DEN­VER ICON TURN­ING 125

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Gra­ham Am­brose

Bea­tles, pres­i­dents and G8 Sum­mit lead­ers have all played the palace — the Brown Palace. The lux­ury-ho­tel stal­wart of down­town Den­ver since 1892 will cel­e­brate its 125th birthday Aug. 12 with a full week­end of pro­gram­ming that high­lights a cen­tury-anda-quar­ter of lo­cal his­tory and lore.

When room ser­vice knocked, John Len­non leapt for the door. It was Aug. 25, 1964, the night be­fore The Bea­tles were to take the stage at Red Rocks, and the Fab Four were hun­gry.

They sat around their ho­tel room, im­pa­tiently await­ing or­ders of grilled cheese and chips, said Debra Faulkner, his­to­rian at the Brown Palace Ho­tel, as she shared the tale that has be­come in­grained in ho­tel lore.

Len­non flung open the door as soon as food ar­rived. He looked down at the cart of plates and cursed, ac­cord­ing to her ac­count, “Bloody Amer­i­cans, they don’t know how to do chips.”

The French-fry faux paus re­counts but one chap­ter in the long his­tory of the Brown Palace Ho­tel, the lux­ury-ho­tel stal­wart of down­town Den­ver since it opened in 1892.

On Aug. 12, the Palace will cel­e­brate

The Brown Palace will cel­e­brate its 125th an­niver­sary with a full week­end of pro­gram­ming from Aug. 10-13. Events in­clude read­ings of procla­ma­tions from Gov. Hick­en­looper and Mayor Han­cock, seven-course feasts, special his­toric tours, a pop-up his­toric speakeasy, ar­ti­fact ex­hibits and live mu­sic in the atrium. A full sched­ule of events can be found at brown­palace.com/ 125th-an­niver­sary.

its 125th birthday with a full week­end of pro­gram­ming that high­lights a cen­tu­ryand-a-quar­ter of lo­cal his­tory and lore.

The ori­gins of the five-star ho­tel begin with Henry Cordes Brown, an Ohio na­tive who jour­neyed to the western Kansas Ter­ri­tory by ox-drawn wagon in 1860. He landed in “Den­ver City,” a

shabby, 4,749-per­son out­post on the pe­riph­ery of Amer­i­can civ­i­liza­tion.

Few ex­pected the 40year-old Brown to amount to much. The 19th of 20 chil­dren, Brown had grown up an or­phan and trained as a car­pen­ter in Vir­ginia. He ven­tured to the Wild West with dreams of pros­per­ing in a land of pri­va­tion.

Wealth didn’t have to wait long. By 1863, all of Den­ver had heard of the de­vel­oper, who owned 160 acres of prime real es­tate east of Cherry Creek. His land, known as “Brown’s Ad­di­tion,” con­sti­tuted an area that would later be known as Capi­tol Hill.

Over the next three decades, Brown helped build man­sions for af­flu­ent landown­ers, or­ga­nized the Den­ver Tramway Com­pany, man­aged the fledg­ling Den­ver Daily Tribune and amassed a fortune in the boom­ing moun­tain town sell­ing tracts of his home­steaded land. (He would later do­nate 10 acres to the state for the cre­ation of a capi­tol. The value of his sur­round­ing prop­erty sky­rock­eted.)

His crown ac­com­plish­ment came in the late 1880s, when the 70-yearold over­saw the cre­ation of his name­sake institution, the Brown Palace Ho­tel, on a tri­an­gu­lar plot he owned between Broad­way, 17th Street and Tre­mont Place. Upon its com­ple­tion in 1892, the build­ing was the tallest in Den­ver and one of the first fire­proof struc­tures in the United States. The project took four years and cost a stag­ger­ing $2 mil­lion, or roughly $54 mil­lion to­day.

Con­tem­po­raries hailed Brown’s nine-story Palace as a lo­cal jewel, laud­ing the red sand­stone ed­i­fice, de­signed in the pop­u­lar Richard­so­nian Ro­manesque style, and the Ital­ian Re­nais­sance in­te­rior, which fea­tured more than 12,000 square feet of Mex­i­can gold onyx in the lav­ish cen­tral atrium. Each of the ho­tel’s 240 guest suites had a win­dow and a fire­place.

Its prom­ise of lux­ury helped at­tract prom­i­nent pa­trons to Den­ver, so­lid­i­fy­ing the city’s emerg­ing rep­u­ta­tion as a cen­ter for com­merce, cul­ture and so­ci­ety.

A his­tory of celebrity

One hun­dred and twenty five years later, the Brown Palace still oc­cu­pies a cher­ished place at the heart of down­town.

“It’s the first stop in town, the most clas­sic place in the city,” said Rich Grant, who served as com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor of Visit Den­ver for 35 years. “No tour of Den­ver would be com­plete with­out a look at the Brown Palace. I’ve been here with thou­sands over the years — so­phis­ti­cated trav­el­ers from all over the world. And they’re al­ways knocked out when they see this place.”

The Palace prides it­self on 125 years of vis­its from A-list celebrities, from Thomas Edi­son to Tay­lor Swift. The land­mark ho­tel, which en­tered the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places in 1970, has been vis­ited by nearly every U.S. Pres­i­dent since 1905.

