Last June I heard that Bill Gates bought Irma Lake Ranch (above), the property of a dear friend of mine, Roger W. Hollander. I was happy to hear the news. I loved the place, and will never forget the time I spent there. Knowing that it is staying in private hands is somehow heartening. (More info from Huffington Post here.)
Roger bought Irma Lake in the 90s to serve as his private home, and headquarters of his Empire of All Things Extraordinary. The ranch had belonged to Buffalo Bill Cody, and was used to entertain celebrities and heads of state on hunting and nature outings in the mountains and plains near what is now Yellowstone National Park. Cody even had the Burlington Northern Railway build a spur line out to the ranch. Many of the original structures from Cody’s time still survive intact on the 500 acre property. Thanks in part to Roger’s conscientious stewardship of the property during the years he called it home. (You can download a property brochure from it’s listing agent for the sale, here.)
Roger was involved in a terrible car accident a few years ago, while driving down the seven mile mountain drive from Irma Lake Lodge, his spectacularly beautiful, and intensely personal home. In the pre-dawn hours, heading for the Cody airport, he rolled his SUV, and was left in sub-freezing weather, unconscious and upside-down, held in place by his safety belt. Several hours later, he was found by ranchers and rushed to hospital. The head injuries and exposure were so severe, that even a hardy soul like Roger has been unable to recover. He remains in rehabilitative care in Wyoming to this day, and all of his friends are still saddened by Roger’s tragic story.
One of the most intelligent, most intense, most understated, and most interesting people I have ever known, Roger was a passionate and eclectic collector, of many things – – of rare books, photography, 20th century furniture, wine, films, classical music, jazz, Indian textiles, Chinese minority people’s costume, and of great, good friends.
Hardly a day goes by when Roger doesn’t come to mind. As a tiny tribute, I share some images here from three weeks I spent at Irma Lake in 2004. I can’t recall a time I was ever happier, than during those weeks. Roger created a complete world around him, of the best and most intriguing people, thoughts, objects, images, films, music, and natural beauty. His collections are being dispersed to the four winds, some headed for museums, others for private collections, others dismantled and offered at auction. Happily, his extraordinary home in the mountains outside Cody will remain a private home, cared for by someone I believe will respect the spirit of the place. Bill Gates will now step into the shoes of Buffalo Bill (and Roger Hollander after him), in preserving the heritage of Lake Irma.
Buffalo Bill’s private sanctuary cabin. Intact. I had hoped to spend some time in retreat there. With maybe one book, and a good fishing rod.
Roger’s eye for textiles and 20th century modern furniture was impeccable.
The valley where Irma Lake is set – – sublime in all seasons, and always changing.
Clearing in the aspen woods, during a morning walk from the house.
Innately generous, Roger practically forced me to take over the keys to the Land Rover and the gas pump for exploring.
The Buckeroo State . . .
Roger had horses, but they went wild . . . often spotted grazing here and there or rambling the roads.
He dared me to go skinnydipping in Irma Lake in the autumn, when the water was just a whisper above freezing. I never could turn down a dare like that. It snowed the following day.
This guest bedroom had a wealth of native weavings and Pendleton blankets, another had Kenny Scharf’s painting made as a gift to Roger for a landmark birthday, still others had . . . the list is endless, at Lake Irma you lived amid the collections.
Roger loved his kitchen, but I wouldn’t say he was a great chef, despite his great enthusiasm! As everywhere else in the house, the kitchen was chock a block with all manner of unrelated objects and information, all of them extraordinary, but none as extraordinary as Roger himself.
A trickle of guests would visit Lake Irma, not a dull character among them. On this occasion we had Mattiebelle Gittinger, the curator of the Textile Museum in Washington, DC. The weekend before it was one of Roger’s old friends from Yale, now one of the world’s leading scholars of Pre-Columbian art. Roger wished more people would visit, his dream was for the house to be a centre of exchange, creativity, scholarship, fellowship, good food . . .
. . . and exceptionally good wine. These were the bottles he opened for just any old evening.
The cellar was deep and diverse . . .
. . . the sommelier’s knowledge unsurpassed . . .
. . . and the corridors downstairs were filled with still-unsorted enological acquisitions . . . amid archival racks of the best of world cinema, and archival chests of drawers filled with meticulously catalogued recorded music . . .
. . . ephemera abounded, as well. Here’s a stuffed bobcat amid boxes of wine beside the deep freeze.
And strewn on every flat surface books bought at auction or online, auction catalogs, and bushels of correspondence.
Roger was loved by society, invited everywhere, but the hurly burly of fêtes and galas never ruffled his feathers in the least. Calm amid the storm, and always easy to engage in an involved conversation on almost any topic you can mention. That’s Roger. Here he is at the Founder’s Ball at the Cody Museum, which we attended together and enjoyed enormously. I never knew Buckeroos could be quite so elegant. They sure clean up nice.
A toast to life. Footnote: the finest of Rocky Mountain Society raved about my dress by Balinese designer Oka Diputra. Glad I had a stack of his cards in my bag.
And there is Irma Lake Lodge, set on some 500 acres, of woodland, rolling hills, and rocky crags, dotted with trout-filled lakes and lakelets.
On my last day at Irma Lake, I stopped to take this photo on the way up from town. The gravel drive is seven miles long, climbing up into the mountains. It’s painful to see this image. It was taken near the spot where Roger’s car rolled off the road.
And there the story goes cold . . . here’s a view of the old dairy barn, converted into a guest house.
And on the terrace in front of the house, a chilled lounger . . . mute and monochromatic and still . . .
Finally, the last photograph I took during this visit to Irma Lake. I saw this stone standing alone on the crest of a small ridge beside the road up to the house. Now when I look at it, I see a mute monument, with no epitaph, as the man still lives but is now far away from us, as mysterious and solitary as this stone by the roadside on an open ridge above the autumn grasslands.