Medallion Name – MENU for THE BROWN PALACE
Significance – The story of the Brown Palace Hotel is a story of entrepreneurship. It was the late 1800s in Denver, Colorado and people from all over the country were flocking to the West, seeking fortunes in gold and silver. Everyone stopped in Denver on their way to or from the mountains. Some settled, some moved on, but all needed a place to stay. Open every day since the illustrious August 12, 1892 opening, the Brown Palace has become Denver’s most respected historic hotels.
Inscription – Little Neck Clams
Filet of Beef
August 12, 1892
Location – 39°44’36.2″N 104°59’15.3″W
Brown Palace Hotel – 321 17th Street between 17th Street, Broadway and Tremont.
Details – Way back in in 1892, the only way to get to Denver was via train, wagon or horse. When a grand hotel opened on a triangle-shaped lot between the State Capitol and Cherry Creek, it was considered the finest between Chicago and the West Coast. This was not another frontier lodge, but an elegant European-style hotel with fireplaces and bathrooms in each room. The Brown Palace had a splendid entrance, exceptional staircase and grand ballroom. Suddenly, people were stopping in the Mile-High City and staying at the Brown Palace Hotel.
Its legend has only grown with time. The Brown Palace has been visited by nearly every U.S. President since 1905. Presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower ran the headquarters of his presidential campaign out of a second-floor conference room in the summer of 1955. He affectionately called the Palace the “Western White House” and practice his golf swing in a suite on the eighth floor. A few other notable guests include
Sun Yat Sen – the first president and founding father of the Republic of China, “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, the Beatles, Thomas Edison, Queen Marie of Romania and Taylor Swift, among others.
In June 1997, the Palace hosted the G8 Summit – 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.
“It’s the first stop in town, the most classic place in the city,” noted Rich Grant, former Communications Director for Visit Denver. “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.”
Rumor has it that Henry Brown built his palace as an act of revenge. When he decided to build the hotel, Brown was one of the richest men in America. The story goes that he he’d been tending his cattle which he kept on an odd, triangular piece of land he had purchased by Broadway and Tremont. When he was done, Brown planned to meet some fellows for drink at the prestigious Windsor Hotel. The rich showed up at the hotel wearing his cowboy attire, and was turned away. In retaliation, he decided to build the Brown Palace Hotel on that odd, triangular piece of land where he kept his cattle.
In 1888, Brown hired the architect Frank Edbrooke to design the Brown Palace with the intention of making the hotel the best in Denver. (Edbrooke had recently designed the Oxford Hotel, the only surviving hotel in Denver older than the Brown Palace.) The architect planned an elegant triangular building to fit the plot of land. It was designed as the tallest building in Denver – an impressive nine-story iron and steel frame structure covered with cement and clad in stone. For the exterior they chose an Italian Renaissance style with local elements. The Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone façade features 26 carved stone medallions with native Colorado animals between the seventh-floor windows.
When the hotel opened on August 12, 1892 amidst ceremony, hoopla and fine food, people were amazed. Inside, one finds the country’s first atrium lobby… which can be viewed from eight floors of interior wrought iron balconies with ornate grillwork panels. Thousands of feet of Mexican gold onyx were used to enhance the reception area and loge, and the center of the atrium was topped by a stained-glass ceiling and a skylight. What wasn’t immediately visible to the eye was equally impressive. The eighth floor featured a sophisticated two-story dining room and ballroom with sweeping views of the Rocky Mountains. Technology was also state of the art. The Brown Palace boasted elevators, steam heat, a private electric plant, and a private artesian well dug 750 feet into the ground. Additionally, no wood was used for the floors and walls, which were instead made of hollow blocks of porous terracotta. An 1892 cover story in Scientific American hailed the Brown Palace as, “One of America’s first fireproof structures.”
In all, the Brown Palace cost $2 million to build and furnish. Open every day since August 12, 1892, the hotel filled was a needed respite for travelers going to and from the mountains seeking gold and silver. Each of the 400 guest rooms had a window (thanks to the triangular design) and a fireplace. Room rates were between $3 and $5 a night. In its early days, common bar orders were fizzes, Collins, and knickerbockers. Banquets might feature mock turtle soup, littleneck clams, chicken giblets, or calves head – in addition to local fare like Colorado lamb, rainbow trout, and turkey.
