-time street light hanging over a dirt-street intersection looms an as-yet definitive conversation to be had about the future of the Amory Hall. Just as important, maybe even more so, hanging in the balance of the revered building is the history not only of the building, but of our history as a community. And our chance to continue it on for future generations.
My paternal grandmother was an amateur photographer who, in her collection, has photos of the skating rink just across Galena Street, filled with singles or couples, arm-in-arm, enjoying an afternoon outing. No doubt refreshments were being served inside the Armory for those coming in from the winter chill. One of her photos shows a traveling amusement park with wild rides set up in the same location, summer months. Right outside the doors of the Armory such activities were not only possible, but part of the fabric of Aspen, 1913-14.
Growing up, there were many stories about the Armory, romantic tales of people meeting, falling in love, getting married. These were people I actually knew, part of my grandfather’s generation, or even of my parents’. It’s of interest to note that my first official date with a member of the opposite sex, when in fifth grade, was with Norma Just. Our plan was to meet at the Armory because an impromptu roller-skating rink had just opened. She lived only a block away — my grandmother reluctantly drove me up as I didn’t want to be late.
Impossible to forget that day — I’d never done it before (roller-skating) and Norma (Naomi as her girlfriends called her) gave me some rudimentary instructions in the fine art of wheeling around the ground-floor auditorium. All of the elementary school was there, as well, it seemed. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my paternal great-aunt, Babe Prindle, and her 1917 league championship Aspen basketball team played on that very floor.
Married couples or hopeful singles might drive their horse-drawn buggies to town and park them over where Don Lemos’ parking lot was on the corner where the Hecht Building now stands. In retrospect, that was the town parking lot for umpteen years. People were still driving horse and buggy to town in the 1930s and ’40s — didn’t want to drive the car into a ditch on the way home on a slick night when you knew your horse could get there without your help.
There were many fraternal and society groups whose names were repeatedly associated with the Armory. Some of the names have a rather poetic ring, if not a totally descriptive moniker. There was the Chicago Bazaar Baseball Club, Patriot Sons of America, Professor Godat’s Dancing Academy, Order of Chosen Friends (would that work on a powder day?), Cowenhoven Hose Company, Aspen Liberal Union (could still be in vogue), Silver City Guards, High School Rhetorical Society, Vallejo Lodge. And the list goes on. Many groups and people were using the Armory as a home base, more than you might imagine at first blush. Imagine what esoteric names might boil up from today’s citizenry.
The memories are dusty now and the Armory, instead of a wide-open ballroom (basketball court, roller rink), with fraternal offices upstairs, is clogged with city offices, the architecture of which is somewhat akin to “back of a napkin, good luck.” If you’ve been in there the past 20 years, you know there was a good chance you might hurriedly leave with an urgent and impending case of claustrophobia.
Currently, there is a push to return the Armory to the community center it once was prior to 1957. Perhaps you’ve participated in the online survey; if not, there will be a chance for you to make your vision known Monday at a public work session with the city. It is hoped this meeting will have a dramatic effect on the council’s decision on what to do with the Armory.
As you’re reading this column, many good people have been working tirelessly to put together the outline of a public/private partnership in an effort to make this vision happen. We’re talking some big bucks and commitment from folks who have been skiers, golfers, bikers, hikers and others; our citizens — locals, if you prefer — new and old alike.
Lately, the biggest complaint I hear about Aspen is there is no place left where locals can affordably gather and connect with and see familiar faces, now that places like the Red Onion or L’Hostaria bars are gone.
This is a great chance, priceless really, to re-create some of that missing familiarity and camaraderie, and keep alive a vital part of Aspen’s storied history. See you Monday at the work session where staff will share the feedback received to date from the community survey and take comments.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.