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First touches of the new proprietorship have already appeared on the hillsides with the installation of hot-air mitten and boot warmers, an idea the corporation stole from men's rooms everywhere. Sun Valley offhandedly refers to them as " Vail blowers," a not-so-subliminal suggestion that it gets an awful lot colder in Colorado. New hooded capes have been added to each chair lift to keep upward-bound skiers warm, and the chairs have been upholstered with foam-rubber cushions.
The brothers have been busy back at the village, too. Everything has been repainted in soft loden greens and mustard tones, and the lobby of the lodge has been remodeled. On one preseason inspection trip Bill Janss strolled down to the cavernlike boiler room underneath the lodge and pronounced it just right for a rathskeller. He called in the decorators. "Paint the ceiling blue," he ordered. "Exactly the color of this golf shirt I have on." They mixed up some paint and matched it. "Do not touch anything else," said Janss. "We'll screen off the boilers with big cloth panels and then shine spotlights on them so they show through. We will put in a bar—over there, against the wall—and serve beer and corned-beef sandwiches." Brother Ed called up from Los Angeles. "You ever hear of a steel band?" he inquired. "I have just heard the greatest one ever. They play Calypso and anything you want. I had them for a party at the house, and I've signed them for the season at Sun Valley." "Fine," said Bill. "I've got just the place for them to play." The whole thing is kooky enough to make the Boiler Room the Peppermint Lounge of the ski world.
But the brothers still have a mountainful of problems ahead. For all its neo-European charm, Sun Valley has always been hard to reach. In the Union Pacific's day it was called 2,618 rail miles from New York City. There has been air service, but none of the connections with the main incoming flights to Salt Lake City, Twin Falls or Boise, Idaho have ever been very good. When asked by the Janss brothers about this, the airlines showed no desire to adjust their schedules. "Well, now," mused Bill (and it was one of those real loud muses that gets all the way to airline vice-presidents), "we could always buy our own airline and feed people into the valley." Suddenly the air connections got much better.
The Sun Valley sequence—study a property, buy it, treat it tenderly and make money from it—follows a Janss family method for big business advancement that dates back to 1899 and Peter Janss, who was Bill's and Ed's grandfather and one of the West Coast's first big real estate wheeler-dealers. "He was a country doctor, just a general practitioner, I think," says Bill Janss. "Sometimes he would take pieces of land for his fee. Then he began buying property east of Los Angeles. By 1911 he had control of something like 47,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley and was an established figure."
Dr. Peter had two sons, Harold and Edwin Janss Sr., and he taught them well. Edwin became a doctor, and both he and Harold started using the land their father had accumulated. By 1928 they were building Westwood Village in Los Angeles, the nation's first planned "urban core" community. Then Dr. Edwin went north and talked the University of California into establishing UCLA in the village. "After that," recalls Ed, "his civic duty was fulfilled, and the doctor bought UCLA a football team. I think they were a bunch of practically professional gorillas. He paid for their first season. He bought all their food and put them up at a military academy off the campus. I can't remember how they made out." Dr. Edwin also fathered Ed Jr. and Bill, and his family's sense of enterprise was passed along to the brothers.
Looking back on it, Ed says: "I had a real choice in life. I could become either a playboy or a dilettante. I went to Stanford for two years—where I organized the school's first ski team—and then I transferred to Davis Agricultural College. I was the only kid in school who operated a string of Thoroughbred racing horses on the side. I was 20 years old and I had 25 horses running. I was the youngest owner in the country. Those were pretty wild days." Wild perhaps, but routinely wild. Soon Ed was at loose ends. The family money was being channeled into stock investments. Father Edwin was settling down. There wasn't anything to do.
"I said to myself, 'Can you work?' " Ed recalls now. "And the answer was, 'I don't know how.' Well, then, 'Can you farm?' I figured perhaps I could, so I moved out to the family ranch in Conejo Valley in Ventura County, about 40 miles from Los Angeles. I didn't know anything about farming, really; but I had 10,000 acres and a maid and butler and breakfast in bed every morning, and I faked the rest. I used to say to my foreman, 'Well, what do you think we ought to do today?' And he would reply, 'Oh, maybe we ought to plow.' Or cut hay, or something like that. And I would say, 'That sounds like a hell of an idea,' and that's how I learned to farm."
The Conejo countryside was gentle and rolling. It was like the homestead scene in a thousand cowboy movies where Dad steps down from the covered wagon, squints out at the mountains and lowlands and decides that this must be the place. It was so lush and so slow that it exhausted Ed early. And Los Angeles was just over the next couple of hills, looking in his direction. So in 1957 Ed built some houses in Conejo.
"People bought them right away," Ed recalls with great satisfaction. "They seemed to want to settle there. I found another 50 acres of land, bought it at $500 an acre and divided it into 96 lots. I sold—get this—I sold the lots for $3,500 each in one day. One day. That was the fastest quarter million I ever made."
Brother Bill, meanwhile, had been following an independent course. He went to Stanford, skied in Europe, raced at Sun Valley and was picked as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team in 1940, the year the Games were canceled because of the war. Bill eventually moved to Thermal, Calif. to operate one of the family holdings, a cattle-feeding station, and became an educated, blue-eyed, rich cow-puncher. ("You know what?" says Bill. "Those were wonderful days. I used to get out there on horses and move those cows around. I mean really punch the bounders. But I never have time to ride anymore.") One day Uncle Harold, who was beginning to feel that Janss money unspent was Janss money saved, went over the cattle station's books and cracked, "What's this item here? Five dollars for a pair of spurs?" With that, Bill quit the family businesses until the day came in 1954 when Dr. Edwin, Ed and Bill bought out Uncle Harold by selling Westwood Village and paying him off in cash. Now Bill was back into the family operations.