Vail Tales: The envelope, please
April 6, 2013
VAIL – Vail looks like America’s Bavaria because it’s supposed to.Here’s why.Architect Fitzhugh Scott always insisted that the prettiest line between two points is a curve. Scott was standing at the bottom of a street in Zermatt, Switzerland, in the shadow of the Matterhorn. The sheep that moved through that main street for centuries created a curving path as they traversed the mountain.Zermatt’s townsfolk built shops, houses, churches and hotels along the curving street.That street was the inspiration for Scott’s vision of Vail’s Bridge Street, which he drew on the back of an envelope he pulled out of his jacket pocket. Bridge Street curves from west to the east almost exactly like that street in Europe that Scott drew all those years ago.Scott’s house was designed pretty much the same way.Scott’s Bridge Chalet was designed on the back of an envelope on an airplane ride from Denver to Milwaukee, where he was living in 1961.Scott didn’t actually own the lot he wanted, but that didn’t stop him from ordering one of his architects, Ted Bishop, to “draw it up!” recalls local architect Gordon Pierce.Vail’s ﬁrst ﬁre?Scott’s house was Vail’s first dwelling and was also one of Vail’s house fires in 1962.Vail’s first ski school director, Morrie Shepard, pulled triple duty as Vail’s building inspector and fire chief.Vail’s covenants were more like guidelines. When you built a house you had to have an overhang and the paint couldn’t be paisley. Other than that …”With so much construction, there wasn’t much checking going on,” Shepard said.As for being fire chief, when he was a kid he’d worked with the volunteer fire department in Sharon, Mass., fighting forest fires. Pete Seibert, who grew up with Shepard in Sharon, figured that was enough training, so he made Shepard Vail’s first fire chief.”The job even came with a badge,” Shepard said laughing.As fire chief, Shepard made everyone in town buy two fire extinguishers. That’s how they put out Vail’s first fire at Scott’s house.Scott’s house was the first one built in Vail, and the Vail Associates offices were on the first floor because it had the only indoor plumbing and the phones worked most of the time.When gas leaked into his basement and ignited, Scott called Shepard. Shepard’s wife called a couple other firefighters and they called a couple others and pretty soon the whole crew was there.Vail had an ancient piece of firefighting gear that held about 300 gallons of water. They stored it in the company garage and never knew if the water would be frozen when a fire broke out.Shepard headed for the fire truck and thankfully it started. Everyone brought their fire extinguishers to fight the fire. They quickly put it out.Scott’s ﬁtScott didn’t always get his way, and blaming local governments for stifling progress and creativity go back to Vail’s very beginning.In a spirited exchange with Scott on March 14, 1967, Vail’s Architectural Control Committee claimed to experience “considerable shock, but no surprise” when Scott accused them of “interfering,” “hampering” and “restricting.”Scott was putting together a project for Bob Lazier and found himself limited in the number of upper floor rooms. The control board wanted to avoid “monolithic structures” so as to suggest the “natural, haphazard growth of an alpine village.”Vail’s growth wasn’t haphazard. Of course, presentation is everything in America’s Bavaria.Scott accused the Architectural Control Committee of dealing with details that are “none of its business.”For its part, the committee said it was trying to make things economically feasible while minimizing problems.Apparently Lazier was fine with all that, while Scott was not. A spirited exchange ensued. Scott then announced plans to restructure the committee. He didn’t get his way.Digging a little deeper we find that Scott was the first chairman of that very same Architectural Control Committee when it was formed in the summer of 1962. Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.