Courtesy Paterson family archive Charles Paterson, at work as an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, in the late 1950s.

Before I was going to meet Charles Paterson—the architect, hotelier, and patron who passed away on Aug. 8 at age 89 in Aspen, Colo.—a mutual friend gave me his autobiography Escape Home: Rebuilding a Life After the Anchluss (DoppelHouse Press, 2013) to read. (Paterson founded DoppelHouse in 2011 with his daughter Carrie, who also helped her father write his book.) I sighed upon receiving the tome from my friend, imagining that I would try to skip through it to glean enough little stories so that I could reference them during our upcoming conversation. Instead, I barely put the book down from the moment I started reading. Paterson, as well as his father and his whole family, led extraordinary lives, ones that intertwined architecture, culture, skiing, the First and Second World War, and such diverse communities as Vienna, Pilsen, and Aspen. When I finally sat down with Charles and his wife, Fonda, to ask them to continue and intensify their support for the School of Architecture at Taliesin (where I am president), I just felt like a little kid wanting to hear more.

Paterson was born Karl Schanzer, in Vienna, to an upper middle-class family part of which were aristocrats and part of which were Jewish. His uncle was none other than Adolf Loos. His parents did not commission Loos to design their house, however, but rather moved to the “Werkbundsiedlung,” a collection of 70 buildings by some of the innovative architects then working in Vienna and Austria.

TK House 46 by Jacques Groag. Werkbund­siedlung Wien
Martin Gerlach jun. Charles Paterson (nee Karl Schanzer) lived in the Viennese Werkbundsiedlung when he was young.
TK Living room in House 46 by Jacques Groag. Werkbund­siedlung Wien
Martin Gerlach jun. An interior view of a Werkbundsiedlung residence.

During the First World War, his father Stefan, an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, was captured by the Russians and sent off to a gulag in Siberia. He escaped, learned silver-smithing along the way, and traveled across the continent to Vladivostok where he was able to board a steamship back to Europe. The silver-working trade came in handy later, when he retaught Native Americans in Colorado the skill that they had lost over the course of generations of displacement.

When the Second World War broke out, Stefan Schanzer sent his son and daughter to Australia, where they were adopted by a couple from Brisbane whose last name Charles took. They eventually made their way to the United States, where Charles first lived in New York and eventually Colorado. He had loved skiing as child and discovered the then-nascent resort of Aspen. He worked in one of the hotels there, saving enough money to build a small hut on what was then the edge of town. Fascinated from a young age by architecture as well as skiing, he visited Taliesin, and, as he said later, the trip changed his life. He somehow convinced Frank Lloyd Wright, who usually wanted all of you as an apprentice, to let him study and work at Taliesin during the summer but go back to Aspen in the winter to earn money as a ski instructor.

Courtesy Paterson family archive Paterson, photo bombing the master architect at Taliesin.
Courtesy Paterson family archive Paterson's 1960 plan for his new lodge.

In 1961, he turned his hut into a lodge, the 36-room Boomerang, which took the lessons he had learned from Wright and combined it with his love of the Rocky Mountains to create a composition of angles, triangles, and wedges that became Aspen’s hot spot. The resort sported a swimming pool whose activities you could view from a glass-fronted bar one level below the surface. It is clear that Paterson was inspired in the design by his time at Taliesin, which also reflected the trees and mountains around the building.

Courtesy Paterson family archive Charles Paterson's hut in 1950.
Courtesy Paterson family archive In 1961, Paterson turned his humble ski hut into the Boomerang Lodge. (He used the hearse out front as the lodge's limo.)
Boomerang Lodge, circa early 1960s. Charles Paterson (black hair) is shown looking into pool.
Malcolm Ruthven Boomerang Lodge, circa early 1960s. Charles Paterson (black hair) is shown looking into pool.

Paterson designed a few other structures around Aspen, and I wish he had designed many more, because he was able to create an expressive language that the town would seem to call out for but has never fully developed. Instead, Charles and Fonda, whom he met when she applied for a job at the Boomerang, concentrated on hospitality, civic leadership, and volunteering. Their work is part of the reason why Aspen is not just the playground of the rich and famous on skis, but also the home of one of the country’s best music festivals and schools, as well as numerous other cultural activities.

The combination of his personal story, sports participation, and building made Paterson a dashing man, one who might have been a bit shy but was full of memories and tales. In listening to him, it became clear that two things gave him both purpose in life and a sense of exhilaration that made it worth overcoming his family’s fall from relative wealth to poverty and his subsequent exile. These things also sustained him during the long years it took to build a place that welcomed visitors from all over the world: the exploration of the jagged beauty of the mountains as you coursed down an apron of snow and the construction of buildings that could answer to that landscape.

Courtesy Paterson family archive The Paterson home, circa 1961.

Reading and lecture for Escape Home by Charles and Carrie Paterson in Santa Monica, Calif. Organized by the Society of Architectural Historians, Southern California Chapter.

David O. Marlow Charles and Fonda, near the end of their tenure of ownership of the Boomerang.

Charles Paterson built a permanent place for himself, and for countless others for a few nights at a time, in Aspen. He made that home into a place of beauty that was appropriate to its setting. It was not only a physical place but also one made up of the stories his daughter finally convinced him to put to paper, a story in which the 20th century’s upheavals gave force to the need to make a place of belonging.

Paterson sold the Boomerang in 2005, after building and running it for more than 50 years. It has since fallen into disrepair and is mostly torn down. Now Charles himself is gone. I will miss him and his buildings but know that his story continues to give us a great example of how we can make ourselves at home in the modern world.

Courtesy Paterson family archive In the early 1960s, Paterson was an adviser on the redesign of the Aspenhof into The Christiania Lodge.
Courtesy Paterson family archive
Courtesy Paterson family archive While an apprentice at Taliesin, Paterson designed Altamira, a modernist house in Basalt, Colo., for Leroy and Martha Waterman.
Courtesy Paterson family archive
Courtesy Paterson family archive