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Settlers risked wealth, peace of mind

Bill Clinkenbeard
Special to the Daily An elk digs through the snow to get the grass below near the grill at Cordillera's first single-family home.
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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 are serializing Bill Clinkenbeard’s “Cordillera, From the Ground Up,” in weekly installments each Sunday. Bill can be reached at 748-0971 or via e-mail, billclink@comcast.net. I think the first purchasers of property in a brand new development are like the pioneers of old. They have a sense of adventure and take risks that most would not. The old pioneers often risked their lives. The Cordillera pioneers risked some of their wealth, and perhaps, peace of mind. They took these risks because they were visionaries and they believed in the Cordillera vision. I hope that enough of the original vision for Cordillera is there for them today. All of the pioneers settled on the Divide because that was the only property available until 1991 when the Fenno ranch was platted. Among the first Cordillera pioneers were Chris and Helen Edwards. The Edwards and I go back more years than I want to remember. Chris and I worked together in Brussels for Exxon in the early 1970s. Chris left Exxon after a few years and went to work for Ralston-Purina. He established and headed up their European headquarters. Chris rapidly climbed the corporate ladder and was transferred to Ralston’s world headquarters in St. Louis, where he was a senior executive. In 1988 I visited the Edwards in Keystone where they were on a Christmas vacation. I told them about Cordillera and that piqued their interest. They had started looking for a retirement home, though, like me, I knew Chris was never going to just retire. The next spring Chris came to Cordillera and said he wanted to look at some home sites. I offered to show him around, but he said he would just like a map of where the sites were and he would look on his own.

When he left the office I wrote down the number of the lot that I thought he would pick. A couple of hours later Chris returned, and bingo – I had nailed it. It was my favorite lot of those that had been platted: It had great views, easy access and was conveniently located between the front entrance and the lodge.I was quite certain Chris would agree with my analysis and pick this lot. To this day, there is a friendly argument between the Edwards and the Bookshesters about who was first in building their home. I know but I am not telling. Cordillera Construction built both homes. Chris and Helen have a lovely home on Cordillera Way. Dennis and Karen Bookshester, from Chicago, had Leon Lambotte design their home so it is wonderfully European in style. It sits on one of the high lots above the Lodge.Vegetarian dogCordillera Construction built six townhomes called Les Pyrenees close to the Lodge. The townhomes had a luxurious but “village” feel, perched on the side of the Divide looking east toward Vail. There were two early purchasers of Les Pyrenees townhomes. Stan and Ellen Schottland purchased townhome No. 6. I looked at this with mixed emotions – happy to make a sale but unhappy to loose our sales office, which we had set up there. Fortunately the Shulmans entered the picture, building a home on lot No. 1, which we leased from them for the real estate sales office. Shortly after closing on their townhome, the Schottlands had it remodeled and enlarged to better accommodate their extended family.

I was a bit surprised but then found out that buying and remodeling homes was a hobby for the Schottlands. I believed they owned five homes when they bought at Cordillera. Gerald and Mary Ries were the next purchasers of a townhome. Gerald was a doctor in Omaha, Neb. My hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa, was just across the river from Omaha, so we had a lot to talk about, including the pungent odors of the Omaha stockyards that we remembered from childhood days.John and Margaret Hicks, from Manila, Philippines, were early residents of Cordillera. Their home is located above, and to the north of the lodge. John and Felix Posen were work colleagues. I was in Tokyo early 1989 and Felix asked me to stop off in Manila on the way back and explain Cordillera to John and Margaret, which I did. The Hicks were delightfully gracious in their welcome and I was treated to a wonderful evening of food, drink and conversation. I also learned that evening that a dog could be trained to be a vegetarian. If Margaret hadn’t shown me that with her dog, I wouldn’t have believed it. The dog refused a small piece of steak that John offered but accepted vegetables from Margaret.Lost furnitureOne of our first sales in Alcazar, the development to the east of the lodge, overlooking the main valley, was to Jack and Nancy Blumenthal. They were from Houston, where Jack was a doctor. I actually visited Jack in his office when I was in Houston on some PR work, and made my Cordillera pitch. They purchased the northernmost lot and built a home that had unobstructed views to the north, east and south. Jack and Nancy are avid golfers and Jack is a dedicated student of the game.

Next come James and Mary Hesburgh who moved to Cordillera from California. They purchased one of the high lots above the lodge. Jim’s brother, Father Theodore Hesburgh, was the president of Notre Dame for thirty-five years, from 1952-1987. He was a frequent visitor here and a delightful, down-to-earth person, in spite of his heavenly calling. The most expensive home sold at Cordillera up to 1990 was to Jack and Barbara Benson who were from New York City. They wanted a home somewhere in the west and had looked in several places, both inside and outside Colorado, before coming to the Vail Valley. Their real estate agent brought them to Cordillera and, while driving up Cordillera Way, Jack said to the agent, “Don’t bother showing us that house” and pointed to the partnership home in which I was living. He thought it was not attractive. He didn’t know he was looking at the back of the house that had a very heavy iron railing all around the deck. It looked boxy. Well, he changed his mind when the agent, disregarding Jack’s command, drove them up to the front of the house. The Benson’s fell in love with Leon Lambotte’s Belgian design and made an offer to purchase, which Felix Posen rejected out of hand. A second offer was made. Our real estate group thought this offer should be accepted as it “would be good for future business.” It would also be good for their commissions, but I doubt that had anything to do with it. The deal was done and the managing partner of Cordillera was suddenly homeless. Also most of the furniture that was sold with the house was mine but I never received any compensation for it. Felix believed he lost money on the deal and therefore I didn’t deserve anything. Funny how that works. The Bensons and I became good friends and we often laugh about the early negotiations.


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