Hotel Online  Special Report

  Laurance S. Rockefeller, 1910 - 2004; 
Developed Environmentally Oriented Resorts: Jackson
Lake Lodge, Caneel Bay Plantation, Dorado Beach
Hotel, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Little Dix Bay,
Woodstock Inn


July 13, 2004 - Laurance Spelman Rockefeller was born on May 26, 1910, in New York City, the fourth of the six children of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. He attended Lincoln School, a progressive co-educational preparatory school connected with Teachers College of Columbia University in New York City, before entering Princeton in 1928. A philosophy major, he was graduated from Princeton in 1932 with a B.A. degree in philosophy and went on to two years of graduate study at Harvard Law School.

On August 15, 1934, Laurance Rockefeller married Mary French in the Congregational Church in Woodstock, Vermont. Together they raised three daughters and a son.

During World War II, Laurance Rockefeller served in the Navy (1942-1945), attaining the rank of lieutenant commander.

Laurance Rockefeller has pursued a number of successful careers during his lifetime. He was a pioneer in the field of venture capital. He was a leading and influential figure for three decades in the American conservation movement. He led the development of one of the world's foremost cancer care and research facilities, and has been both a benefactor and advisor to major educational institutions. And, with great foresight, he combined his personal vision for conservation, recreation and the spiritual needs of individuals to develop internationally acclaimed environmentally-oriented resorts. His many accomplishments have been recognized both nationally and internationally.

In a different area of venture capital, he developed outstanding environmentally oriented resort hotels in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Vermont, serving as chairman of Rockresorts, Inc., a resort management company which he founded and chaired.

He played a pivotal role in the creation and development of several national parks including Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Virgin Islands National Park on the island of St. John and Marsh, Billings, Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont.

Jackson Hole Preserve, Incorporated

In 1957, the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society awarded its first Horace Marden Albright Scenic Preservation Medal to Laurance S. Rockefeller who, the previous year, had seen the Virgin Islands National Park created as the result of his initial gift of more than 5,000 acres. He felt especially honored because of his respect for Albright, a friend as well as advisor for thirty years. In 1926, Albright, then superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, had hosted Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and their sons David, Winthrop and Laurance on what proved to be a significant visit to Wyoming. He shepherded them through Jackson Hole, the 30-mile long mountain valley which had as its western backdrop the snowy peaks of the Grand Tetons.

The splendor of the Grand Teton country captivated the Rockefellers. Resolving to safeguard Jackson Hole and its view of the Grand Tetons for the enjoyment of all Americans, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased 33,562 acres in the valley from ranchers and other owners. He planned to donate this land to the federal government, but his plans were delayed until 1949, when Laurance Rockefeller, as president of Jackson Hole Preserve, Incorporated, made the gift on behalf of his father. The valley land was included in Grand Teton National Park.

Established in 1940 with Laurance Rockefeller at the helm, Jackson Hole Preserve, Incorporated (JHPI) is a nonprofit conservation and education organization whose purposes are to preserve areas of outstanding primitive grandeur and natural beauty and to provide appropriate facilities for their use and enjoyment by the public. JHPI has protected large sections of the Grand Teton country and has been active in a number of other conservation activities, including helping to save California redwoods. In 1970 it also assisted in establishing the 2,500-acre Hudson Highlands State Park, just north of New York City.

Through pilot projects carried out by subsidiaries of JHPI, Rockefeller sought answers to one of the most controversial aspects of park operations -- providing accommodations and other necessary facilities for park visitors. Much useful experimentation was been done at Colter Bay, on Jackson Lake, by the Grand Teton Lodge Company, a subsidiary of JHPI, in cooperation with the National Park Service. Rockefeller found the campsite at Colter Bay to be convincing proof that properly designed and carefully located facilities can be provided in a beautiful natural setting with a minimal harm to its fundamental values.

