1964 – Whiteford’s Casino helps put Vail on the map
The first time I met him was shortly before Vail opened in 1962. He spent the evening with us in our apartment in the Hauserman Building. We had just moved in. He was most charming – a handsome, sophisticated man, about 175 pounds, from Pittsburgh. His father was chairman of Gulf Oil Company.
Bill kept us amused with story after story about his life. We were entranced. The next day, I asked some friends about this entertaining person and how he kept us on the edge of our seat with his stories.
“Yes, that’s Bill, and most every story was made up,” I was told.
Whiteford grew up in Oklahoma and Canada. He graduated from Stanford and earned a masters degree in geology from the University of Michigan. By his own admission a “trust-fund baby,” he spent his early years in the oil business. An avid athlete and good skier, Whiteford spent a great deal of time in Europe and Aspen. George Caulkins introduced him to Vail, and he became an investor in 1959. Whiteford built the Gondola Building the first year – and thus he became a part of Vail.
In 1964, Whiteford built the Casino, opposite Pepi’s, on Bridge Street. It was a faithful imitation of the Reisch Tanz Casino in Kitzbuhl, Austria, and soon became the center of nightlife. It was like an Elizabethan theater – a large dance floor with a dining area surrounding it, and a large balcony with tiers that could be closed off with curtains.
There was all kinds of entertainment – Dizzy Gillespie, folk singers, the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, and even the Irish Rovers were introduced to America at the Casino. Bill said that the Casino was the largest discotheque in the country at that time.
Bill hired an attractive Swedish girl in September 1964 whom he had met at Dick Gibson’s jazz party in Aspen. She was to be the disc jockey. Bill called her the “disceuse.” She was soon helping him with the books and other aspects of the business. Her name was Bettan. They were married in June 1966.
She describes what it was like in Vail at that time:
“The Casino helped put Vail on the map. It filled a need. It was a fun place with great entertainment and was the place to go for apres skiing. The ski instructors would bring their clients, and everyone would have fun. At night there was always something going on, from turtle races to upside-down Christmas tree climbing contests.”
(A tree was hung from the rafters with a cow bell at the top. Contestants like Paul Testwuide and Pepper Etters would climb up, ring the bell, then drop to the floor. They were racing the clock and were supposed to climb down. It was wild.)
“I think that Vail was fabulous in the early days because everyone knew each other.”
Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the 122nd installment, an excerpt from chapter 14, “Bill Whiteford: The Lovable, Incorrigible Scoundrel.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.
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