September 25, 2015 by Pamela Nowak
Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel opened in 1892, a crowning achievement for owner Henry Cordes Brown. Brown settled in Denver in 1860 on his way to California and stayed in the fledgling community. He homesteaded today’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and later made a fortune the real estate. Legend says that when the Windsor Hotel refused Brown admission because he was attired in cowboy gear, he decided to build his own hotel.
The Italian Renaissance hotel was designed by Frank Edbrooke in a triangular floor plan to fit the lot bordered by Broadway, 17th, and Tremont Streets. Eight stories tall (or nine, if you count the two-story eighth floor as two), the hotel used 12,400 feet of onyx to accent the lobby, Grand Salon, and Ballroom. Artisans crafted in small details such as 26 hand-carved stone medallions on the exterior, each representing a Rocky Mountain animal. The medallions are still visible today, between the seventh floor windows. The exterior was built with sandstone from Arizona and reg granite from Colorado. Inside, the colors were lauded as some of the most harmonious ever seen in a hotel. Copper was used to finish railings—once bright, it has today faded to a tarnish—the only apparent blemish in the original décor.
The Brown Palace took four years to build and cost over $1,600,000 with another $400,000 spent on décor and furnishings. Rates varied from $1.00 per night to $4.50 per night, dependent upon the room.
All floors and interior walls were built with terra cotta rather than wood, assuring the building as fireproof. Wrought iron and steel columns wrapped the iron columns. Fifteen ventilation shafts ran from the basement to the roof. Fans in each room drew air into the shafts, which also housed plumbing. Steam heat warmed the hotel, produced in its own engine room. The hotel also had its own laundry and incinerator. Each guest room had its own fireplace.
On opening night (August 12, 1892), a grand banquet was held in the two-story eighth- floor ballroom. The seven-course meal cost $10 per plate and the wine list offered 227 choices. Other features on the top floor included the dining room, also two stories tall. A panoramic view overlooked 300 miles of the Rocky Mountains while stained glass in fruit designs capped the windows above the five-foot onyx wainstcoating. There were also six smaller private dining rooms, a ladies’ room, and a club room for gentlemen. The kitchen was also located on the eighth floor, allowing for ventilation and prompt food delivery. The eighth floor was later converted into suites.
The lobby of the hotel featured a massive fireplace with solid onyx pillars supporting its 3000 pound mantle. This was removed in 1925 and later became an entrance to an art gallery, currently to a spa. A grand atrium was (and still is) lit by skylights. Dramatic Florentine arches surround the atrium, and intricate wrought iron panels decorate six stories of balconies, containing over 700 metal panels—two of which are upside down. Though the front entrance has relocated (it was originally on Broadway and was closed in 1937), the original front desk is still used for registration.
The Main Dining Room was decorated in the French Renaissance style. A high, bright ceiling reminded diners of the sculpted plaster ceilings seen in French castles. Long windows lined the side, all with ornate draperies and curtains. Walls were light in color, and pillars lined the length of the room. Chairs were upholstered in blue velvet and lacquered with gold.
Over the years, the Brown Palace housed many distinguished guests, including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Bill Clinton. As well, the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, the Beatles, crime boss Soapy Smith, and other heads of state have stayed there. There are three Presidential Suites and the Beatles Suite.
In 1911, Frank Henwood shot and killed Sylvester Louis “Tony” von Phul in the hotel’s Marble Bar. Innocent bystander George Copeland was also killed. The murders resulted in high profile trials in which it was revealed that Henwood and von Phul were rivals both involved with Denver socialite Isabel Springer, the wife of wealthy Denver businessman and political candidate John W. Springer.
The Brown Palace is also said to be haunted. The Club Room is reported to host eerie feelings and a few sightings. Visitors and employees have reported lights going on and off, a bartender apparition, and a carpet that “crawls” under their feet.
There are also tunnels under the hotel. Legend says there was a tunnel across Tremont Street connecting the Brown Palace to the Navarre Building, which was a brothel in the early twentieth century. Though there is evidence of tunnel tracks in the basement of the Brown, these were likely used to transport coal into the building. Of course…they might have been used for other purposes. Today, there are tunnels, built in 1959, to allow employee access between the Brown Palace and its annex building across the street.
Next week, we’ll explore Denver’s original Native American inhabitants. Each Friday, I will blog about some aspect of Elitch Gardens, early Denver, or other topics related to my next novel, Escaping Yesterday. In between, I will post small factoids on my Facebook page. You can join me there and I love new friends (https://www.facebook.com/pamela.nowak.142).
Released Sept. 16, 2015, Escaping Yesterday is set in Elitch’s Gardens, in 1905, and follows the story of Lottie Chase. Lottie is willing to take any risk to save her daughter from their abusive uncle. Stranded in Denver, Lottie meets Caleb Hudson, manager at Elitch’s Gardens amusement park, who sees her as a manipulative huckster. Caleb, a veteran suffering from PTSD, craves the tranquility of the park’s gardens. Lottie brings anything but peace as she seeks to convince the owners to add thrill rides so she can collect the sales commission and support her daughter. Neither anticipates their growing passion, common demons, or the dangers they will face as they confront their pasts and free their love.