Seed planting in Surrey, England |

Seed planting in Surrey, England

Bill Clinkenbeard
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On a consulting trip to England in late 1985, I stayed one weekend with the Posens at their manor in Surrey.

The home, situated in the soft English countryside, was named Crowhurst Place and its origins went back to the 16th century. It was surrounded by a moat where swans and fancy ducks made their home. There was even a dovecote.

The fowl were fed every day, a job I enjoyed when I visited. Though accused of it several times in my development activities, I wasn’t insensitive to wildlife. Besides, a fat duck is a good-tasting duck.

The great room highlighted the interior of Posen’s manor. This room was aptly named. It had cathedral ceilings and a turret with stained glass windows with cushioned seats at their bases.

There was a den off the great room and one of the former owners, a rock star, had covered the walls with a padded green fabric. The room had been used as a music room or cinema. One day Felix and I peeled off the covering and magnificent wood walls with lovely carvings were revealed.

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Managing masterpieces

One could only imagine what family life might have been like centuries ago in this manor. Behind the modernized kitchen, were servant’s quarters, some of which were now used as bedrooms.

The main bedrooms, and there are several, were on two levels above the ground floor, nestled under the sloped roof of the manor so that they had oddly angled ceilings.

I was glad that a modern heating system had been installed as the weather was usually “very British” when I was there, wet and cold. I was amused at the weather forecasts on the BBC. Most often, the weather was going to be “very variable.” You can’t go wrong with that in England.

On good weather days I helped clear brush from the property or hiked in the surrounding woods. In the spring there were special stands of bluebells in one part of the woods, containing what appeared to be millions of flowers. It was a wonderful sight.

One day when the weather was particularly nasty, a large crate arrived at the house and Felix asked me to help him unpack it. The crate was marked “fragile” and it soon became clear why.

The crate contained several works of art, mostly oil paintings. These were not your run of the mill, garden-variety pictures. These were paintings by masters such as Miro, Chagall, Kandinsky and Picasso. I wanted to put on surgical gloves as I helped with the unpacking. I knew that Felix and Jane had exquisite taste in furnishings and artwork, but this was almost more culture than I could cope with, all packed in one crate.

Into the fire

That evening, Felix and I were in his den reading. It was a scene right out of a Dickens novel.

There was a crackling fire in the large walk-in fireplace. The fireplace was so big, it had stone benches to sit on, inside the fireplace. You could toast someone’s health, right across the fireplace from you on the facing bench. Or you could toast marshmallows sitting down.

We were drinking our scotches neat that night. Felix, lowered his book and, out of the blue, asked me if I could teach him to cross-country ski, which he wanted to do for exercise. I said I could. He went back to his book.

Sometime later he again lowered his book and said if I ran across any investment opportunities in the United States, especially in real estate, let him know. He went back to his book. Cross-country skiing, investments in real estate? Boy, did I have a couple of deals for him.

The next day I explained to Felix the two Colorado real estate opportunities that I had become aware of, one of which I had invested in. I suggested that the next time he was coming to the United States on business that he come to Colorado where I would meet him, show him around the Vail valley and introduce him to Les Shapiro.

Les could describe his projects to Felix, and since Les was a former ski instructor he would be happy to teach him to cross-country ski. I explained that the need for money for the Vail Building Arts Associates project was immediate.

I told him how much was needed – a few hundred thousand – to close out the Limited Partnership and that if he would do it, he would be given a preferred shareholding because of the size of the investment.

Felix turned to his wife and said to write a personal check for the amount so I could take it back with me – in two days. Les was right – I did associate with “monied people,” indeed.

Investor arrives

I returned to the United States and after two days at my home in Miami, I went to Colorado with Posen’s check. I hadn’t told Les ahead of time that I had the check and he, of course, was overjoyed when I handed it to him. The industrial building could now go full-steam ahead.

In the meantime I said that I would do some marketing work with his partner Lou Kirk, to see if we could line up some tenants for the building. We spent time mostly in Denver, without much luck. The national economy was slow and Denver businesses didn’t want to invest in the mountains.

We talked to clothiers, FedEx and UPS, auto parts companies, building-material companies and others, without getting one commitment. In the end the building was filled by local Vail valley businesses. The building has since been sold to Vail Associates.

Things started to turn sour between Lou Kirk and Les Shapiro, and Lou was soon out of the project. I went back to Miami to look after my consulting business and shortly after that got a call from Felix, saying that he would be in the United States in February 1986, and wanted me to meet him in Denver and take him up to Vail.

I introduced Felix to Les and his wife, Maureen, and we stayed in their lovely stone house in Colorow for three days. Les and I took Felix to the cross-country ski facility at the Vail golf course and gave him his first lesson.

Partners shake hands

The next day Les, wisely, had us all on skis on the Squaw Creek Recreational land that he and Jerry Rea had started to develop. Felix’s reaction to the beauty of the property, especially the views, was similar to mine when I saw it the year before.

There was a lot of fresh snow, so it was quite magical. Les was chomping at the bit to “cut a deal.” I had warned him in advance not to push. I knew Felix well, and I knew how he liked to analyze things internally and did not want to be given a hard sell.

He would come forward when he was ready.

As that Sunday played itself out, and still no deal was made, Les was getting anxious. Felix and I were leaving the next day.

After dinner, Felix asked a few pointed questions about developing the Squaw Creek Recreational property. Finally he said he would become involved. It was understood that he would be the financial partner and have control of a new partnership.

There would be three partners – Felix, Les, and me. Jerry Rea had decided to sell his interests to the new entity. For his contributions, Jerry received cash and two valuable parcels of land.

The handshake deal among Felix, Les and myself in late February 1986 would soon be formalized in a general partnership agreement in April.

Editor’s note: In keeping with a tradition that began with Dick Hauserman’s “Inventors of Vail” and continued with Pete Seibert’s “Vail: Triumph of a Dream,” the editors of the Vail Daily plan to serialize Bill Clinkenbeard’s “Cordillera, From the Ground Up,” in weekly installments each Sunday. Bill can be reached at 748-0971 or via e-mail,

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