Aspen entrepreneur Harley Baldwin dies |

Aspen entrepreneur Harley Baldwin dies

Janet Urquhart
Aspen entrepreneur and arts patron Harley Baldwin at his Baldwin Gallery in March 2004. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Harley Baldwin, a prominent Aspen entrepreneur and a key player in the resort’s retail and social scene, died Sunday evening in New York City.Baldwin, diagnosed with kidney cancer in December, died peacefully at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, surrounded by those closest to him. He was 59 years old. Plans for a memorial service have not yet been finalized.He was remembered Monday as a philanthropist who loved Aspen’s arts and culture. He was also a gallery owner with a passion for contemporary art, a landlord with an appreciation for fashion and the charismatic owner of the exclusive Caribou Club – the place to see and be seen in Aspen for more than a decade.The phone rang repeatedly at the Baldwin Gallery yesterday, where shaken staffers confirmed the news of his death.”We all loved Harley very much. We’re going to miss him greatly,” said Nancy Caponi, gallery director.Though the future of his business empire was the topic of speculation around town Monday, staffers said they anticipate business as usual.”He explicitly said he wants everything to continue,” said his assistant, Chris Everson.Atop the historic Brand Building, which houses the gallery Baldwin ran with partner Richard Edwards, the Stars and Stripes were flying at half-staff Monday afternoon.

“Harley was very large, he had very large ideas and he definitely had an impact on this community,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud, who learned of his death early yesterday. “I will feel his loss personally and I think the community will feel his loss.”Certainly, local arts organizations will mourn his passing.Both Baldwin and Edwards served on the Aspen Art Museum’s National Council and Baldwin was active with the search committee that brought Dean Sobel, currently interim director of the museum, to Aspen.For the museum’s annual fund-raising auction, Baldwin would typically donate impossible-to-get items like tickets to fashion shows in Europe.”He was very close to the museum,” Sobel said. “Harley was a lover of the arts and letters. He always made a point to come to our openings and see our exhibits.”Obviously, a huge loss not only personally and for the museum, but for Aspen,” Sobel said.Baldwin’s death was a shock, conceded Tom Mossbrucker, artistic director for the Aspen-Santa Fe Ballet, who was also coming to grips with the news yesterday.”I think my first thought is he really believed in Aspen as an arts mecca,” Mossbrucker said. “He was just such a firm believer in what the arts could do for this community.”

Although Baldwin’s public philanthropy was no secret, he was generous on a personal level as well, according to longtime local Gaard Moses, a chum of Baldwin’s since their college days.When Moses was diagnosed with cancer some 26 years ago, Baldwin took him to New York and helped pull the strings that got his friend into Memorial Sloan-Kettering for treatment. Moses recuperated at Baldwin’s then-New York residence in the famous Dakota apartments.”He pretty much took care of me,” Moses said.Defining successBaldwin, a Chicago native and graduate of Syracuse University, came West in 1968 at age 23, with a military deferment and $1,200 in his pocket, he told The Aspen Times in an interview last March.His first local business venture was running the crepe-making operation out of the Popcorn Wagon, which remains a downtown landmark.Baldwin then linked up with Jean Ingram to purchase land on the newly constructed reservoir on the Fryingpan River above Basalt, which they subdivided to develop Ruedi Shores.He acquired the Brand Building in 1971 and transformed the rundown building into a collection of funky shops. Today, it contains several high-end boutiques, including Louis-Vuitton and Gucci, as well as the Baldwin Gallery and The Brand Apartments.Baldwin acquired the historic Collins Block building at the corner of Hopkins and Mill in 1988; it houses the penthouse he shared with Edwards, high-end shops and the fabled Caribou Club in the basement, where Baldwin dined with friends and loved to dance.

Among his other developments is the 59th Street Bridgemarket in New York.When Baldwin and Edwards weren’t in Aspen, they spent time in their residence bordering Central Park in New York or traveling abroad.In Aspen, Baldwin was both credited and reviled for his role in the resort’s transformation into a high-end shopping mecca and for furthering the town’s glitzy image with the members-only Caribou Club. Baldwin, however, was unapologetic and downplayed his influence, suggesting he was simply ahead of the curve.”I think Harley was immensely successful at riding the trend,” said Moses. “It was a trend that was inevitable to Aspen, but very few people could see it. Harley rode it with both hands on the reins and both spurs embedded in the beast.”Last March, Baldwin talked about his success – something he did not define solely in financial terms.”I think I’m blessed because I love business. Everything I do, I do because I love it,” Baldwin told The Aspen Times. “There really aren’t that many halcyon moments in your life where, you know, you’ve won the Oscar. A lot of it is about just enjoying the little things.”It’s a message Baldwin said he tried to instill in students at Columbia University, where he taught a one-day business seminar.”One of the things I try to teach is, it’s good to make some money, it’s really quite thrilling, but you’ve got to enjoy your life and I see so many rich people who, you know, don’t seem to really be loving their life – don’t particularly love what they do and I think that’s the key – that passion for what you do,” he said.”It’s really important to teach people to create the life that they want to live.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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