1971 – Staufer saves Ford Park from development
It wasn’t long, however, before he became involved in serious fights with other members of the council. The first issue involved the planning of a downtown garage in 1971. Staufer thought it would ruin the town. At the same time, the council approved 500 condominiums in what is now Ford Park.
“That was my election issue,” Staufer said. “I said if we allow 500 condominiums there, and a downtown garage, it would be the end of Vail. A lot of people didn’t talk to me for a very long time, but I have been proven right.”
Thank goodness Staufer had the support of John Donovan, Joe Langmaid, and Dick Bailey. Together they were able to overcome the objections of the mayor at that time, John Dobson, and the town manager, Terry Minger. And although Vail needed the garage badly, the original design was just an open structure several stories high. What Staufer fought for was what it should look like, not what it should be. With the help of a landscape architect from San Francisco, they were able to make the garage look attractive and part of the town.
Joe’s wife Ann went into business with Daphne Slevin and started a shop at the head of Bridge Street called the Kaleidoscope. They were successful, and when Ann became pregnant, she sold her share to Slevin. When their son Jonathan started school, Ann Staufer opened a fancy gift shop called Annie’s in the new Phase II commercial space of Joe Staufer’s expansion to the Vail Village Inn. From a shaky beginning it has become a serious and successful business.
Looking back on his career in Vail, Joe Staufer remembers a number of stories. One is about Claire Elliot, a descendant of one of the early ranching families, whose log home is still along Gore Greek just west of Vail. Elliot was the first policeman in Vail and was called “Claire-rent-a-cop.” He was supposed to be security, but he was afraid of his own shadow.
Jim Seabry was the Eagle County sheriff. He, too, had many stories to tell of those early days. One happened at Manor Vail, when a thief tied a policeman to a tree with his own handcuffs. Staufer was manager of Manor Vail at that time and lived on the premises. Isabel Schober, who lived in Kansas City, called him long-distance and told him what was happening. The story had been on the news, and Staufer wasn’t even aware of it. The thief had attempted to rob Manor Vail, but the man at the desk did not have access to any money. The thieves took him as a hostage but let him off in Salida, 100 miles away. The thieves were never caught.
Staufer remembers one of the best parties they had at Mid-Vail during the first summer he worked there.
“We ran the gondola on Saturday nights,” Staufer recalls. “We did not have a liquor license, so I brought the mix and the ice and everyone brought their own booze. That was the big Saturday-night show. It was sold to the public for $10 – this included dinner and the gondola ride. It was very successful. I had some great help up there. Ellie Caulkins and Blanche Hauserman were my bussgirls.
“I remember once, Nancy Kindel was dancing on the table and fell off into John Murchison’s lap. It was a fun time. We were so few, but it didn’t matter. Everyone talked to each other. We were all friends. The major thing everybody was concerned about was making Vail go! Nobody had any other concerns. Everybody thought what was good for Vail was good for everybody.”
Staufer tells another story: “After the first winter, when Vail Associates was struggling to stay alive, John Murchison offered to loan them $500,000 at 5 percent. He was arranging the money from Banker’s Life in Lincoln, Neb., where his good friend George Cook was the owner. Pete Seibert told me to take care of them until we had dinner. The next day I took them up the mountain in a borrowed four-wheel-drive vehicle. Ann and I, and George Cook and his wife, had a picnic – champagne, goose liver, and all the trimmings. Four days later, Seibert told me I had done a good job because they had received the loan.”
During that first year, the food facilities at Mid-Vail were limited. There were constant complaints about how long it took to get a bite to eat. Joe Staufer decided to go up to the top of the mountain with a charcoal grill and some hot cider and cook hamburgers and hot dogs. You didn’t even have to take off your skis. It was known as Hamburger Heaven and was very popular.
Living in the mountains those first few years had its limitations. There was no television and no prospect of getting it soon. Every Sunday, the enthusiastic football fans would drive to Glenwood Springs and rent a room to watch the game. When the Cleveland Browns were playing against Baltimore for the national championship, I had a television in storage and wondered if it would work on top of the mountain. I carried it up on the chairlift to the patrol shack, stretched out a long wire as an antenna, turned the set on, and received a perfect signal from Denver.
Nearly 40 years later, Joe Staufer reflected that it’s been a long, wonderful trip since 1952 when he left Austria. He had ambition and goals that he knew he was going to achieve. His dream to own a restaurant became just a step along the way.
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 102nd installment, an excerpt from chapter 12, “The Ever-Increasing “New Locals.” 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.