Charles Paterson, founder of Aspen’s iconic Boomerang Lodge, dies
Charles Paterson, the architect who designed, built and operated the Boomerang Lodge, died last week at Aspen Valley Hospital. He was 89.
He also was a husband to Fonda Paterson for 49 years, and a father to his daughters, Carrie and Jenny, who grew up working at the lodge and serving its wide array of guests.
Fonda met Charles in 1968 when she applied for a job at the Boomerang. She was 22 and he was 39.
“Who knew I was interviewing for the rest of my life?” she said with a laugh Monday. “I saw him and I thought, ‘This is one of the most handsome men I’ve ever met.’”
After dates at the Red Onion, the music festival and on the slopes, they married April 12, 1969 — the day after the lifts closed — to ensure that Charles’ fellow ski instructors could attend the affair.
Charles was a ski patroller and instructor on Aspen Mountain, and was one of the first ushers at the Aspen Music Festival, having arrived the year of the Goethe Bicentennial convocation.
Aspen Music Festival CEO and President Alan Fletcher acknowledged Charles’ decades-long contributions prior to Sunday’s concert at the Benedict Tent.
“He was a wise counselor, generous donor, avid and knowledgeable music lover and always a loving and true friend,” Fletcher said.
Charles arrived in Aspen in February 1949 from Denver via New York. It was the weekend of the FIS Championships and Paterson immediately fell in love with the charm and spirit of Aspen.
With money he saved by earning tips as a bellhop at the Hotel Jerome, Paterson at the end of his first ski season put a $75 down payment on three lots on West Hopkins Avenue. He eventually purchased them with his life savings for $750, Fonda said.
With leftover lumber from a Lenado mill, Charles built a cabin between Fourth and Fifth streets his first summer. It eventually grew into the historic Boomerang Lodge, inspired by world-renown architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who Charles was an apprentice of.
“Charlie was looking for real estate because he knew he was home,” Fonda said Monday, while sitting at a table near the kitchen of their house where her husband spent his days reading, drawing, sketching and painting with watercolors.
“It’s always been part of his life,” said his daughter Carrie, showing a watercolor with bright pastels that Charlie had been working on just hours before his death, as well as another he did last month depicting the fire on Basalt Mountain.
He died of congestive heart failure, a condition he had been diagnosed with in 2006, Fonda said.
They ran the lodge — known for its underwater window looking at the outdoor pool from the lounge — until their retirement in 2005 when they sold the property.
It started out as a three-room lodge and organically evolved from there. In 1956, it officially opened with more lodge rooms and was named the Boomerang in hopes that guests would return. In 1960, 12 rooms, a lounge and pool were added.
Other expansions occurred in 1965 and 1970. He moved the Herbert Bayer- and Fritz Benedict-designed Paintbrush Chalet to the Boomerang property and made it the third floor of the lodge.
The Boomerang’s expansion was Charles’ thesis of sorts while studying three summer seasons at Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
When he wasn’t studying at Taliesin, Charles would return to Aspen in the winter to teach skiing.
The Boomerang’s Wrightian features included corners of glass and concrete battered blocks.
With the same type of influence and architectural style, Charles designed other homes in the area and helped remodel the Christiania Lodge.
Paterson’s early Aspen years
Fonda said Charles knew he would be a lodge operator since the day he stepped foot in Aspen.
He and travel companion Chuck Colletti hitchhiked to Aspen from the Front Range on a weekend when the FIS Championships were held.
Without an open hotel room to be found, the two knocked on doors looking for a place to sleep for the night. After approaching a Victorian home on the east side of town, a woman answered the door stark naked, except for her long blonde hair.
“As two 19-year-olds, they thought they had found paradise,” Fonda said.
The woman explained to the young men that she was full up, pointing to all of the bodies lined up on the floor in sleeping bags.
Charles and Colletti found an unlocked Elks Building and crashed there.
“After that, he was destined to open a lodge,” Fonda said.
He also operated the Holiday House with his father, Stefan Schanzer, who moved to Aspen to join his son.
Fonda said prior to his father’s relocation here, Charles had asked his opinion about buying the lots on West Hopkins to which the elder said he was “crazy to buy land in the middle of the wilderness.”
“Then after his first run down Ruthie’s, he changed his mind,” Fonda said with a smile.
Charles, Fonda, their two daughters and two German shepherds lived on the property.
Daughter Jenny remembers her father sitting with the guests in the upper lounge every morning drinking coffee. She warmed pastries and did other tasks around the property, along with her sister and mother.
“When I first came to work at the Boomerang I’d never seen such a building like that,” Fonda said about the Wrightian use of horizontal lines and grid-based architecture.
They finally outgrew the space in the original cabin and in the back of the property. Charles built a home on Waters Avenue in 1977. The Paterson family lived there, along with Charles’ father.
Fonda said it’s been a wonderful place to call home.
“It was comfortable for five people and now I’ll learn to live here as one,” she said.
Daughter Carrie Paterson lives in Los Angeles and Jenny Rose lives in San Francisco.
Charles and Fonda were inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame in 2017 for their contributions to the community. Charles served on Aspen Chamber and Visitor’s Bureau, the Aspen Music Festival and School, and the Rocky Mountain Ski Instructors Association.
The city of Aspen named him Volunteer of the Year, recognizing his 40 years serving on the board of adjustment — the longest serving citizen volunteer in city history, according to the Aspen Hall of Fame website.
The Historic Preservation Commission also recognized him for his contributions to Aspen architecture.
In the 1950s, Charles also served in the U.S. Army’s Mountain and Cold Weather Training Command at Camp Hale, also known as the second generation of the 10th Mountain Division.
Fleeing Nazi Europe
Charles Paterson, who was born Karl Schanzer, was no stranger to war. Following Hitler’s annexation of Vienna in 1938, Charles and his sister, Doris, along with their father, fled to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, to live with relatives.
A year later, Charles and Doris experienced the invasion of Hitler a second time in Prague in 1938. At 10 and 12 years old, they escaped to Paris and eventually sailed by themselves to Australia when a family business connection helped them get adopted by the Paterson family in Brisbane.
At the end of World War II, Charles and Doris rejoined their father in New York. Stefan was able to escape the Nazis by crossing occupied France on foot and bicycle.
As described in Charles’ memoir, “Escape Home: Rebuilding a Life After Anschluss,” which he wrote with Carrie, Charles was exposed to early modernism architecture while living as a young boy in Werkbundsiedlung, an enclave built by the city of Vienna to showcase a way of living, according to the website Aspenmod.com.
The Aspen way
Charles found his own way of life in Aspen almost immediately after arriving here.
In a chapter titled “Finding Home” in the memoir, in a letter from Charles to his sister and father, the young Aspenite wrote, “How true are the words: ‘Skiing is not only just a sport — but a way of life.’ This sure is the life!”
Carrie recalled chasing her father down the nose of Bell Mountain in the trees on Ajax, as well as the old Lift Line skier’s left of Dipsy Wall when she was a kid.
“He was such a pretty skier,” she said. “And he always knew where the powder was.”
Jenny Rose said while Aspen Mountain was her father’s go-to, it was Tiehack at Buttermilk and bluebird days that he appreciated as he got older. He stopped skiing in his mid-80s.
Rose said her father was an amazing person in every way.
“He was a great guy, he was a great dad,” she said. “He had a great life and he did things on his own terms.”
She added that her parents were the perfect match.
“They were a beautiful couple and a great team,” Rose said. “They had so much creativity and love and care, and Carrie and I knew that we could count on that.”