Teri Orr: Remembering old Park City and the woman who changed it forever
Truth is — we didn’t build this city on rock and roll — we built it on bold ideas we had little reason to believe would work. We played hard — very, very hard which matched the amount we worked. We survived a Grand Jury investigation and the creation of a Redevelopment Agency to trade buildings with the school district and create a strange path for tax revenue that still exists today. We loved hard. Each other — the town. The idea was — if we all just worked hard enough that would be enough. No one ever said … Your role — Tina (Lewis) — is to give the town personality and spark — joie de vivre (and of course — critical historic preservation ). It was known simply as The Tina Touch. She was part of the powerhouse visionary group of young Council people who wanted to make up a town that they wanted to live in. They hired the first professional city manager — Arlene Loble in 1980. There were no stinking Olympics on the horizon — or any film festival. Deer Valley was trying to create itself with a guy who knew lots about the hotel business and close to zero about skiing.
Arlene lived next door to the human who ran the brand new public radio station. And she lived around the block from me. I was editor of this paper — eventually dating the chief of police. Look — the dating pool was small. Our entertainment consisted of dinners in people’s homes where we all brought stuff. Or we took turns playing roles in community theater productions — which was all the Egyptian did for 30 years. We were all transplants here — starting-over folks. People who had failed a first time already at something/someplace else — as then-Council member Bill Coleman used to say. The entire town was about 1,800 people.
Arlene had been married to a man who had been a legislator in Montana. Her own family had been filled with judges and legislators. She was only too happy to land here. She decided — in the ’80s — weekly lunches with women who were also heads of businesses was a good idea. So we started doing that — at Sneakers — a little club upstairs at the Racquet Club — which is now The Marc.
It is difficult to describe those days. We were working very hard and trying to make up a whole town all at once. The water system was horrible, there were no rules about historic buildings being preserved — there were very few rules at all for that matter. And yes, you’ve heard it before but — there wasn’t a single stoplight in town. Traffic was something to aspire to.
The Alamo was next to The Club and both bars had clienteles of all stripes of folks. You could only squeeze about 30 people into either of them. Another 20 on the deck of The Club on a Friday afternoon. It was rumored that was where Butch and Sundance had gone for a pop. Since you could see the sheriff riding up the street — you could jump right off the balcony and onto your horse and head up Daly Canyon.
The police chief when I first moved here was the youngest in the state — at 26 — one of the youngest in the country. He had expletive nicknames for everyone. And in the great Fed undercover cocaine sting called — wait for it — Operation Snowflake — it was discovered the chief was having an affair with a hairdresser. His wife, who was a teller at the bank — found out from the Feds. She called his girlfriend’s house just as she used his service revolver on herself. He was never charged with any wrongdoing in the drug sting but nonetheless he was no longer going to be effective. Arlene spent months getting him help and then finding him a safe place to land.
There was cocaine here aplenty and we were figuring out from other ski towns that could be fatal — in addition to undercover stings there were murders all over the “territory.” We were every bit The Wild West — only the 1980s version not the 1880s one.
As Blair Feulner from the aforementioned radio station used to say — There was no adult supervision … There were just old miners who were about to leave town. Sell their homes. The mines had just closed in 1979. I watched a fabled bar get torn down on Main Street. The bulldozer hit the cobalt blue glass tiles on the outside of The Cozy with the sign — First Chance as you headed up hill and Last Chance as you were headed down. I played pool there a coupla times when the girls in faded hair ribbons and flannel shirts let me. But the only game they were interested in was the oldest one.
Arlene’s daughter and my son were the same age. The third Musketeer was a boy who belonged to our another friend — Franci. She was a TV news reporter. None of our exes lived in state. There were no weekends off. So we co-parented … we single ladies. Arlene was a strong smart woman in the ’80s. She was attractive and funny. She liked men and they liked her. The fact that some of those “likes” worked in high-ranking positions in town made things a bit spicy at times.
KPCW radio had a Sunday morning show — The Morning After … literally reporting on the goings on from the night before. There was no walk of shame — these guys would just report the license plates of whose car was still in whose driveway come morning. There really is no NPR equivalent today.
Arlene started having “health issues.” We can use the correct words now — she suffered from depression. I can’t imagine how the pressures of knowing the mine tailings were so bad the EPA wanted to close down the town and knowing those same tailings were in our water system affected her day and night. Some crises were less impactful like — The case of the Missing Quarters. They turned up after an investigative search. The woman who ran the bus system couldn’t figure out how to count them all each day. After several months and very little revenue — it was a quarter to ride the bus after all — the city was certain she had embezzled the money … until she led to her room in Prospector with the neatly labeled shoeboxes of quarters all there under her bed. Arlene saw to it she was treated kindly.
We didn’t know exactly how good we had it — but we knew we had it good. Except when extreme sadness took Arlene away for a spell. We got her into Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City and returned her to work for a little while longer before she resigned and left for Wilsonville, or as Sally Elliott always called it — Petticoat Junction in Oregon.
I stopped by her place there once — saw her modest condo and what struck me were all the spaces covered in memorabilia from Park City. She had cut her (professional) teeth on us and we on her. We had cannibalized her great mind and she had to escape the pressures and relationships that made her life messy here. She healed so well she ran that city in Oregon for nearly 20 years.
When I was informed last week she had passed away in Portland, where she had settled after her retirement — a flood of memories spilled over. This Park City — all shiny and smart and properly historic and taxed — owes an unpayable debt of gratitude to a wild west woman who had great vision and grit. Raise your own glass and toast the past that made the present this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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Jay Meehan writes in remembrance of his favorite camping partner.