Vagneur: A castle still struggles in the ‘Ruby of the Rockies’
Last week, we made the voyage to Redstone Castle, a group of us representing the Aspen Historical Society board of trustees. Odd, you might think, that with all of the history in Aspen, we would find it necessary to travel so far for a history fix, but what is the world if not for inquiring minds? Afterward, the Redstone Inn served us a delicious lunch, and we finished our retreat with marvelous conversation — the kind you don’t get in formal meetings.
You might be surprised to learn that Redstone Castle isn’t really Redstone Castle at all but is actually Cleveholm Manor, the epitome of the luxurious lifestyle as envisioned by the “Fuel King of the West,” John Cleveland Osgood. What was truly in Osgood’s mind when he built the monumental mansion we can’t really say, for he was a complex man, influenced in part, no doubt, by the fact that he was orphaned by age 9.
I first visited the castle (manor) at age 4 or 5, having lunch there and all I remember are two thronelike chairs, sitting in the grand ballroom where the king and queen would have sat had they existed (and I fully expected them to materialize during our lunch). Since then, I’ve been to Halloween parties, other parties, weddings and more weddings — including those of Jimmy Buffett and Buck Deane’s daughter, Larkspur — all of them a privilege in and of themselves. We shot a Marlboro commercial there in the 1970s.
Just after the turn of the century — no, not that one; the turn from the 20th to the 21st — an odd man named Leon Harte bought the castle and hit Redstone with a flamboyant flourish. Full of crap, a heavy drinker, a serious party man and a philanderer, he did put some life into the imposing structure, and the town of Redstone, “The Ruby of the Rockies,” perked up a bit. Being a Redstone pretender and part-time guest in those years, I enjoyed Harte’s attempt at living life to its fullest.
He hosted lavish dinners in the commons area, mellow get-togethers in the grand ballroom, where I was often invited to play the grand piano, and other soirees from time to time, but Harte and I never got along. I raised my fist at him once in passing at the Crystal Club, and he never could forget it. After a few drinks, he was always threatening to kick my ass, as he was, in his own words, “an accomplished boxer.” Apparently, he was also an accomplished crook, busted by the FBI for helping run a $56 million Ponzi scheme, some of the funds of which paid for Redstone Castle. In all fairness, Harte died before he could face his accusers but not before his wife divorced him and his accomplices were either arrested or convicted. The IRS seized the property.
The current owner of the manor, or Redstone Castle, if you insist, is a man named Ralli Dimitrius, a California cattle rancher who was, some 20-odd years ago, a drinking buddy of mine at the infamous Shooter’s Saloon watering hole in the basement of the Elks building in Aspen. We talked of cattle and numerous other things, including Goldie’s Restaurant, which once graced his Victorian house on Aspen’s Main Street, but the code of late-night bar talk prevents me from saying more. I was thrilled when Ralli bought the manor at the 2005 IRS auction, thinking he’d put a little life into the cold, arthritic relic and return it to a semblance of its former glory, but a series of problems, some of them health-related, have prevented him from realizing his dream, and the manor (castle) is for sale once again.
Osgood, an enigmatic Western coal and steel baron, created what is now the town of Redstone in an attempt at “corporate paternalism.” That is, providing his employees with a “workers’ paradise” wherein colliers and cokers alike were given company houses to live in, exposed to middle-class culture, given free medical care and provided large plots of ground upon which to plant gardens. This was all an attempt by Osgood to coerce his workers into giving more allegiance to his company than to the upstart United Mine Workers of America union. For the most part, he succeeded in Redstone but not in other towns.
Our tour guides last week were Jane and F. Darrell Munsell, two very knowledgeable and enthusiastic historians who know the story better than most. For a true account of Osgood and his influence over the Colorado coal and coke industry, one need look no further than Munsell’s unmasking “From Redstone to Ludlow,” a far-reaching and thorough treatise on Redstone, Cleveholm Manor and Osgood’s sometimes incongruent, violent and intimidating union-busting business practices.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Editor’s note: The following letter was written to Bruno Kirchenwitz, a frequent writer of letters to the editor of The Aspen Times.