Dwight Peck's nostalgia gallery

The American College of Switzerland in better days

Travel back to the past, and forget that back then you thought things could never get any worse. But they did, so now we call these the 'fond memories'.

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The American College of Switzerland was founded in Leysin by Fred and Sigrid Ott in the early 1960s, along with the Leysin American School, which continues to this day. The main building was Les Frênes, just near the center of the village, formerly the sanatorium of Dr Auguste Rollier the "Sun Doctor", who brought the heliotherapy "cure" for tuberculosis to Leysin in the beginning of the village's sanatorium era (which ended in the early 1950s, with the development of antibiotic treatments, and left a lot of very large former clinics all over the village). At various times, other buildings in Leysin were also used for dormitory space.

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There's Les Frênes, dead center, with the mountain La Riondaz looming up behind. In 1976, the American College became an independent, not-for-profit institution, and a few years later won US regional accreditation (Middle States).  

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That's the student center in Les Frênes, The Cave, manned -- personnelled -- by Pierre Bérube and Laurie-Carroll Bohn. [Who now, some years later, have more delightful kids than you can count in one sitting. Subsequent visit.]

Legal problems with the former owners of ACS, however, forced an evacuation of the buildings and, indeed, Leysin, and from summer 1980 to the end of 1981 the College sojourned in the wilderness, well, in Les Avants-sur-Montreux, which some of our well-heeled students preferred, mainly because of the Platinum Club and Casino in Montreux.

There she is, rising majestically in the heart of downtown Les Avants (population: 38). The modern winter sports industry began in Les Avants, arguably, as day-jaunters from the "English Riviera" on the Lake Geneva shore at Montreux in the 1890s rode the MOB train up to the village, and the cog up to the ridge above, and schussed down again in formal dress gripping one great long pole. From hosting the most fashionable tourists in 1890, ninety years later Les Avants had declined to a seat of higher learning.

But even that was temporary, because a year and a half later, the legal smoke cleared briefly in Leysin and the American College went home.

The ACS college building is snuggling down there at the bottom of this picture of Les Avants (by Catherine Spozio, former ACS librarian) and the splendid Dent de Jaman levitates on the horizon, 1980.

The view from Les Avants

In December 1981, Sayonara Les Avants

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Thus in late 1981 the College moved back to Leysin, into the rented, and then purchased, old Grand Hôtel at the very top of the village. The academic program strengthened, the enrollment grew, the mismanagement was successfully hidden for a while, and there are probably quite a few people still walking solemnly about this world who think of the mid-'80s at ACS as the best years of their lives.

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But in 1990 it all went wrong, and the rust showed through the touch-ups. In spring 1991, in somewhat desperate efforts to save the College, the top management was jettisoned at long last, unfortunately too late, and a new administration (including the present witness) sought forbearance from the banks on their painfully bended knees, in four months of nearly nightly meetings with bad coffee served.  But at the end of June 1991, the phones were turned off and the lights went out, and bankruptcy intervened, and the old American College of Switzerland went off to join the Long Fathers.

What happened then? The name, the buildings, and the SUPERB 50,000-volume library were purchased by an educational chain called Schiller International University, and continues to this day as part of their multi-campus system, though no longer with Middle States accreditation.

So there have been three American Colleges of Switzerland, and here's the list: 1) 1963-1976, a proprietary college operated by Leysin American Schools Inc., 2) 1976-1991, an independent, not-for-profit, Middle States-accredited very small college with pretty good intentions and some wonderful faculty and many wonderful students, and 3) 1991-2009, something else.

Update May 2009: It appears from Jean-Pierre Dulex's Gazette Leysinoude that the Battered Old ACS is finally gone from this earth.

Update October 2012: On a recent visit to Leysin, we got a few snaps of the splendid job of renovation that's been done on the Old Grand, now renamed the Belle Epoque, by the Leysin American School for its I.B. programme.

The new Grand Hotel, the Belle Epoque

The costs of a thorough renovation must have been prohibitive; well, obviously not, but very large.

The balconies, condemned by the government under the Schiller administration, have been replaced.

And La Pyrole, the old ACS Library -- a stunner. The library collection itself, stored in crates in various basements during the Schiller years, is being revivified by the new owners and brought back into circulation, but we've been told that La Pyrole has been renovated for the personal use of the new owners.

That's not enough!  Let's see some more, let's see some photos of the ACS Library through the years.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 10 November 1999, revised 26 November 2012, 30 January 2016.

American College of Switzerland

Leysin village

Leysin scenery