To­day, guests can stay at themed suites honor­ing the stays of Ron­ald Rea­gan, Teddy Roo­sevelt, The Bea­tles and Dwight Eisen­hower, who ran the head­quar­ters of his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign out of a sec­ond­floor con­fer­ence room in the sum­mer of 1955. He af­fec­tion­ately called the Palace the “Western White House” and loved to prac­tice his golf swing in a blue-car­peted, white-columned suite on the eighth floor.

In June 1997, the Palace hosted the G8 Sum­mit, where Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton wel­comed an elite co­terie of in­ter­na­tional lead­ers like Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Boris Yeltsin, United King­dom Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair and French Pres­i­dent Jac­ques Chirac.

Since the days of the Ben­jamin Har­ri­son ad­min­is­tra­tion, much has changed at the ho­tel. Nu­mer­ous rounds of ren­o­va­tions, in­clud­ing a mas­sive re­fur­bish­ment in 2015 for $10.5 mil­lion, have brought the 19th cen­tury haunts into the mod­ern era. New own­ers have come and gone, from the Boettcher fam­ily, who man­aged the fa­cil­ity for most of the 20th cen­tury, to Quo­rum Ho­tels and Re­sorts, which owns the Brown Palace to­day. A sky bridge, con­structed in 1959, con­nects the lux­ury ho­tel to its sis­ter fa­cil­ity, orig­i­nally founded as “Brown Palace West” and now a Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press.

The ho­tel also no longer sup­ports per­ma­nent res­i­dents, who lived in con­verted apart­ments on the top two floors from the Great De­pres­sion un­til the early 1980s.

In the last decade, com­peti­tors like Airbnb and in­ex­pen­sive chains have cut into the bot­tom line of tra­di­tional ho­tels like the Brown Palace. In Colorado, the prob­lem for long­time play­ers has been com­pounded by a surge in ho­tel de­vel­op­ments. Since 2007, the num­ber of ho­tel rooms down­town has more than dou­bled from 5,000 to 11,000 by Sept. 2017, ac­cord­ing to Mark Shine, direc­tor of sales and mar­ket­ing at the Brown Palace.

The ho­tel has po­si­tioned it­self to en­dure through strate­gic part­ner­ships, like with the Mar­riott Au­to­graph Col­lec­tion, which of­fers loy­alty re­ward pro­grams for pa­trons of hand­picked bou­tique ho­tels across the world. Pa­trons keep com­ing back for unique tra­di­tions like after­noon high tea, a deca­dent cer­e­mony of pas­tries and teacups over live pi­ano or harp mu­sic. It’s a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion dur­ing the hol­i­day for res­i­dents and tourists alike.

“The warm, western hos­pi­tal­ity hasn’t faded one bit,” said Faulkner, who is the third ho­tel his­to­rian since the po­si­tion’s cre­ation in 1977. “This build­ing rep­re­sents a time when im­por­tant ar­chi­tec­ture added to the char­ac­ter and the beauty of the state. It’s a repos­i­tory of mem­o­ries.”

On Wed­nes­days and Satur­days at 3 p.m., Faulkner leads his­toric tours of the ho­tel for guests and the gen­eral pub­lic. The hour-long, reser­va­tion-only tours cover ro­mance, ar­chi­tec­ture and ghost sto­ries, of which the his­toric — and pos­si­bly haunted — ho­tel has a few.

As metro Den­ver un­der­goes rapid de­vel­op­ment and de­mo­graphic change, ho­tels like the Brown Palace rep­re­sent a bul­wark of con­ti­nu­ity. The same fam­ily-owned business — Watkins Stained Glass Stu­dio — has main­tained the glass ceil­ing in the cen­tral atrium since the 19th cen­tury. An arte­sian wa­ter well, lo­cated 720 feet be­low the ho­tel’s foun­da­tion, still pumps ho­tel pa­trons a sip of Den­ver im­memo­rial. Five bee­hives housed on the rooftop make honey used in the kitchen. At Churchill Bar, a pre­mier cigar lounge on the prop­erty’s south­ern tip, movers and shak­ers in pol­i­tics, business and academia still meet over drinks in a last ves­tige of the old boys’ club.

“It doesn’t get any more authen­tic in any other city than in the Brown Palace,” Shine said. “When­ever I tell some­one what I do and men­tion the Brown Palace, there’s al­ways a re­sponse. Ev­ery­one al­ways has a mem­ory here. I still find that won­der­ful.”

Ho­tel staffers think the six first-rate culi­nary op­tions and priv­i­leged sense of his­tory will keep the business from ever clos­ing.

“Things aren’t built to last any­more,” Grant said. “But the Brown Palace is an institution. How many other ho­tels are ever go­ing to have a 125th an­niver­sary?”

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Rich Grant looks down at the main lobby and atrium from the sec­ond floor in the Brown Palace. “Things aren’t built to last any­more,” Grant said. “But the Brown Palace is an institution.”

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

The Eisen­hower Suite at the Brown Palace. Dur­ing his pres­i­dency, the Eisen­how­ers would spend 4 to 8 weeks each year at the ho­tel, which Dwight D. Eisen­hower dubbed the “western White House.”

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Pi­anist Larry Weg­ner plays the pi­ano out­side of the Palace Arms restau­rant in the main lobby of the Brown Palace.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

The ho­tel oc­cu­pies an en­tire tri­an­gu­lar-shaped block in down­town Den­ver.

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­hower’s por­trait is on dis­play in the Eisen­hower Suite.

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