Popcorn Alley

Popcorn Alley in Telluride may be a portrait of beauty and charm, but the energy of the brightly colored historic mining structures wasn’t always so. In fact, in the old mining days, Popcorn Alley— the stretch of small houses from Alpine Bank toward the post office, on the sunny side of Pacific Street— was home to the brothel district and other questionable activities of the time.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, the Senate building, the Silver Bell building, and the Cribs made up the “sporting district” in Telluride. Everything from murder, gambling, gun fighting, arson, illegal consumption of alcohol and other substances and prostitution took place here. While the Cribs and Senate building were boarding houses designated for women that saw many a male visitor, the Silver Bell was infamously known as a “soda parlor” during Prohibition.

Today, those buildings remain, and visitors can catch a glimpse of local history and imagine what Popcorn Alley might have looked like a century ago but, a different life exists in this area today. The Silver Bell building is now home to Studio Telluride, a beloved Pilates studio with state-of-the-art exercise equipment and professional Pilates lessons, as well as YX Salon, a beauty parlor and in the basement, Telluride Bud Company, a medical marijuana retail store.  The beautiful wood floors remain, as do the wide windows inviting mid-day sunshine and some say ghosts.

For years, many Telluriders claim they’ve experienced encounters with ghosts, especially the spirit of Ramona, a woman who lived in Popcorn Alley during the Telluride mining days. Local Jenn Scott used to clean the Silver Bell back in the early 90s at night time. “One night, I could smell smoke”, she said. “I found a rolled cigarette in the toilet in men’s bathroom. I had already cleaned that room and the doors were all locked”.

Scott said she felt Ramona was teasing her. “I was really freaked out”, she said. Pilates teacher Melanie Hall said, “When I first spent time in the Silver Bell, I was aware of a possible ghost named Ramona, who liked to play innocent, practical jokes on the tenants.  My office, in particular, has a plaque that briefly describes an occasional women’s voice, a deceased prostitute from the ‘Popcorn Alley’ days. I had heard pink was her favorite color, so I immediately acknowledged her possible presence and brought her a beautiful pink scarf I kept hanging on the office door.

There were a few times I would feel an indescribable presence, knowing I wasn’t alone in my studio.  Sometimes, I would detect a faint whisper, a friendly energy.  However, I never felt menace or any sort of anger from her spirit.  I felt she was content in the building. A year later, I learned that Ramona was only 21 years old when she died of an apparent suicide in an upstairs bordello room. The Senate building later housed a restaurant and now offices attorney Mike Lynch and other Telluride businesses.

The Cribs are still home to residents. Their beautifully colored exteriors are often adorned with gardens in the summer. Sometimes, owners will sit outside in the sun and enjoy their morning coffee, enjoying the views of Milk Run or Coonskin ski runs on the mountain. Often, a front door might be left open, and lucky ones can steal a peek into the historic Telluride shacks. Things have settled down in Popcorn Alley, and these buildings are now considered priceless. A National Historic District, Telluride’s rich, though sometimes dark history, is protected through the preservation of its buildings. While the “sporting” days are over in the Popcorn Alley in Telluride, the history forever reminds us of what the box canyon used to be. Now, some 12,000 people walk Pacific Street for entrance into the Bluegrass Festival and other events. Who knows what Ramona thinks? Or if there are really are ghosts in Popcorn Alley.