SI Vault
Bob Ottum
January 04, 1965
Sun Valley has long been a glittering American dream—and a money loser. But now a pair of hardheaded California businessmen, Ed (left) and Bill Janss, have come riding...
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January 04, 1965

Into The Valley Of Fun

Sun Valley has long been a glittering American dream—and a money loser. But now a pair of hardheaded California businessmen, Ed (left) and Bill Janss, have come riding...

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Expansion began in all directions. Conejo became a self-contained city with its own business area and own sewer plant. The whole operation set some kind of record for California zoning procedures, and other realtors moved in around the fringes to get some share of the enormous profits. But guess who they must pay to hook into the sewer lines?

When Dr. Edwin retired, the third generation was replaying the theme of the first two. "Dad was a little worried about the new portent of aggressiveness that we were showing," says Ed with a smile. And when Ed himself went over the books one day and saw that Bill had bought, not a $5 pair of spurs, but a 4,000-acre ranch in Aspen, Colo.,—he didn't say a word. "I suspected it wasn't for cattle," he admits.

The 4,000 acres gave the brothers access to 8,000 additional acres of skiing mountain, the biggest such spread in North America. They call it Snowmass, and in another year it will be developed as a multimillion-dollar project in the Aspen complex. A complete Janss village will go into the high mountain slope: ski lodges, hotels, shops, homesites, cash registers. The Aspen Ski Corporation, recognizing its big new neighbor, has put Bill on its board of directors. "I think maybe they wanted to know what I was up to," he says. They know now.

The monster, Janss Corporation, is producing other little monsters, too. At Kaanapali Beach on Maui the brothers are building a $60 million resort, moving beaches, converting swamps into softly lighted lagoons ("You can light a lagoon at night. You can't light the ocean," Ed points out matter-of-factly) and installing an 18-hole golf course. They have chosen the symbol of a happy whale for this whale-size resort. (The Janss brothers are big on symbols.) In August of this year Ed and Bill bought 4,600 acres at Lake Nacimiento, near Paso Robles, Calif., for still another resort, and they hold options on 35,000 more acres of California land that is tagged for future development.

Even the cattle-feeding business, now the biggest of its kind in the country, is making money. "And to think they used to call me Crazy Bill," says Bill, who is doing a $15 million-a-year volume making skinny cows fat. It is not an easy operation. The jet set gathers for golf and tennis in Palm Springs and El Dorado, a few miles across the valley floor, and a strong wind from the stockyards can make a millionaire's eyes water and ruin his game. Bill has solved that. He has installed high, reedlike tubes over the yards and he pumps perfume through them. "It really works," he explains. "It erases everything. One day we mixed up a batch of My Vice, or something like that, and it wafted over there and I hate to think what happened."

Bill is actually perfuming his own home, for he lives in Palm Springs in a long, low, native-stone, polished-wood-and-glass house tucked into the mountainside. He and wife Anne also keep an apartment in Los Angeles and are building a home in Aspen. One of Janss's two daughters is a Stanford sophomore and a son is prepping at Exeter. Bill commutes among all of these sites in his Cessna, setting it on course with the automatic pilot and using the flight time to read mail and write letters.

Ed Janss and his wife Virginia live at the Conejo ranch in a rambling home on a high bluff overlooking their city, their golf course and their stables—he still runs horses and, like all Janss enterprises, the stable pays its own way. The house rambles because Virginia has remodeled it every year for 20 years, and now it sprawls in a full circle enclosing a patio and garden. It has five bedrooms and two living rooms and is so full of Ed's modern art collection—one of the best in the U.S.—that there are original oils in all five bathrooms. Ed recently put more pressure on the wall space by returning from New York with a Jackson Pollock worth $75,000 or more. So extensive are his modern art holdings that some are in traveling exhibits, the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art has others, Janss offices around the world abound with even more and, finally, Ed's garage is littered with the overflow.

Last year Ed and Bill Janss made themselves co-chairmen of the board of their corporation, and the man they made president, Vic Palmieri, states the credo of the entire operation well. "It is quite simple," he says. "Society is changing and its tastes are improving. It demands a new leisure setting. Urban anxiety is making resorts more important. We are in a position to turn Janss Corporation's city-building capabilities into resort building. But in doing so, we do not intend to recreate the Miami Beach failure, that is, where people are alternately fed to death and sunned to death.

"The resort business until now has been too full of clich�s. Most land developers are doing little more than cutting up land in the old way. This is like breaking a trust for the future. Thus, when the Sun Valley purchase came up, it fitted directly into our master plan."

The Janss brothers say that the Sun Valley master plan includes much more than skiing. They envision a Sun Valley of the future that will be a cultural headquarters, an intellectual watering hole in the western mountains. It will borrow from the Aspen Institute program in offering seminars and institutes as mental challenges for business-weary executives, and physical reconditioning as well. "The valley will change, but not outwardly," says Palmieri. "In another year there will be 50 new cottages at the resort—completely blended into the background—and we will have started on a golf course and a new scheme of shopping centers. But the character will be preserved."

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