Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
September 27, 2011
“Celebrity real estate mogul.”
Now that’s a bizarre term.
Skip over the fact that here in Aspen, a “mogul” is an icy speed-bump, I’m thinking about the idea of a “celebrity” real estate developer.
In this case, the term appeared in a news story about Donald Trump, that billionaire garden slug with the world’s worst comb-over. (Please, no outraged letters from offended garden slugs.)
But, leaving big city slugs behind, I find myself wondering if we are seeing the beginnings of a rising culture of would-be celebrity real estate moguls (oh, those icy speed-bumps) right here in Aspen.
I am thinking, of course, of the family Hecht, who, according to a recent newspaper story, have decided to name the site of the controversial new Aspen Art Museum Hecht Place.
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It’s an interesting choice.
I can only assume that they are expecting that the museum – which many (myself included) expect to be a vile blot on the once-fair face of Aspen – will eventually be seen as a thing of beauty and civic pride.
I hope, of course, that they are right. It would be delightful if the anticipated blot turns out to be a beauty mark instead (better Cindy Crawford than the Elephant Man).
Still, there is something odd about people who plaster their names on things.
The aforementioned Trump is a glaring case in point. (A flashing neon sign: “Gaudy! Vulgar! Tasteless! Right this way!”)
One has to wonder (I do anyway) whether the Hechts might do better to lay low and hope that their name fades from public memory. After all, they are now, at least, firmly associated with the idea of greedy landlords who destroy local businesses with exorbitant rents and destroy local landmarks with all the finesse of Godzilla on a rampage..
Most recently, they’ve been in the news with their plan to demolish Little Annie’s and the Benton Building in pursuit of even more downtown development.
(And, just in passing, I loved Tom Benton dearly. And I have to wonder if he would prefer to see his former home and studio simply demolished rather than having it enshrined as the “historic” centerpiece of another downtown monument to greed.)
So, when people see the sign reading “Hecht Place” next to the Aspen Wart … I mean Aspen Art Museum, will they be filled with warm cuddly thoughts of the dear, beneficent Hechts? Or will they just be reminded of a series of outrages?
Let’s stop for a moment and think about the McCloskeys.
Tom and Bonnie McCloskey blew into Aspen a couple of decades ago and quickly picked a nasty fight with the entire community by trying to close down a historic public trail into the Hunter Creek Valley.
The McCloskeys bought a parcel of land on Red Mountain, which the trail crossed, built themselves a mansion right next to the trail and declared that the trail was not, in fact, a public trail – it was their private property, and everybody needed to keep the hell off their land!
I will not go into the unpleasant details of the aggressive hostility with which they chased people off “their” trail or the community outrage with which their actions were greeted.
It ended up in a nasty 15-year court battle which the McCloskeys lost. Sing Hallelujah! There is justice in this land! The courts essentially ruled that the McCloskeys were exactly the kind of unreasonable jerks their critics had accused them of being.
But – and here’s my point – the McCloskeys didn’t go away. (And they didn’t, as far as I can recall, apologize to the community for all the trouble they had caused.)
Instead, they kept a low profile for a while and then bought the naming rights to a series of lectures at the Aspen Institute. And they named those lectures after themselves.
And so now, when most people hear the name McCloskey, they don’t think “unreasonable jerks who tried to steal the Hunter Creek Trail”; they think, “McCloskey Speakers Series at the Aspen Institute.”
There’s on old Latin saying, “Ars longa, vita brevis”: Art is long, life is short.
The Aspen version is, “Pecuniam longa, memoria brevis”: Money is long, memory is short.
There is also a modern saying, “It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.”
The Aspen version of that one is: “It’s easier to buy forgiveness than … ah, hell, who cares about forgiveness? Screw that. I’m rich. Kiss my butt.”
And so now I think about Mr. Jonathan Lewis.
A little more than a decade ago, Mr. Lewis gained considerable local notoriety when he bought and then demolished, over fierce community objections, the Paepcke House, where Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke had lived during the years when they guided the modern renaissance of Aspen.
Mr. Lewis, like the McCloskeys, kept a low profile for a while, happily (one supposes) living in his new house, which retained one façade that was a modern replica of the demolished original home.
Recently, he re-emerged into public view, buying and then demolishing, over community objections (do we see a pattern here?), the Given Institute.
But time had passed, and Mr. Lewis (and his money) had worked his way in some local hearts.
One of his local supporters went so far as to say he could certainly be trusted with the Given, because he had done such a wonderful job of preserving the Paepcke House. That supporter was overlooking, apparently, the idea that preservation rarely starts with a bulldozer atop a pile of rubble.
And so at last we get back to the Hechts, who are not lying low and who might not (yet) have as much money as the McCloskeys or Mr. Lewis, but who obviously are hoping to take advantage of that same “pecuniam longa, memoria brevis” phenomenon.
Or perhaps they have more of Trump-like trajectory in mind: celebrity moguls trying to conceal their obvious flaws with a massive financial comb-over – and their name on a piece of dirt.
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