DENVER ICON TURNING 125
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?”
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.”
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.”
Pianist Larry Wegner plays the piano outside of the Palace Arms restaurant in the main lobby of the Brown Palace.
The hotel occupies an entire triangular-shaped block in downtown Denver.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s portrait is on display in the Eisenhower Suite.