There are probably very few people who have not heard of Eloise, the character in the books created in the 1950s by author Kay Thompson, who described the book as a story about a little girl who “lives in the room on the tippy-top floor of the Plaza Hotel in New York City with her nanny, her pug dog Weenie and her turtle Skipperdee.” Eloise is precocious and mischievous whose antics have delighted readers for decades. In fact, there’s an Eloise Suite at the Plaza resplendent with “an Eloise approved palette of pink and black,” to make any child’s heart sing.
Living in a hotel full time, is commonplace for many whose lives are just too busy to undertake the care of a home. When Presidents Hoover and Eisenhower left office, they moved into the Waldorf Astoria in New York, as did General MacArthur, when he retired.
So it’s no surprise when retired, successful businessman, Harvey Simpson, whose wife had passed away and who fell in love with Vail on his first visit in 1964, moved into the Sonnenalp. To date, Simpson has spent over 2,050 nights at the hotel and is its first permanent resident. The Sonnenalp’s own Eloise.
“So,” says Simpson, with a child’s joy, “20 Vail Road is my new address. Look what I have. I have a studio apartment. I have my balcony and I get up every morning and look out at Vail Mountain. It’s inspirational, you know.
“You talk about being 90, and I say, ‘wow’. I have a spa. I have the restaurants. I don’t need a kitchen because I can have the food sent up to me when I want it. I have a swimming pool, the skiing, the hiking. I just have a real feeling of well-being. I think you can add a few years to your life by living in these mountains, in this healthy environment.”
Like most of his family, Simpson graduated from the School of Engineering at Cornell University. “My father and his brothers opened a small construction business after World War I, when they returned from France,” says Simpson. “After I got out of the Navy, I had the good fortune of joining their firm and, with my cousin, Ed, continued to work on some amazing projects in New York. Some that were high-profile.”
Before they even went to college, Simpson and Ed worked as laborers for Simpson Roofing & Ventilating and Simpson Iron Works, the parent companies of Simpson Metal Industries,Inc., where they learned everything from the ground up. Six years after they joined their fathers, the cousins formed Nab (nuts and bolts) Construction Corporation. “It was just something small. We didn’t think of it as much as a firm then,” says Simpson. “But we needed the name to get involved in general construction.”
And getting involved is exactly what the cousins did. The litany of projects in which Nab Construction Corp. and Simpson Metal Industries, Inc. were involved as contactors or subcontractors is a prodigious list of famous attractions that include Yankee Stadium, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Jacob Javits Convention Center, the Throgs Neck and Bronx-Whitestone Bridges, the Queens Zoo, the New York Passenger Ship Terminal, Grand Central Station, Kennedy Airport, the New York City subway cars, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. “We were very fortunate to have worked on so many noted jobs in New York,” Simpson recalls. “We even had the opportunity to develop two high rises. We’re probably one of the most diversified construction companies in the United States. Most of my cousins are engineers and have affiliated companies including firms that are working on space programs. The whole family is entwined.
“Because the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge projects were so high-profile, every newspaper and magazine in the world came to interview us and the workers,” reveals Simpson. “They asked the workers if their families had come through Ellis Island. And having the French engineers come over and actually build a new torch in our shop, just for the job we had done on the reconstruction on Liberty Island, was an incredible experience.”
While working on the reconstruction of the Brooklyn Bridge, the firm was required to work with the Civil Engineering School at Columbia University. “We had never had to do this,” Simpson says, with a laugh. “We were required to have one of the school’s professors on our payroll to watch what we were doing and make sure there were no calamities. It was a fun job” In fact, the cables that were taken down from the bridge were chopped up, put on plaques and given out as gifts to the the firm’s bankers, politicians and everyone else who was somehow involved in the reconstruction.
The company also got engaged in building subway cars. “When the New York City subway system needed new cars, we opened up a plant in Brooklyn to accommodate the TGV, (Train à Grande Vitesse–the French high speed train) engineers, as nobody in the United States was building subway cars,” explains Simpson.
The Nab Construction Corp. has worked on a litany of projects from environmental control systems, to fabricating and erecting structural steel, to building waste treatment facilities to installing a complex conveyor system for a postal facility. And the list goes on. Currently it’s working for the New York Transit Authority, wiring up New York’s subway system with WiFi.
“I guess I have my own little history,” says Simpson reflectively.
However, Simpson, doesn’t dwell on what “was,” but rather on what “is.” “I’m fascinated by Vail and what’s happening here,” he admits. “I’ve been skiing 100 days a year and even went heli-skiing last year in British Columbia with the Game Creek Club. I thought it would be a good experience,” says this 90 year old, with a teenager’s sense of adventure. “At my age,” continues Simpson, “I better keep moving if I want to stay healthy. And, Vail gives me that opportunity. I might just walk. I might go up the gondola and hike. And of course, I have a swimming pool. I do it all.
“People talk about old age and what makes you tick when you’re 90 years old and over. They talk about having a good social life and having a lot of friends. Some of the most fantastic people I’ve ever met in my life live right here in Vail, including the Sonnenalp’s owners, the Faesslers.
“Between my business and the years I spent in the Navy, I’ve been all over the world and this is actually the finest hotel that I’ve ever been in and to say, ‘Wow, this is my home. This is my living room, right here at the Kings Club.’ “Can you think of a better retirement home?”