Also in Jackson Hole, Rockefeller, with the cooperation of the New York Zoological Society, set up a wildlife preserve where elk, moose, deer, buffalo, beaver and other animals could be observed year round. In 1953 this preserve, Wildlife Park, was turned over to the National Park Service, but some 15 years later budget cuts closed the preserve.
Virgin Islands National Park

A stop at the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands during a cruise in the Caribbean led to Rockefeller's interest in bringing to life an almost-forgotten National Park Service report that pointed out that the island's unspoiled natural beauty and primitive charm combined the rare qualities required for establishment of a national park. He took the lead, with JHPI, to safeguard those qualities for the enjoyment of the people in the tradition of both his father and the National Park Service.

Rockefeller funds, mostly from Laurance, were used to acquire 5,000 acres on St. John. This land was turned over to the government on December 1, 1956, at the dedication of the Virgin Islands National Park. It represented more than half of the park's initially authorized area of 9,500 acres. Further Rockefeller gifts to the park's program included the acquisition of "inholdings" -- privately owned lands within park boundaries -- as they become available.

In 1962, Congress approved legislation extending the park's boundaries to include 5,650 acres of offshore submerged lands -- areas containing beautiful coral formations and rich forms of tropical marine life, much of which can be observed by snorkelers following an underwater "trail."

Laurance Rockefeller also purchased and donated to JHPI a small St. John island resort known as Caneel Bay Plantation. Developed to accommodate park visitors, Caneel Bay is regarded as one of the world's most beautiful resorts. As with Grand Teton Lodge Company, the resort's income after operating and maintenance costs was earmarked for conservation purposes.

Resort areas in the Caribbean, Hawaii and Vermont attracted Laurance S. Rockefeller's development capital for tourist enterprises separate from the operations undertaken by subsidiaries of Jackson Hole Preserve. His criteria for these investments: prospects for profitable returns over the long run, social and economic development of the areas in which they are located, and settings of natural beauty which will provide recreation and self-renewal for the urban-oriented guests.

In 1958 he built the Dorado Beach Hotel and Golf Club, twenty miles outside San Juan in Puerto Rico, in cooperation with the island's Operation Bootstrap, to create jobs and increase tourism. He followed this with the development of Little Dix Bay, a vacation resort in the British Virgin Islands. Also in the Virgin Islands, in association with his brother David, he developed Fountain Valley Golf Course and Davis Bay Beach in St. Croix. In Hawaii, he built the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Island of Hawaii, which ranks as one of the finest resort hotels in the world. He sold the Dorado Beach resort to Eastern Air Lines in 1967, and UAL, Inc. later acquired Mauna Kea.

The charm of Woodstock, Vermont, a New England village that is the ancestral home of his wife's family, and the area's peaceful, rolling countryside, appealed greatly to Laurance Rockefeller. In 1969, he built the new Woodstock Inn and its guest facilities. Beginning in the early 1960s, he operated the near-by Mt. Tom and Suicide Six ski areas. His interest in maintaining the uniquely New England character of Woodstock led him, over the years, to acquire other properties in the area.

The resorts were operated and managed by Rockresorts, the management company Laurance Rockefeller founded in 1966 and chaired until the company was sold in 1986. All of the resorts were sold that year except for the Woodstock Inn & Resort, which remained under Laurance Rockefeller's individual ownership.

Copyright © The Rockefeller Archive Center.

The Rockefeller Archive Center
15 Dayton Avenue
Sleepy Hollow, New York 10591
Also See: Laurance S. Rockefeller, Conservationist and Tourism Visionary, Honored With British Virgin Islands' Citizenship; Built Little Dix Bay Resort on Virgin Gorda in 1964 / September 2003
Caneel Bay Resort Acquired By CBI Acquisition LLC / May 2004
The Williamsburg Inn Undergoing Year-long Renovation to Retain the Quality Rockefeller Envisioned / Jan 2001
The Grand Teton Lodge Company Acquired by Vail Resorts for $50 Million / June 1999
Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and Maritz Wolff & Co., Joint Venture Takes Ownership of Little Dix Bay / Aug 1998
Olympus Hospitality Group Breathing New Life into a Legendary Name in the World of International Resorts; Rockresorts / Mar 2000

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