Ira Sachs, the adventurous and eccentric real estate developer who landed in Park City in the 1970s to ski and ended up opening one of its landmark hotels, has died.
Sachs died on Oct. 19, a week shy of his 86th birthday, his daughter Lynne Sachs confirmed. A cause of death was not disclosed, though he had been diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a degenerative brain disease.
Born and raised in the South, Sachs first arrived in Park City in 1972, parking his Winnebago behind the old Utah Coal and Lumber Restaurant on Heber Avenue, and skiing the entire season. He moved to Park City permanently in 1983, until he retired to Florida later in his life.
Sachs told a Salt Lake Tribune reporter in 1979 that he fell in love with Utah skiing shortly after he arrived.
“I was skiing at Snowbird just after it opened,” he said. “I skied off a run and fell about 300 feet. I finally stopped near a girl who said, ‘I’m a Mormon and I prayed for you all the way down.’ I knew I had come to the right place then.”
“He was kind of ready to live in the mountains, ready to live somewhere where he could explore the land more and be a pioneer more,” Lynne Sachs told The Tribune in 2020, when she premiered a documentary about her dad, “Film About a Father Who,” at the Slamdance Film Festival.
“The West beckoned,” she said. “He never wanted to go to Aspen or Vail. He wanted to go somewhere that was rougher, that was kind of finding itself.”
In 1978, Sachs and his partners converted an old Holiday Inn on the corner of Park Avenue and Kearns Boulevard into The Yarrow. The hotel became a centerpiece of lodging for Park City’s burgeoning ski industry, as well as a venue for the Sundance Film Festival. (The hotel has gone through several owners since then, and is now called the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Park City.)
Ira Sachs also started a wedding venue in Parleys Canyon, which he called the Rose Sachs Gardens, after his mother; the venue is now known as Louland Falls.
According to his family, Sachs also was responsible for installing the first cellphone tower in the Park City area. He did so, Lynne Sachs wrote in a remembrance, “so that he could run an ‘office’ out of the slopes.”
Lynne Sachs wrote that her father “was not an artist, but he produced a creative masterpiece of his life.”
“A man of many contradictions, he spoke little (living by the mantra ‘Be more, appear less’), but built countless warm friendships using very few words,” she wrote. “Though he claimed a fear of heights, he always preferred the trails that took him to the edge of cliffs. Ira was a Jew who loved Eastern philosophy and practiced Transcendental Meditation. … In the 1970s, he became a vegetarian, though he ate caviar whenever he got the chance. He failed at marriage (twice), but built kind and respectful divorces. He was an only child who fathered nine children.”
Ira Sachs was born Ira Richman on Oct. 26, 1936, in Memphis, Tenn., to Rose Gold and Harry Richman. His parents divorced when he was young, and Rose later married Mortimer Sachs. His stepfather adopted him, and Ira took his last name.
Rose Sachs, her granddaughter Lynne wrote, “was, other than his children, the most significant person to him. For her, he would cut his hair, trim his mustache, and put on a suit and tie, though never happily.” Rose Sachs died in 2015, at the age of 103.
Ira Sachs graduated from Palm Beach High School in Florida, and attended the University of Florida — where, Lynne Sachs wrote, his interest in social activities, like organizing dance parties and making money as a sports bookie, occasionally led him to disciplinary problems. He managed to graduate, and returned to Memphis to be a real estate developer.
Lynne Sachs wrote that her father’s life was greatly influenced by his relationships with women. He married twice, to Diane Sachs and Diana Lee — and they were two of the six women with whom he fathered his nine children, Lynne wrote. “These love affairs were unsurprisingly problematic,” she wrote, but “the friendships and goodwill lasted longer than anyone might have imagined.” Two of the women were at Ira’s bedside when he died, Lynne wrote.
Lynne Sachs became an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, and “Film About a Father Who” was a film that she spent more than 30 years making, between other projects.
“I was keen on looking at my dad and figuring out what made him tick, and how that had an impact on me on the rest of the family,” Lynne said in 2020.
Ira Sachs’ oldest son, Ira Sachs Jr., graduated from high school in Memphis in the 1980s and followed his dad to Park City. Ira Jr. soaked up the atmosphere of the United States Film Festival — later renamed the Sundance Film Festival — and was inspired to make his own independent films. He premiered his second feature film, the Memphis-set teen gay drama “The Delta,” at Sundance in 1996.
In 2005, Ira Sachs Jr. debuted “Forty Shades of Blue” to Sundance, and won the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic competition. The film told the story of a young Russian woman (Dina Korzun) married to an aging music producer, played by Rip Torn — whose character was loosely inspired by Ira Sr.
The younger Sachs premiered three more movies at Sundance: “Keep the Lights On” in 2012, “Love Is Strange” (starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina) in 2014, and “Little Men” in 2016.
Ira Sachs Sr. is survived by nine children — Lynne Sachs, Dana Sachs, Ira Sachs Jr., Beth Van Fossen, Evan Sachs, Adam Sachs, Annabelle Sachs, Julia Sachs and Madison Sleight — and nine grandchildren, with a baby girl on the way next year. The family also praised Avaaliimanaiagalua Amssos, his “caregiver, companion and devoted friend” for the last 18 months of his life.
Sachs’ children will host a celebration of life, Saturday, Nov. 25, from 1:30 to 4 p.m., at Windy Ridge Cafe, 1250 Iron Horse Drive, Park City. All are invited.
The family is asking, in lieu of flowers, that people wishing to honor Sachs’ memory give to two of his favorite causes: The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah (a direct link is available at action.aclu.org/give/ira-sachs-tribute-acluut) and Planned Parenthood of Utah (ppau.org; click the “donate” button, and check the box marked “I’d like to make this gift…”).