Part 2 of a two-part series on former President Gerald R. Ford's links to the Wood River Valley.
By JO RABJOHN
When former President Gerald R. Ford decided to purchase property and build a home next door to his close friend Leonard Firestone, he chose Ketchum architect William Hayes for the job.
Firestone, son of Firestone Tires founder Harvey Firestone, was used to the finest in all things, and Hayes was his first choice and recommendation. Firestone was appointed U.S. ambassador to Belgium by Richard Nixon in 1974. He was reappointed by President Ford and served until 1976. By 1977, the two close friends had moved next door to one another at the Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Hayes' career started in Greenwich, Conn. He moved to Sun Valley in 1971 and has designed elegant homes for royalty, dignitaries, corporations and the well-heeled for more than 41 years. Hayes is sought after because of his uncanny ability to create plans with a highly individual interpretation geared to the needs and sensibilities of each client. His homes incorporate all sorts of opposite qualities at once. They are grand and intimate, pure and flamboyant, modest and lavish. His style might be described as understated elegance and grace.
In his approach to design, Hayes establishes a rational setting for his structure with an equally well-thought-out, workable plan. His homes aren't placed in a site but grow from the site. The architecture is not a building alone but the building in relation to its surroundings, whether nature- or man-made surroundings. The success of Hayes is the result of his ability to attract and work with clients and the strong recognizable character of his architecture.
A team of experts was gathered for the building of President and Mrs. Ford's Beaver Creek, Colo., home. One of these professionals was John Tremaine, founder of Tremaine Lighting and Design in New Canaan, Conn. Another was Donald Kaufman, of Donald Kaufman Color from New York City. President Ford and his wife, Betty, were remembered by both Hayes and Tremaine as gracious and open.
"President Ford was one of my favorite clients," Hayes said. "There were never any surprises. He was exactly like I expected him to be—nice, honorable and a gentleman. Mrs. Ford was lovely, considerate, kind and down-to-earth. Both were approachable. They were good clients because they knew what they needed and were decisive. The president and his wife appreciated quality. Their tastes were stately but never ostentatious."
Tremaine recalled many meetings and enjoyable social times with the Fords and those working on the new Colorado home. One dinner included Betty Ford, Mr. and Mrs. Firestone, Hayes and two decorators from Los Angeles.
Leonard Firestone turned to one of the decorators and said, "Bob, the last time you finished one of my houses I noticed you were driving a Rolls Royce."
The designer replied, "And when I'm finished with this job I'll be flying a Lear Jet."
The building of a new home and construction was something new to Gerald Ford. He wanted to be able to contact Hayes at any moment, so he had a private direct telephone line put into Hayes' office and home. When this phone rang, he knew it was the president.
The job of designing for the president was a curious combination of intuition and skill. Hayes recalls one evening receiving a call from the president regarding the placement of a light in the master bath.
"Bill, you know that light in the bathroom?"
"Yes, Mr. President."
"Well, I want it placed so there won't be a shadow cast on what I am reading."
"Don't worry, Mr. President. That has already been taken care of."
The new house had three floors and Hayes asked the president about his putting in an elevator.
"Betty and I enjoy our exercise, and I don't feel an elevator is necessary."
During the construction while the house was being framed, Hayes got a call.
"Regarding the elevator, Bill, is there any way we could install one now?"
Hayes was prepared for the situation and responded, "Mr. President, I have planned three closets: one upon the other. It has been built so the floors of the closets can be removed with minor effort."
"So we had our elevator, no problem."
Whenever the president came to visit the construction site, he was preceded by Secret Service agents driving an enormous station wagon with a flashing light twirling within a roof-mounted globe. In the back of the auto were immense crates filled with ammunition and firepower. The irony was that over the property ran a chair lift for the Beaver Creek skiers.
When asked, "Wouldn't it be possible just to go up this lift, carry a grenade and at the right moment pull the pin and lob it onto the presidents house?" the Secret Service agents said that was highly unlikely and they weren't worried about such an act. It was truly a different era with different realities. Nevertheless, there were suspicious happenings. Hayes said he received many phone calls from various insurance companies requesting him to send them copies of the president's house plans. He would relay this information to the security forces and found out none of these companies existed.
Hayes remembers President Ford telling him about the assassination attempt on Sept. 22, 1975, in San Francisco, just 17 days after the previous Squeaky Fromme assassination attempt. As the president left the St. Francis Hotel, a shot was fired. The shooter was Sara Jane Moore, a middle-aged radical turned FBI informant who had been standing in a crowd about 40 feet from Ford as he emerged from the hotel.
As she raised her .38 caliber revolver to fire, Oliver Sipple, a disabled former U.S. Marine, was standing next to her. He quickly pushed up her arm as the gun discharged. The bullet flew over the president's head by a few feet, ricocheted off the side of the hotel and wounded a cab driver in the crowd.
The Secret Service agents leapt into action and pushed the president into the back seat of the motorcade car. The president was shoved face down on the floor and an agent covered him. They swiftly fled, wheels spinning in clouds of dust and debris, and radioed the airport to prepare Air Force One. After the initial chaos, commands shouted, cars charging, adrenaline pumping, the president, in discomfort with his face planted on the floor mat, mumbled, "Hey, anyone remember me?"
The Fords moved into their Beaver Creek home in 1982 and remain forever associated with the Vail area. The Ford Amphitheater, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, the Jerry Ford Invitational Golf Tournament, the Ford Cup and the Ford pep talks at the Christmas tree lighting at Vail Village were only part of their contributions.
The altitude, lack of assisted-living options in the mountains and no doubt the travel from the Palm Springs area finally became too much for arguably the most athletic president in history. In 2006, the Fords put the Beaver Creek house up for sale, yet the spirit lives on in the mountain community they—with Hayes' help—did so much to create.