The industrialist Walter Paepcke is best known for founding the Aspen Institute with his wife Elizabeth in 1949. They developed the downtown through the Aspen Skiing Co., and were largely responsible for putting the former mining town on the map.
But the family’s time in the area was also occupied with more bucolic pursuits. “My mother loved nature and wildlife and flowers,” says Paepcke’s daughter, Paula Zurcher, now 90. “We all hiked all over the mountains.”
On one such idyll, the family stumbled across the 400-acre Erickson Ranch, just a 10-minute drive from downtown Aspen, and promptly bought it.
They kept the property intact until Paepcke died in 1960, at which point Elizabeth sold off about 100 acres. The family kept the rest of it for an additional 30 years until Elizabeth died in 1994.
Then her heirs began to subdivide the property in earnest.
One of Zurcher’s sisters sold 100 acres to Leslie Wexner, the founder and chairman of L Brands Inc, says Zurcher. The remaining 200 acres were parceled out into even smaller lots. Zurcher kept two. On one, she commissioned architect Harry Teague to build a 6,800-square-foot contemporary house with seven bedrooms and five full baths in 2000. It took two years to build.
It had only been intended as a vacation home—Zurcher lived in the Bay Area—but she ended up moving in full-time to the house in 2004. Now, 19 years after building the house and more than 70 years after her father first bought the land, Zurcher is parting ways with the property, listing it with Christie’s International Real Estate’s Aspen brokerage for $17.95 million.
This section of the original property is parceled out in four lots, all of which are now developed. Those lots, in turn, are shoehorned around a 50-acre plot of open land, in which all the lots share ownership. That land, in turn, is preserved as a sort of buffer, keeping the houses secluded and their views pristine.
As a result, even though Zurcher’s house sits on about 12 acres at the base of Red Mountain, it has the feeling of being much more remote. “I chose the lot so that it was far removed from the road,” Zurcher says. “I didn’t want to see any traffic.”
There’s a meadow in front of the house, along with beaver and trout ponds, elk habitat, natural springs, and forests of spruce, aspen, and scrub oak. Wildlife regularly crosses the property, and the wildflowers that first enchanted the Paepckes over a half-century ago. still bloom. The house is designed to soak all this nature in, with massive windows that provide panoramic views, from Independence Pass to Mount Sopris.
Zurcher was friends with Teague, who’s designed civic, commercial, and residential architecture in the area. She liked his work and requested that he build a house that could showcase her collection of African and pre-Columbian art, be maintained fairly easily (the house is made of old barn wood, rusted metal, stucco, and glass, all of which require little upkeep), and accommodate her four children and many grandchildren.
To that end, the massive family room has a stage the family used for charades, songs, and performances. At her granddaughters’ behest, two secret rooms are hidden behind bookcases. Unsurprisingly, she says, “All of the grandkids wanted to sleep there.” One of the rooms is large and has a full bed; the other, hidden behind a tapestry, is more cramped.
The house has also been battle-tested when it comes to extensive entertaining. Zurcher and her family are still involved in the Aspen community, and she hosted a range of parties—Halloween, birthdays, and otherwise—along with fundraisers for Zurcher’s favored charities, including the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.
Time to Sell
Zurcher enjoyed the sprawling home for more than a decade. But after an accident, she decided it was time to sell. She initially put the house on the market in 2015, listing it for $23.5 million. It’s since been on and off the market with a series of price cuts.
This is fairly normal for the Aspen market, which has sagged for several years. In the fourth quarter of 2018, the average price per square foot in Aspen luxury homes continued to slide, according to a report by Douglas Elliman Miller Samuel, while houses took an average of nearly 47 months (nearly four years) to sell.
The house, Zurcher says, “is for someone who wants to be apart from Aspen and its fanciness but still be able to come down to town in five or 10 minutes.”
She adds that after 70 years of gradual development, this is it: The property can’t be subdivided further.