Vagneur: We’re all to blame |

Vagneur: We’re all to blame

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

“I’m an architect, and I’ve designed buildings all over the world. Every time I get a commission in an emerging market, I get excited about the opportunity to draw from the country’s heritage, culture and art. But the client never wants it. They all want the same thing: ‘modern style, modern style, modern style.’ Everything has to be high and glassy. It’s almost as if everyone wants to hide their differences. It’s boring.” — Quote from “Humans of New York.”

Now, far be it for me to make any statement regarding architecture or the unveiling of the Aspen Art Museum’s new enclave over on East Hyman (which did bring out some differences), but the whole flap seems to have unleashed some allegorical hand-wringing over seemingly unrelated, but clearly attached, events.

Suddenly, there is increased traffic on the Facebook site, “Friends of Aspen from the 1960s-1970s,” extolling the many unforgettable, happy, reckless, dangerous and darling events that occurred during those decades. As one fellow put it, living here then was “an experience no amount of money can buy.” He probably didn’t mean it in such fashion, but that sentiment clearly cuts both ways.

The connection I’m making may seem questionable, but this uptick of almost pandering Facebook nostalgia followed closely behind a barrage of vituperative language directed at the new art museum or those associated with it, and the “newer” Aspen wasn’t left out of the mix, either. That’s OK, communication is good, and the reactions from many I’ve talked to on the street fairly well mirror the views emanating from social media lately.

But such reactions don’t bode well for most of us who lived through ’60s and ’70s Aspen. Like old people lined up at last-stop nursing homes, we seem to recoil at new developments and new directions while at the same time claiming to have “reinvented” Aspen (certainly as a party town) by virtue of our free-wheeling and innovative attitudes during those bygone epochs.

I have news for you — we f–ked up Aspen as bad as any group before or since, but today we somehow manage to wear our shenanigans as a badge of honor from the age of enlightenment or something. To be so negative about recent changes in Aspen seems to indicate we’ve halted our mental development, at least as it applies to Aspen, and have curled up in a fetal ball, hiding our heads and trying to protect ourselves and our memories from the reality of today’s world.

In the local papers, we like to remind ourselves that Boogie’s downtown development was a contentious issue, our collective memory so fresh that we’re unaware that the bowling alley that preceded the Shaft and Boogie’s was met with tons of hand-wringing and bad-mouthing on the street. Surely we remember that the corner containing Paradise Bakery was, at one time, nothing but a burned-out hulk collapsed into its own basement and that the Volk Building standing there now (Sinclair station be damned) was met with froth and fury from a portion of residents.

And the megalith monster, the Ritz-Carlton (now St. Regis), got past most of the hate and vitriol, about the worst being said was that it took away what had been a free parking lot for a couple of years. In the interest of fairness, though, the best that was said was that it finally filled in the ugly hole at the bottom of the mountain.

And in today’s enlightened age, most of us have no idea that when he arrived on the scene, Walter Paepcke was considered a pariah, the possible destruction of all that was good in Aspen, at least by the locals who had their own precious memories and concepts to contend with. And today, what do we hear about Paepcke and his ideas for Aspen, the Aspen Institute, music at the tent?

I’m certainly not trying to get your approval for the Aspen Art Museum, or even part of it, but I am saying that all the caterwauling about it is neither salubrious nor productive. In 2009, the residents of Aspen, through a city-wide vote, turned down a proposal for a smaller, less obtrusive art museum building in Galena Plaza. The old saying, be careful what you wish for, may have context in this, our summer of discontent. And if you don’t live here, I’m sorry, but you don’t get a vote.

While we’ve been so engrossed in the art museum, the City Council has paved the way for a string of four-story guest houses (60 feet tall — 13 feet higher than the art museum — on the already elevated side of our little burg) along the base of Aspen Mountain, forever blocking our view from town of that which has made Aspen famous. Tragedy lurks.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at