Guest opinion: The mixed blessing of owning Redstone Castle | PostIndependent.com

Guest opinion: The mixed blessing of owning Redstone Castle

Ken Johnson

It seems like nearly everyone who wanders into the Crystal River Valley and sees Redstone finds it an enchanting experience. Particularly if they're able to visit the Redstone Castle.

Partly because it's an amazing, enchanting building. Partly because it's in an amazing, enchanting place. A quakie and pine forest climbs steeply up to the Snowmass Wilderness boundary behind. A 10-acre front lawn ends at the river. You reach it on the Castle's private road from Redstone a mile downstream.

It has been pretty much an empty place since 2005 when Californian and Aspenite Ralli Dimitrius bought it at auction from our friendly IRS. It wound up in that auction after the first auction; I sold it on a winning bid in 2000 by Leon Harte, who managed a series of exotic investments called Tranquil Options. Leon paid 50 percent interest on your big investment — per month. The IRS claimed he was bilking widows and orphans and took it over. Rich investors claimed they knew it was risky all along, having pocketed profits by recruiting friends.

It's up for its third auction on Oct. 7.

OSGOOD'S fortune

Until the Harte auction I had owned it, and more than 400 acres of the lands once owned by John Cleveland Osgood, since 1974. Osgood completed his baronial retreat in 1902, a mile upstream from the architect-designed village for his coking oven workers. And the rail yard for his Crystal River Railroad, hauling coal down from the mine high above Redstone west into Coal Basin.

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Osgood could afford to have this nice little place built because in 1900 he employed 19,000 workers. They labored in his iron ore mining, coal mining and coking, fuel for his Colorado Fuel and Iron company blast furnaces in Pueblo. In his day, he was one of the six leading industrialists in the country.

I bought the place after it was scheduled for bulldozing as a white elephant. The developers expected to create a 1,500-unit Tamarron-style resort. (Tamarron is up from Durango, near the Purgatory Ski Resort.)

Three new no-growth Pitkin County commissioners were in office; after listening to their glossy proposal, Dwight Shellman was quoted as saying, "you'll be lucky to get 15 units let alone 1,500."

The castle, which for many years had survived as an inn, had by mistake wound up in Residence 2 zoning; we found that by circumstance we were grandfathered in as commercial. The IRS takeover plus using it as a play toy for two years lost that, and Ralli found no sympathy in county offices for cutting him or the castle some slack.

With his taxes estimated to jump from about $14,000 a year residential to over $64,000 as commercial, he wisely kept it residential.

MIXED BLESSING

Owning the place was always a mixed blessing. On one hand you preserve a slice of Colorado history that had braved Colorado's brisk climate since completed in 1902. Only one owner in those 114 years had made any money running the place and it had been summers only. One of the chefs was Swiss immigrant Guido Meyer who went over to Aspen in those early days and became a legend.

The folks in Redstone overall liked the idea of a deep pocket taking care of the mansion, but most were lukewarm to lending a hand with too-frequent county demands. I'm sure Ralli shared that same treatment, even at the hands of Redstone's limited government.

At one point I started calling the castle "my mum's little vacation cabin in the mountains." That satisfied some folks who where sure we were making a killing with it despite maintenance, operation and restoration work at the rate of nearly a half million dollars a year. Like a $20,000 propane bill yearly to heat the place. When propane was cheap.

Of course, Mom had nothing to do with the 24,000 square feet of inside space, built to exceptionally high standards for the day. It has 45 rooms, with 16 bedrooms, a 19-foot tall grand room, gold leaf ceiling library, polished mahogany and Russian velvet dining room and other exotic spaces.

We restored the carriage house for our home after seldom even visiting Redstone from 1974 to 1986. By sheer good luck that year we finally were able to flee Grand Junction and Denver and get to Redstone full time.

Redstone is a fabulous retreat, and I wouldn't change any memories of our 26 years caretaking and nurturing the castle, or the 18 years we were able to live in Redstone. Nor the quiet relief that someone else, in our case the late Leon Harte, would be preserving it into the future.

The castle cost something like $2.5 million when it was built. Duplicating it today would be well above $25 million.

We'll hope that Ralli shares our luck on the 7th when someone else may have fallen in love with it and writes a check. Whatever happens it's going to be another chapter in an ongoing high country saga.

THE AUCTION

The auction at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct 7, is at the Redstone Castle. It is not open to the public.

Qualified bidders must put up $250,000 and face a minimum price of $2 million. It has been listed since May 2015 with Sotheby’s International Realty for $7,499,000.

Sue McEvoy has been caretaker for most of the 11 years the property has been owned by Ralli Dimitrius. She gives tours of the place, thanks to Ralli’s generosity in wanting to help the historic village by keeping its main tourist attraction available.

Guided tours will still be held daily at 1:30 p.m. until the auction. Tickets are available at the General Store, Tiffany and the Crystal Club Café.

For information, visit http://www.sothebysrealty.com/eng/associate/180-a-1986-4024169/ted-borchelt.