Contemporaries hailed Henry Brown’s nine-story Palace as a local jewel. The hotel’s promise of quality and luxury helped attract prominent patrons to Denver, solidifying the city’s emerging reputation as a center for commerce, culture and society.
Originally, the first floor was dedicated entirely to shops, with a grand fireplace as the centerpiece. (The entrance to the hotel’s spa is where the fireplace was positioned before it was removed in the mid-20s, the mantel is still visible above the spa’s entrance.) Hotel historians note that If you stand in front of what’s now the entrance to Palace Arms Restaurant, you get the view you were intended to receive when you entered the hotel.
The Brown Palace opened at an unfavorable moment in history however. The Silver Panic of 1893 arrived the next year, forcing Brown into another phase of financial turmoil; he had to take out loans on the hotel to cover his debts. In, 1900 he persuaded mining investment associate and Cripple Creek millionaire Winfield Scott Stratton to acquire the hotel’s mortgage for $800,000. In 1922, Stratton’s estate sold the Brown Palace to the Fifteenth Street Investment Company, which was run by Horace Bennett and Charles Boettcher (a key figure in the state’s economic development.) Boettcher had separated from his wife in 1915 and started living in the Brown Palace in 1920. (He would continue to occupy a top-floor apartment at the hotel until his death in 1948.)
Claude Boettcher became the driving force behind the hotel, successfully navigating it through the Great Depression and World War II. He converted the 8th floor into two floors of apartments with kitchenettes. An avid collector of model ships, Boettcher converted a former tearoom into the Ship Tavern, a wood-paneled pub that still has Boettcher’s clippers on display. Opened in 1934, just after Prohibition was repealed, it is now the hotel’s oldest restaurant.
When the hotel opened, the original entrance was on Broadway. But, as more people began driving cars, the entrance was moved to Tremont Place, which was deemed safer to load and unload guests because it saw less automobile traffic. Colorado muralist Allen Tupper True created two murals – Stage Coach and Airplane Travel – which were unveiled by the hotel’s new entrance.
After World War II, Boettcher began to work with New York developer William Zeckendorf on a Hilton hotel planned for Zeckendorf’s Courthouse Square development a few blocks from the Brown Palace. Boettcher backed out of the project, apparently because of a disagreement about construction materials, and made plans for his own hotel tower across Tremont Place from the Brown Palace. The 22-story tower, known as Brown Palace West, was designed by the New York architectural firm of William B. Tabler. Boettcher died in 1957, not long after approving plans for the tower. Construction went forward, and the 22-story, 231-room tower directly across Tremont Place was opened as a new wing of the hotel in 1959. Amenities included a ballroom a bridge above Tremont Place connecting to the historic hotel and an underground service tunnel. Communication via telephones and pneumatic tubes made it possible for guests to check in and out at the lobby of either building.
In 1970, the hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ten year later, the Boettcher Foundation sold the hotel, which changed hands several times before joining Marriott International’s Autograph Collection 2012. A $10.5 million renovation has restored the Brown Palace Hotel’s position of prominence. Today, a stay at the Brown Palace runs from $199 to $1,600 per night.
“The warm, western hospitality hasn’t faded one bit,” observed hotel historian Debra Faulkner. “This building represents a time when important architecture added to the character and the beauty of the state. Everyone always has a memory here. I still find that wonderful.”
Since it has opened, the Brown Palace Hotel has welcomed has seen politicians, celebrities and people wanting the elegant experience that only Denver’s oldest luxury hotel can offer. Laced in history, but still relevant, the Brown Palace remains one of America’s premier hotels and one of Denver’s most noteworthy locations.
What is the architectural style of the Brown Palace?
What did the Brown Palace do for Denver?
How was the hotel built to be fire-proof?
What kind of adaptive reuse was done to help make ends meet during the Great Depression?
Why was the entrance of the hotel moved?