Hotel Colorado: Era-sistible Through the Ages
Laying the Foundation
For a mining engineer and silver tycoon, it was Walter Devereux’s dream to transform Glenwood Springs from a backwater town comprised mainly of saloons, brothels and gambling halls into a desirable Rocky Mountain destination that would attract an international clientele. Devereux had his work cut out for him. To prepare the way for his dream resort, he put water and electrical infrastructure in place throughout the town. To keep the business flowing and flourishing, he also opened the town’s first bank. In 1887, the arrival of the railroad guaranteed a steady influx of visitors. Devereux’s dream was picking up steam.
Gaining a Reputation
Inspired by Italianate architecture, Devereux modeled Hotel Colorado after the Villa Medici in Rome. On the interior, no expense or detail was overlooked. Hotel Colorado opened to great fanfare in 1893. Situated in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Hotel Colorado became an overnight sensation for those who wanted a taste of the Wild West tempered with the luxuries of the day. Newspapers at the time proclaimed Hotel Colorado the finest resort hotel between the Great Lakes and the Pacific Ocean!
Word of the elegant hotel way out west spread like wildfire, and Hotel Colorado soon became the mountain playground of high society. When President Theodore Roosevelt came to stay for a hunting expedition in 1905, the hotel received a new moniker—Little White House of the West. Other notable guests that elevated Hotel Colorado’s reputation included President William Taft, Buffalo Bill Cody and Margaret Tobin Brown, aka Unsinkable Molly Brown. While most guests hailed from the upper echelons of society, others earned their notoriety trafficking in organized crime, including mobsters Al Capone and “Diamond” Jack Alterie.
In the sports arena, many of the hotel’s guests were East Coast elite, accomplished equestrians familiar with the British game of polo. While there were horses aplenty out west, there were few polo players at first. It wasn’t long before the local cowboys became intrigued by the game and quickly learned the rules. Though unpolished compared to their English-style riding opponents, the cowboys frequently topped their Eastern brethren in matches. To accommodate the growing crowd of spectators, Hotel Colorado constructed a clubhouse and grandstand so that visitors could cheer on the players.
In the Navy Now
In 1942, the U.S. was entangled in WWII and the Navy needed rehabilitation facilities for wounded soldiers returning home from the front lines. Frank Kistler, the hotel’s owner leased Hotel Colorado and hot springs which were all one property at the time to the U.S. Navy. In the span of a few months, the Navy transformed the luxurious hotel into a convalescent hospital. To make it as sanitary as possible, they plastered over fireplaces, tossed old Victorian furniture and ripped out marble sinks and tubs replacing them with sterile ceramic versions. They also added a brig for unruly soldiers and a morgue to the basement level. At the height of its use, the naval convalescent hospital accommodated up to 500 patients.
By the time the 1950s rolled around, Hotel Colorado had lost her luster and status. In dire need of maintenance, a string of owners attempted to modernize the hotel and make it appealing to a new generation of travelers that increasingly relied more on cars than train travel. In December 1959, the hotel appeared on the auction block. New owners hoped to turn the Grand Dame into a retirement community or nursing home. Fortunately, these plans floundered. In 1966, under the direction of yet a new owner, a neon Hotel Colorado sign was erected between the two towers and the courtyard fountain was replaced by a chlorinated swimming pool. On the positive side, former owners, Kirk and Mary Whiteley, had the good sense to have the hotel designated as a National Historic Landmark and began the arduous process of restoration. Though piecemeal and slow-moving, the 80s and 90s saw continued investment and renewal.
Grandeur Returns to Hotel Colorado
In 2018, the Melville family made headlines when they acquired the Hotel Colorado. The Melville family’s purchase of the historic hotel signals a new era for Hotel Colorado, one that has not only preserved its historical significance but also re-elevated its status among travelers. With deep roots in the local hospitality industry, they embarked on a multi-million dollar refurbishment that has revitalized the iconic landmark. Under the Melville’s direction, plastered-over fireplaces, and original woodwork and flooring have been restored. Grand chandeliers grace meeting rooms, ballrooms and hallways. In addition to adding in-room air conditioning for comfort as part of a full renovation of accommodations, guest rooms combine classic design elements with contemporary touches. The Melvilles also revamped the menu at Hotel Colorado Restaurant & Bar, giving visitors and locals even more reasons to once again gather and celebrate at the Grand Dame of the Rockies.
To learn more about Hotel Colorado’s fascinating history, from its early days to the most current happenings, pick up a copy of Hotel Colorado: Grand Dame of the Rockies, a newly published commemorative book available at Legends Coffee & Gift Shop in the lobby. Better yet, make plans to visit and stay at Hotel Colorado today!