Vail Pioneer Jim Slevin’s life revolved around the friends and family he loved;
Editor’s note: The Vail Daily has written several stories about Vail Pioneer Jim Slevin. His quotes in this story are pulled from that material. Much of this material is courtesy of Michael and Christopher Slevin, Dick Hauserman’s book “The Inventors of Vail,” the book “The Women of Vail” and former Vail Daily reporter Lauren Glendenning.
VAIL — Like so many of us, Jim Slevin moved to Vail and thought he’d stick around a few months — maybe a season or two.
Slevin lived in Vail for more than half his 98-year life. Like many Vail Pioneers, he was fondest of the early days.
“Those were the happiest days because we were involved in creating something,” Slevin said.
Years after he met and married his wife, Daphne, he joked that because there were so few people in Vail in those days, he practically had to marry her. In 1963, Daphne was back in Vail from Berkeley, California, to collect her stuff and wasn’t certain she’d stick around for the season. Pete Seibert asked her to work with him that winter in the ski company office on Bridge Street.
One thing led to another and Jim and Daphne got married, the first true Vail locals to be married in town. Because there wasn’t a chapel in Vail, they got married in Dick and Blanche Hauserman’s apartment on Bridge Street.
Jim opened La Cave on New Year’s Eve 1963 for the party. He had to pay a full year’s liquor license to be open that night.
What to do next
The Hausermans brought Slevin to Vail after a Broadway play he produced flopped. He was casting about for what to do next with his life when the Hausermans suggested he give Vail a try.
“It seems in life you’re generally guided by friendships and things happen because of friendships,” Slevin said.
Unlike some, Slevin did not move to Vail with a suitcase full of cash. He did not pony up $10,000 to become one of Vail’s original investors. He didn’t have it.
His sister did, though, and sold one of her four lifetime ski passes to Jim for $500, a price he said was “outrageous” at the time.
“I thought my sister was really taking advantage of me,” Jim Slevin laughed. “I skied more than 40 years on $500.”
Father, husband and brother, playwright, restaurateur, friend, Jim Slevin died peacefully at his home Thursday, Oct. 25, with Daphne, his wife of 54 years, and son, Christopher, by his side. He was 98.
He proudly drove his vehicle with the “Vail 63” license plate on it as a tribute to his first winter in Vail.
Slevin was born on March 2, 1920, in New York City. Life took him from New York City to Paris, on to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and back to the states, where Vail finally became home. In 1972, Jim and Daphne welcomed their son Christopher.
Jim and Daphne were partners, developers, shop and restaurant owners and champions of the spirit of Vail. Friends were abundant, as were the stories of Vail’s past that he would reflect upon fondly.
He and Daphne developed the original Gold Peak House and opened The Children’s Corner, a children’s gear and clothing store.
In his book “The Inventors of Vail,” Dick Hauserman tells the story this way:
It was 1963 and Jim was asked if he enjoyed wine.
“I was brought up my first 20 years in Paris, and I really enjoy wine,” Slevin answered.
“That’s it,” came the reply. “You are the sommelier of The Lodge at Vail.”
And that was that. Slevin was in the restaurant business.
Hauserman was building The Plaza on Bridge Street, and Slevin said he wanted to rent some space in the basement. Their exchange captured the essence of early Vail.
“Who wants a basement?” I said.
“I do,” replied Jim.
“What for?” I wanted to know.
“To put in a restaurant,” Jim said.
“What do you know about a restaurant?” I continued.
“Nothing,” he said, “but I’ve been eating out for the last 12 years in Paris, Rome, Madrid and London. I’m a bachelor and I have been for 12 years.”
Slevin seemed to understand instinctively that you are who you hire, and he hired his wait staff from the Elbow Beach Club in Bermuda where they had worked for Joe Staufer. Among that crew was Pepi Langegger, Hermann Staufer, Peter Stadler and Gotfried Staufer, another of Joe’s brothers.
Before long, Slevin rented some ski storage space from Hauserman and launched The Copper Bar — later Donovan’s Copper Bar — in what’s now the upper level of Vendetta’s.
New York Mayor John Lindsey and his wife, Mary, held a birthday party in La Cave for Caroline Kennedy. Lots of Kennedys and Shrivers showed up. La Cave was also one of those infamous places where political deals were sometimes cut. Vail homeowner and Motorola bigwig Bob Galvin and IBM chairman Tom Watson hosted a men-only party for Sen. Chuck Percy, of Illinois. The party was to try to talk Percy into running for president.
When Slevin retired, he promised he wouldn’t open any more restaurants, so of course he launched Up The Creek with Peter Stadler, whose sons are running it now.
In the book, “The Women of Vail,” Daphne recalled some of the characters who landed in early Vail.
“It was a great hiding place for crooks and a great place to work if you didn’t want anybody to find you,” she wrote. “Shootouts and wild things were going on. One of the bellboys wanted to kill the chef; he got drunk but didn’t have a gun. The head of ski patrol was a deputy. They wrestled the bellboy to the ground and drove him off to Eagle. One of the 10 Most Wanted on the FBI list worked as a dishwasher. It was the Wild West.”
“When his doctor told him to limit the martinis from two to one as he was leaving the hospital, I knew he was doing something right,” grandson Michael said. “It was a full life.”
When Jim and grandson Michael walked up Bridge Street, they’d stop a dozen times to greet people and chat with friends, Michael recalled.
“He said it was his friends who made him rich,” Michael said.
Jim and Daphne bought their Vail golf course house in 1979, so far out of town that they couldn’t get cable TV or gas. It has unobstructed views of the Gore Range.
They worked, they watched and they succeeded in business and life.
“It was unexpected,” Slevin said. “But it was inevitable.”
Slevin helped found the Vail Valley Institute and served on the Vail Town Council.
Jim is survived by his wife, Daphne; three sons, Jim, John and Christopher; grandchildren Michael, Matthew, Nicole, Caroline, James, Cristina and Elliot; and great-grandchildren Hanna, John, Sawyer, Mia and Milo.
A celebration of life will be held at a future date. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards, https://www.vailhealth.org/giving.
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