Harley Baldwin, entrepreneurial ‘force of nature’
January 25, 2005
Harley Baldwin, a prominent Aspen entrepreneur and a key player in the resort’s retail and social scene, died Jan. 23 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 in Aspen have not yet been made, but New York friends gathered Jan. 27 for a reception. “The real plan is to do a celebration [in Aspen] of his life sometime next summer,” said Baldwin’s longtime partner, Richard Edwards.Baldwin was remembered last week 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.
He was both credited and reviled for his role in Aspen’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 longtime friend Gaard 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.”Georgia Hanson, a Syracuse University friend who worked with Baldwin during his early years in Aspen, said Baldwin’s “ability to dream big” served him well.”He was a force of nature. He was endlessly enthusiastic and he loved his life,” Edwards said.Though the future of Baldwin’s business empire has been the topic of speculation around town, Edwards said it will be business as usual.Billy Stolz and Louis Velasquez will remain familiar faces at the club and Edwards said he will continue to operate the gallery, while Alicia Dewey manages Caribou Jewels.”Harley had very specific desires that everything will continue and go on,” Dewey said. “He wanted his legacy to go on.”
Atop Baldwin’s historic Brand Building, which houses the gallery and other businesses, the Stars and Stripes flew at half-staff last week.”Harley was very large, he had very large ideas and he definitely had an impact on this community,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “I will feel his loss personally and I think the community will feel his loss.”Arts patronCertainly, local arts organizations will mourn his passing. He was a benefactor to several of them.Baldwin served on the board of trustees for the Aspen Music Festival and School, and both Baldwin and Edwards served on the Aspen Art Museum’s National Council. Baldwin was active with the search committee that brought Dean Sobel, currently interim director of the museum, to Aspen.”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.
Last year, Baldwin spearheaded a new fund-raiser for the Music Festival, organizing a pre-opening night opera gala that featured cocktails at his home, a private performance of the festival opera at the Wheeler Opera House and a $1,000-per-plate dinner at the Caribou Club. The event sold out and generated $200,000 for the festival, said Laura Smith, director of communications.”It was completely his idea from start to finish,” she said.Baldwin’s death was a shock, conceded Tom Mossbrucker, artistic director for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.”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 Moses, another Syracuse chum of Baldwin’s.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.
Success is more than moneyBaldwin, 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 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 City.
When Baldwin and Edwards weren’t in Aspen, they spent time in their residence bordering Central Park in New York or traveling abroad.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 firstname.lastname@example.org