Bauhaus tours

Michael Monroney leads a Bauhaus Architectural Walking Tour through the West End of Aspen recently.

When the Aspen Historical Society added a Bauhaus architectural walking tour to its programming last month, the history coaches who lead the tour thought people might be interested. After all, Aspen is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the influential Bauhaus school of art and design all year, and interest in the works of Aspen-based, Bauhaus-trained designer Herbert Bayer is at an all-time high. But they had no idea just how popular the Tuesday and Friday tours would become in the few short weeks they’ve been offered.

“It’s been successful beyond our wildest dreams,” said history coach Mike Monroney, as he prepared to lead last Friday’s tour. “On Tuesday we had 21 people.”

Monroney gave much of the credit for the tours’ popularity to a full-page June 22 New York Times article on Bayer and Aspen’s Bauhaus celebration by local writer and editor Cindy Hirschfeld. The article was also the reason given by most of the 17 people who showed up for Friday’s tour, which drew visitors from as far away as New York, Atlanta, Ohio and Oregon.

The tours started June 18, but from June 20 to 29, during the Aspen Ideas Festival, they weren’t allowed to go on the grounds of the Aspen Institute, Bayer’s crowning achievement in town. That means that last week, with the festival over, the tours really hit their stride when they began featuring a visit to the institute grounds and the Aspen Meadows as a grand finale.

The return to the institute and the Times story may account for the tours’ surge in popularity, but if they continue to average 19 attendees, Monroney and the other history coaches may need to figure out better places for everyone to congregate when they stop to talk about something. As it was, on Friday, the group did a fairly decent job of blocking the road at each checkpoint. Thankfully, the tour’s route, from the Red Brick Arts Center (gymnasium end) to the Aspen Meadows, is on streets that encounter very little traffic.

The tour begins practically right across the street from the Red Brick, where the historic Victorian home of renowned photographer Ferenc Berko sits next to his studio, designed in the 1970s in a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired manner, which has an addition done in a Bauhaus style by noted local architect Harry Teague. The other house on the block, though ultra modern, is also clearly influenced by the right angles, flat rooflines and functional look of the Bauhaus.

From there, the tour makes its way through Aspen’s venerable West End, with Monroney (or another coach) providing remarkably informed commentary and historical context at such stops as Bayer’s first home in Aspen, a Victorian notable for the crenelated fence outside and a hexagonal-shaped addition near the back, and one of the first homes Bayer designed in town. Beyond the specific points, the other highlight of the tour is simply the West End itself, which provides a fascinating chronicle of how Aspen’s prevailing styles have changed over the years.

After the West End, the tour stops at the Benedict Music Tent and Harris Concert Hall, both designed in their current permutations by Teague, before moving on to the institute grounds, which serve as a veritable Bayer museum. From the 1953 Koch Seminar Building, with its sgraffito mural etched into one exterior wall, to the 1963 Paepcke Auditorium and the buildings of the Aspen Meadows, designed in the mid 1950s, Bayer’s architectural designs are everywhere.

But it’s not just about the buildings. The grounds also include some of Bayer’s large-scale outdoor art. There’s the gleaming Italian marble statuary of “Anaconda,” a 1978 work commissioned by the Atlantic Richfield Company and installed at the institute last year after 22 years in storage, contrasted with the rough-hewn look of the Marble Sculpture Garden, a 1955 work comprised of remnants salvaged from the Yule Marble Quarry just over an hour away from Aspen. There’s also Anderson Park, constructed in the early 1970s and featuring Bayer’s earthworks, and “Kaleidoscreen,” a sculpture of colorful, rotating panels designed in 1955.

“It’s hard to overstate Bayer’s importance to modern Aspen,” said Monroney. “For 30 years, this man from Austria had such a significant influence on town.” 

The tour would make for a lovely walk through the West End even if you didn’t know what you were looking at, but combined with the coach’s commentary it’s a great look into why Aspen is so gung-ho for the Bauhaus this year. Young kids may be antsy with the relaxed pace of the tours, but that just means that everyone else of all ages can enjoy them (this reporter was able to make the walk in a knee brace three weeks after major surgery).

It’s too early to say whether the tours will continue to draw as many people as they’ve been drawing, but if you’re at all interested in the Bauhaus and its relationship to Aspen, brave the crowds and walk the walk. Under a recently implemented Aspen Historical Society initiative, you’re guaranteed to learn something new. Tours are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, and kids under 18 are free. For more information, go to aspenhistory.org.     

Todd Hartley writes for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at todd@aspendailynews.com.