What a hard list to make! There were so many people we wanted to include. But in keeping with our anniversary theme, we kept this one to 40. By luck, by design and by accident, these individuals helped to create a ski town in their own image, with their own vision.
Harley Baldwin saw Aspen, and downtown Aspen, in an entirely different way. “Aspen is the No. 1 center in America for the world’s elite,” Baldwin told Vanity Fair in 2001. “Aspen is for the most successful people in the world. It so happens that they like to wear Gucci. Where’s the problem?”
It was that pragmatism, coupled with a divine sense of design and taste, that made Baldwin one of the most influential change artists in Aspen’s history. His ownership and development of two blocks of the most significant historic real estate in Aspen—the Brand Building and Collins Block—provided the canvas to create environments that resonated with the global jet set. At the time, historic preservation was of little interest to most Aspenites, but it was crucial to Baldwin. The exclusive member-only Caribou Club and the Baldwin Gallery were significant factors in the sophistication of modern Aspen.
Baldwin first came to Aspen in 1968 and began his empire by selling crepes out of the Red Popcorn Wagon sitting across from the Wheeler Opera House today. Just four years later, he was in business, taking a loan from Robert O. Anderson, then chairman of The Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies and legendary oilman, for $170,000 to purchase the Brand Building. When he passed suddenly in 2005, The New York Times headlined their obituary, “Harley Baldwin, an entrepreneur who gave Aspen cachet.”
While well-known as a developer, his donation of a 10-acre mining claim as open space may be less well-known. Today, the claim is home to the Smuggler Mountain viewing platform.
Officially, Austrian born Bauhaus artist and graphic designer Herbert Bayer came to Aspen in 1946 to consult for Aspen visionary Walter Paepcke’s Container Corporation of America and the Aspen Company. Unofficially, he was the man Paepcke selected to change the face of the town.
Bayer set about remaking the Hotel Jerome, renovating the Wheeler Opera House, designing the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain and putting a clean brand, as they call it today, on the Aspen Skiing Corporation’s brochures and posters. All the while, he influenced and mentored a generation of eager designers and architects with his vision and charisma.
The Bayer legacy that lingers to this day is the 40-acre The Aspen Institute/Aspen Meadows complex designed in the Bauhaus style. Considered by many to be the first project on record of landscape architecture, the campus features modernist earthworks, including the “Marble Garden,” “Earth Mound” and a series of meandering pathways through geometric rings.
It is an only-in-Aspen place.
The 1990s belonged to John Bennett.
A Yale grad who came to Aspen in a bus in the hippie era of the early 1970s, Bennett was elected mayor in 1991 and presided over the city for four terms. He was both progressive and pragmatic in his years at the helm, focusing his authority on affordable housing, the environment and support for the arts and humanities.
Following his tenure in office, where he managed a city budget that had grown to more then $40 million, Bennett became a vice president of The Aspen Institute, where he was instrumental in the organization of the 50th Anniversary Symposium that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the initial gathering for the Goethe Bicentennial celebration.
In recent years, Bennett has served as an executive director of For The Forest, an organization dedicated to promoting the health and long-term sustainability of the forests of the Rocky Mountains.
In one of the most photographed places in the world, Ferenc Berko was a peerless photographer.
Born in Hungary, but raised in Germany, Berko was influenced as a young man by the Bauhaus school of architects, designers and artists. He left for England during the Nazi’s rise to power and began a career as a self-taught photographer. Following the war, which he spent in India making documentary films for the British army, he emigrated to Chicago, reconnecting with the Bauhaus designers
who had set up shop at the Chicago Institute of Design.
That is where he met Walter Paepcke, who invited him to come to the little ski town of Aspen to document the 1949 Goethe Festival. Berko’s photographs of dignitaries, including Dr. Albert Schweitzer, were sent around the world and appeared in Life magazine,
bringing publicity to Aspen at a critical time in its evolution.
Though he was the official photographer for The Aspen Institute for many years, Berko’s most important contributions may be the honest, black-and-white photos he took of Aspen in the late 1940s and early 1950s documenting the growth and change from sleepy town to world-class destination.
Lee Keating and Tom Bowers
In a town filled with so-called “style mavens,” Lee Keating stands out. Since opening Performance Ski with her husband, Tom Bowers, in a high-profile storefront on Hunter Street in 1987, she has managed to exemplify the statement “Where Aspen goes, so goes the world” (at least when it comes to what the who’s who of skiers are wearing on the slopes).
Most recently, in addition to running three shops (Snowmass and Vail) and sourcing ski and mountain-activewear that’s both singularly stylish and, well, performs, Keating has gone the designer route. Together with Gustavo Sangiorgi, she relaunched the iconic, Italy-based Authier ski manufacturer and clothing company. This winter, the Performance Ski shop will expand and move to the former Pomeroy’s space across from the gondola.
