Vagneur: Don’t Sacrifice History |

Tony Vagneur
Courtesy picture

Admire Aspen from the gondola or the top of Little Nell. Compare what you see to a photo of Aspen from the 1960s or even the 70s. Today, there doesn’t seem to be room to cram anything else into the overbuilt borough of the staged and pride embellishing the ego.

Growth. We take it – piled on our backs and psyches – one piece at a time, much like the proverbial frog placed in a pot of cold water over a heated stove. The temperature in the pot rises; the frog does not notice it because the increase in heat is gradual until, oops, too late to save itself. That’s how it could be here with new developments and new buildings.

Imagine the horror of Katie Skiff Chisholm, rest her soul, should she know what some people want to do with her little gray Victorian at 205 W. Main. Katie has spent most of her life in this house and, in an interview with the authors of Aspen: The Quiet Years, said: “People who have been here for maybe two years think they know exactly what the city needs. And I don’t blame them. I’m sure we have some very smart people coming to town. But I don’t think they do enough research. I don’t think they do enough groundwork.

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

Aside from 205, the entire area 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 seek the key to success.

Directly across the driveway, south of the 205, is the Chalfant House, once occupied by a single mother and her two children, Lee and Cathy, my classmates at the Red Brick. Mrs. Chalfant’s father was Lucas “Woody” Woodall¸ chairman and longtime owner of the Pitkin County Bank, a man who kept many local ranchers, farmers and businessmen alive by receiving applications for loans to small morning hours after the bars. had closed. He sometimes kept some of us younger generation night owls up all night in his little miner’s house on Hallam, playing poker. Ancient Age was freely passed around the table.

At the end of the driveway to the south is 212 W. Hopkins, once the home of the Garret, a world famous flophouse for freshmen and unlucky ski enthusiasts, founded by Don “Hump” Hillmuth, patrolman of longtime skier of Aspen Mountain. leader, who recently passed away in September. Prior to that, if memory serves, the Blanning family lived there for some time.

Across Hopkins is the Alm House, of the pan abode generation, inexpensive prefab homes built in the 1950s and 1960s. It has been the vacation home of generations of tourists, including several families. Many of my friends have stayed there, including a very special girlfriend during our freshman year in college.

So, you see, it’s not just about houses and their meanings; it’s also about people and their importance. It is impossible to ignore the importance of history, both of buildings and of people.

But, the Alm House and most of the other historic homes in the immediate two-block vicinity have been/or are bastardized by monstrous additions pasted to their backs. It’s a weird and naïve way we have of trying to preserve history and, at the same time, allow huge additions to appease the egos and demands of new age landowners.

If I remember correctly, 205 W. Main is the last original house in this neighborhood which is a historical representation of what the whole neighborhood once looked like. And, now, not wanting to miss the “affordable housing” hustle and bustle, a nearby lodge on Main wants to move 205 W. Main from its historic footprint to make room for employee housing.

Take a look at the current development plans for this site, and your first question is sure to be, “Where the hell did the historic house go?”

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

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

In the meantime, put an end to this burgeoning misconception by refusing the development request for 205 W. Main. Sacrificing history for growth isn’t cool.

Tony Vagneur thanks Elizabeth Milias for having informed him of this affair. Tony writes here on Saturdays and awaits your feedback at [email protected].


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