For 132 years, the Aspen Times has been something to pick up, unfold, read, crumple, toss. But the best representation of the Times might not be flimsy pieces of newspaper, but something less disposable: the Aspen Times building, which despite its own flimsiness, has stood, funky and purple, since 1908. Like the S-curves and Aspen Mountain’s Bell Chair, the building is a dysfunctional, outdated Aspen icon, stubbornly resistant to change.
Yet change it will. This spring the newspaper relocates to the Mother Lode building, on E. Hyman Avenue. The Hotel Jerome, the new owner of the Times building, hasn’t revealed its intentions; rumors circulate about a private club, offices. Also uncertain is how much of the building will be left intact in the interest of historical preservation. Whatever the extent of the renovation, 310 E. Main Street, a prominently located relic of Aspen’s gritty, anti-trendy side, will surely be spiffed up beyond recognition.
The building has puzzled, irked, even endangered its inhabitants. Legend has it the city’s building department has an unwritten policy not to enter: if they actually saw the condition of the place, they’d have no choice but to evacuate it. But those odd few who could overlook the stained carpets, the frightening tangles of wires, and curios like the late publisher Bil Dunaway’s ancient race cart, stored in a rafter from time immemorial, have been imprisoned by its charms. (Included in this group is this reporter, who has clocked nineteen years at the building.)
If any of the Times scribes were capable of something longer than a forty-inch feature, there would be a book about the building. It would tell of a nineteenth-century store that sold paint and wallpaper being turned into a newspaper that churned out articles on silver prices, social functions, and deaths. Chapters would be devoted to the clumsy structure: the haphazard addition of floors and wings; the installation of a climbing wall and ski-tuning bench (both extant, though badly decayed); the abandoned printing press, too massive to be moved, so buried underground.
It would include other fixtures: Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, whose “Around Aspen” column, now in its sixth decade, has local high society begging for inclusion; Dunaway, who set standards for journalistic chutzpah and personal quirkiness that still echo. It would tell of staff orgies in the ’70s, of politicians storming in to scream at reporters, of the office cat, Scoop.
A favorite story of the Times staff is the Great Fire of the mid-2000s, caused by a construction worker’s mislaid tool. Conventional wisdom had always held that a single match would be the end of the building. The fire refuted that contention: the Aspen Times edifice was indestructible. Progress, alas, will prove otherwise.