In the recent history of Aspen, no man has been recognized by as many as the sheriff.
Former Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis is a bear of a man and, with his gap-toothed grin and unruly hair, he cuts a figure unlike any other. For 24 years, he ran the department with a deft hand, letting the town and its citizens be what they would be while maintaining the peace.
Braudis believed that good law enforcement meant being fair, taking problems off the street and working with people for the greater good. While his stature and presence are intimidating at first sight, most of the good guys (and the bad guys) recognized that Braudis was all about doing the right thing. Throughout his tenure, there were trials and tribulations working with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the federal authorities, but Braudis knew that Aspen was a special place and that cookie-cutter enforcement wouldn’t work here.
A Boston boy with a Jesuit education, Braudis made Aspen a safer place.
Darcy D.R.C. Brown Jr.
If a skiing company ever needed a leader it was Aspen in the late 1950s. It didn’t have to look far, as Ski Co hired Aspen native D.R.C. Brown Jr., better known as “Darcy.”
Darcy’s father came to Aspen in 1880 and became one of the boomtown’s wealthiest citizens as he mined and built the town’s first water and electrical facilities. The Brown Jr. went away to Yale, where he was a boxer and a skier, until the war broke out. Joining the Navy, he was a PT boat captain in the South Pacific. The hand on the tiller was great training for what was to come.
In 1957, after a term as a Colorado state senator, Brown Jr. became CEO of the Aspen Skiing Corporation, which, at the time, managed three lifts on Aspen Mountain. Over the next 22 years, he looked over a company that added Buttermilk, Snowmass and Breckenridge, as well as international holdings. The name Aspen had become internationally recognized as one of the finest ski resorts ever to be built.
The homegrown Brown Jr. had done well.
Fabi and Fritz Benedict
Perhaps no honor is more appropriate for two of the modern-day pioneers of Aspen than the pair of 10th Mountain Division huts that bear the names of Fabi and Fritz Benedict.
After all, Fritz, a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division, was the father of the hut system that brings so many in contact with nature each year. And that was in 1980, years after he began making contributions as an architect to the community that survives to
Fritz’s importance to the growth of Aspen and the ski industry is impossible to overemphasize. An architect who studied for three years under Frank Lloyd Wright at Wisconsin’s Taliesin, he had a hand in nearly every significant structure built in Aspen between 1945 and 1980. More than 200 homes and buildings in this small town were conceived or renovated by Fritz. He was the first chairman of Aspen’s Planning and Zoning Commission and played a significant role in the founding of The Aspen Institute and the International Design Conference at Aspen. He also served on the board of the Music Associates of Aspen for 35 years. Oh, and he designed the master plans for the Snowmass, Vail and Breckenridge ski resorts.
Keeping it all together was his wife, Fabi, who ensured he was on track and on time—at least occasionally. A solid figure in the charitable community herself, Fabi was instrumental in the donation the pair made of more than 250 acres of land in Pitkin County for open space.
The pair remains together forever in the well-placed huts of the 10th Mountain Division.
Matt and Kay Bucksbaum
Though originally from Des Moines, Iowa, and later Chicago, no Aspen couple has duplicated the dream of the Paepcke’s Aspen Idea as well as Matthew and Kay Bucksbaum.
A first family of the arts in Aspen, Matthew and Kay have both served as chairs of The Aspen Music Festival and School board and they are recognized as influential collectors in America. Their sphere of influence in the music and arts components of the community cannot be understated.
While diminutive in stature, Kay stands tall as a pillar of the Aspen scene and Matthew has been a rock as well. In 2010, the couple pledged $25 million—the largest donation ever received by the Music School—to renovate the new campus opened in the summer of 2013, a fitting tribute from a first family of Aspen philanthropists and one that would have resonated with the Paepckes vision as well.
In today’s ski industry, corporations hold sway and private ownership is an anomaly. But here in Aspen, members of the Crown family of Chicago privately hold the Aspen Skiing Company. Managing partner Jim Crown has seen to it that Aspen, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk remain, no pun intended, the crown jewels of American skiing.
Fifty percent partners from 1985 until 1993—when they took full control—the Crown family has made the quality skiing experience a priority, while simultaneously positioning the company at the forefront of the environmental movement, the arts and employee relations.
For the past two years, Outside magazine lauded Ski Co, as locals know it, as one of America’s Best Places to Work. This year, they were honored by Americans for the Arts as one of the nation’s 10 Best Businesses Partnering with the Arts in America. And for the past decade, the Crowns have shown their commitment to the local environment through a series of energy initiatives that are designed to decrease the footprint of skiing on the Rocky Mountain environment.
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