Vagneur: Don’t sacrifice history |

Vagneur: Don’t sacrifice history

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore
Tony Vagneur
Courtesy photo

Take a view of Aspen from the gondola or the top of Little Nell. Compare what you see to a photo of 1960s or even ’70s Aspen. Today, there doesn’t seem to be room to cram anything else into the overbuilt burg of showmanship and ego-embellishing hubris.

Growth. We take it — piled on our backs and psyches — one bit at a time, not unlike the proverbial frog placed in a pot of cold water on top of a heated stove. The temperature in the pot climbs; the frog doesn’t notice because the increased heat is gradual until, oops, too late to save himself. That’s how it might go around here with new developments and buildings.

Imagine the horror of Katie Skiff Chisholm, rest her soul, should she know what some folks want to do with her little gray Victorian at 205 W. Main. Katie spent the majority of her life in that house and, in an interview with the authors of Aspen: The Quiet Years, said the following: “People that are here for about maybe a whole two years think they know exactly what the town needs. And I don’t begrudge them. I’m sure we have some very intelligent people coming into the town. But I don’t think they do enough research. I don’t think they do enough groundwork.”

In other words, they don’t do their history, and they don’t understand the community.

Putting 205 aside, the entire area there is a hotbed of historical significance. Next door to the west is the childhood home of Judge William Shaw, a man without whom Aspen and Walter Paepcke might still be looking for the key to success.

Directly across the alley to the south of 205 sits the Chalfant home, once occupied by a single mother and her two children, Lee and Cathy — classmates of mine at the Red Brick. Mrs. Chalfant’s father was Lucas “Woody” Woodall¸ long-time president and owner of Pitkin County Bank, a man who kept many ranchers, farmers, and local businessmen alive by entertaining requests for loans in the wee hours of the morning after the bars had closed. He occasionally kept some of us younger generation night owls up all night at his small miner’s cottage on Hallam, playing poker. Ancient Age was freely passed around the table.

Down the alley to the south sits 212 W. Hopkins, one-time home of the Garret, world-famous flophouse for freshmen and out-of-luck ski bums, founded by Don “Hump” Hillmuth, long-time Aspen Mountain ski patrol chief, just recently deceased in September. Before that, if memory serves, the Blanning family lived there for a time. 

On the other side of Hopkins sits the Alm House, of the pan abode generation, inexpensive pre-fab houses put up in the 1950s and ’60s. It has been the vacation house for generations of tourists, various of them families. Many of my friends have stayed there, including one very special girlfriend during our freshman year in college.

So, you see, it’s not just about houses and their significance; it’s also about people and their significance. It’s impossible to gloss over the importance of history — both buildings and people.  

But, the Alm House and most other historic houses in the immediate two-block vicinity have been/or are being bastardized by monstrous additions plastered onto their backs. It’s a strange, naïve way we have of trying to preserve history and, at the same time, allowing huge additions to assuage the egos and requirements of new-age property owners.

If my memory holds, 205 W. Main is the last original house in that neighborhood that is a historic representation of what the entire neighborhood once looked like. And, now, not wanting to miss out on the “affordable housing” hustle, a neighboring lodge on Main wants to move 205 W. Main off its historic footprint to make room for employee housing.

Take a look at the current plans for developing this site, and your first question will certainly be, “Where the hell did the historic house disappear to?”

It’s crammed into the northeast corner, like an afterthought, its historical significance almost totally obliterated. It’s kind of like tying a bear to the fence out back and telling everyone you have a wild beast in the yard. Unfortunately, the bear is visibly changed, and only a shadow of its former self remains.

The bottom line is this: The development of more “affordable housing” will only exacerbate our affordable-housing crises, creating more growth. It’s a problem you can’t grow your way out of. 

In the meantime, considerately put an end to this burgeoning misconception by denying the application for the development of 205 W. Main. Sacrificing history for growth is not cool. 

Tony Vagneur thanks Elizabeth Milias for bringing him up to speed on this matter. Tony writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at