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The debut issue of Aspen Magazine


A Sapphire Anniversary

By Kelly J. Hayes

Bauhaus photo courtesy of Aspen Historical Society/Duke Collection | Aspen Magazine photo courtesy of Aspen Historical Society | Chair photo from Ted Dutton collection, courtesy of Aspen Historical Society


With 45 years as the town’s cultural chronicle, Aspen Magazine celebrates its own anniversary with a nod to venerable institutions and movements that also have something to celebrate.

If a stone can mark a moment, for Aspen Magazine that stone would be the blue sapphire. Individualistic, nuanced, colorful and enduring, the sapphire is the perfect gem for a 45th anniversary, a milestone that this magazine celebrates with this issue.

In the summer of 1974, a local media type named Ernie Ashley (Goodnough) launched Aspen Magazine to tell the tales of a community that had become legendary. In that first issue, Volume 1, No. 1, the inaugural piece detailed how philanthropists Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, Aspen’s modern-day founders, planted physical and cultural seeds that would bloom into a mecca for those with a passion for like-minded pursuits.

Seventy springs ago, modern Aspen first began to take shape. Believing that what was then a moribund mining town in the Rockies would be a perfect place to found a Utopian community based on the ethos of “Mind, Body, and Spirit,” the Paepckes had traveled from their Chicago home to Aspen. To introduce their vision, they hosted a globally recognized jamboree of intellectuals and artists honoring the bicentennial birthday and spirit of German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the summer of 1949. Then, just a few months later, the town welcomed the world’s top athletes to Aspen Mountain for the 1950 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. Those short few months set in motion a chain of events that would make Aspen what it is today.  

From what was initially Ashley’s simple black-and-white publication, peppered with ads for local restaurants like Andre’s and La Cocina and ski shops like Pomeroy Sports, Aspen Magazine has evolved over the decades to become a large-format, full-color print and digital record chronicling the community of Aspen and its surrounding Roaring Fork Valley.

In 1987, a husband-and-wife pair of California media entrepreneurs, Randy Beier and Janet O’Grady, purchased Aspen Magazine from Ashley and, fittingly, their first cover featured actress and Aspen local Jill St. John. Beier and O’Grady’s stewardship focused on a community whose profile was rapidly changing from that of a small ski town to an international resort destination and second home for many of the world’s elite. The magazine became famous for its irreverent Best of Aspen issues, which often poked fun at both the local and tourist communities. While Beier passed in 2001, O’Grady continued to put out a recognized and substantial publication before eventually selling it to Modern Luxury, the current publishers, in 2012.

Over the past 45 years, Aspen Magazine has documented, through both words and often-spectacular visuals, the athletes, the artists, the entrepreneurs, the intellectuals, the developers, the chefs, the ranchers and the philanthropists that have made Aspen such a special place to live and visit. It has become a de facto record of the cultural changes, as well as the demographic changes, that have taken place in both Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. It has become a shining gem in a community full of them. 

Maud Banks Duke talking to Herbert Bayer outside of the Hotel Jerome, 1947.

In 1919 postwar Germany, Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus art school. What does that have to do with Aspen? Well, Herbert Bayer, a student of the movement, was invited by the Paepckes to move to Aspen following the Second World War. Bayer used his skills and ties to the Bauhaus concepts to create a lasting legacy in Aspen, transforming a decrepit Victorian silver boomtown into a place that celebrates both modern architecture and contemporary thought. This year, Aspen honors those contributions with a series of events and exhibits that will take place throughout the Bauhaus Centennial from January through August.

Like so many Aspen starts, it all goes to back to the Paepckes.

In 1949, a tent designed by famed Finnish architect Eero Saarinen was erected for the Goethe Bicentennial Convocation and Music Festival. The tent hosted music for two weeks and enticed the musicians who performed there to return the following year. Walter Paepcke brought the musicians back for many years, and they brought students with them, and, eventually, the musicians incorporated.

Since its first summer 70 years ago, the likes of Igor Stravinsky (1954), Duke Ellington (1965), Aaron Copland (1980) and Yo-Yo Ma have appeared on the festival stage. Today it is one of the premier festivals of its kind in the world. “From the very beginning, the festival has been a gathering place for the world’s great musical minds,” said Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School. “Performers, students, composers, scholars and music-lovers have come together in Aspen each summer for 70 years to share a passion for this living art form and explore it together. We have become a cornerstone of the vibrant cultural life of Aspen and beyond with a teaching mission of global scope and students from 40 different countries.

“Looking ahead, we are continuing to develop intensive programs, such as our most recent for choral singing and brass chamber music, and to bring music into the lives of hundreds of school children throughout the valley. Our alumni receive major commissions, appointments, and perform with every major orchestra and opera company in the country and many abroad,” says Fletcher. “Every year, we applaud their awards, such as Grammys and MacArthur Genius Grants, but are perhaps most proud of how Aspen musicians everywhere steward the future of classical music and keep it alive and flourishing at a time we perhaps need its beauty and depth more than ever.” 

Skiers soak up the sun at the base of Buttermilk, 1965.

Before the 1958-59 ski seasons, skiing in Aspen meant skiing Ajax. But, that year, an iconoclastic and occasionally cranky Harvard-educated Southerner named Whipple Van Ness Jones decided to try to open a ski area to rival that of the Aspen Skiing Company. Over Thanksgiving weekend 1958, skiers boarded the first lift at Aspen Highlands, which soon came to be known as the “renegade” mountain in the valley. Three weeks later, on Jan. 11, 1959, land owners Friedl Pfeifer (also a ski instructor) and Art Pfister held the grand opening of the first lift on Buttermilk. Both mountains are under the operation of SkiCo today: Buttermilk was purchased in 1963; and Highlands, in the mid-1990s. While the focus of this ski season is firmly on Snowmass’ new Base Village, the 60th season at Highlands and Buttermilk may get short shrift. But it is a monumental achievement none-the-less.

Once again, it’s all about the Paepckes. Fifty years ago, in 1969, Elizabeth deeded 22 acres of land behind her home in Aspen’s West End for the establishment of a nature preserve. Now, a half-century later, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) welcomes thousands of adults and children who are interested in the natural world to interact with the natural surroundings of Hallam Lake. It is one of Aspen’s most treasured and valued institutions.  

The Wheeler Opera House was founded by Jerome B. Wheeler (who also founded the Hotel Jerome), and, this year, it celebrates its 130th anniversary. “In 1889, the Wheeler Opera House opened its doors for the very first time,” says Gena Buhler, executive director of the Wheeler Opera House. “While a lot has changed in Aspen, much has stayed the same for our historic opera house, including the amazing and inspiring community support we receive. The stability that the real estate transfer tax funding provides enables us to present amazing local, national and international talent on our stage throughout the year. We are so happy to celebrate the 130th anniversary this year. Together, we continue to make history at the Wheeler.”