Colorado Experience; The Brown Palace Hotel


– For many, many decades, this was the luxury
hotel of downtown Denver. Top of the top, this
was the place you came if you were rich or
famous or influential. – The Brown Palace is special
for a number of reasons, I mean, it’s the iconic
hotel here in Denver, it’s got history beyond history. This is where it’s at if you
just wanna really hone in to what it means to
be a part of history, but also to have a great
experience at the same time. – The skylight in the Brown
Palace is one of a kind. I take pride in fixing,
repairing, restoring my prior generation’s work. – You just never know
what’s gonna show up in the lobby. – Try and imagine two
1500 pound animals, right by the concierge desk,
and all the rodeo royalty in their sequined cowboy hats. Only at the Brown Palace. I think when you walk in here, you can’t help but feel
the spirits of just decades and decades of sojourners that
have been here before you. Just kind of layered
upon the place, like the different
styles of architecture. There’s a real magic to it. – [Male Voiceover] This
program was made possible by the History Colorado
State Historical Fund. – [Female Voiceover]
Supporting projects throughout the state to
preserve, protect and interpret Colorado’s architectural
and archeological treasures. History Colorado
State Historical Fund, create the future,
honor the past. – [Male Voiceover]
With support from the Denver Public
Library, History Colorado and the Colorado Office of
Film, Television and Media, with additional support
from these organizations and viewers like you. Thank you. (gentle piano music
with wooden percussion) – [Narrator] Long considered
an oasis of elegance, Denver’s Brown Palace
was ahead of its time, from the day it opened in 1892. Located in the
heart of downtown, this hotel was once
considered the finest west of Chicago. Few could rival its splendor,
and who’s who in America guest list. This legendary hostelry
is a time capsule of architecture, technology
and of the growth of the west. – When Denver began, it was a
classically ready little town, it was thrown together,
there was discovery of gold in the late 1850s,
1858, and then a rush, Pikes Peak, or best rush, and
that was very significant. People were running
around making claims and running out of town. Nobody even knows at that stage whether it’s gonna last. – Denver had become pretty
much just a rest stop, a supply town between that
long trip across the plains and heading up to the
mountain gold camps. – If you’re going to try
to reconfigure Denver as a commercial center, and
the Queen City of the Plains and so on, you really have
to have accommodations for people who come in
once you have a train, they have to have
a place to stay. Nice hotels are probably
the most potent statement that you can make of
saying, we’re here. (gentle harp music) – Henry Cordes Brown was
on the scene here in Denver the year after the
big 1859 gold rush that gave Denver and
Colorado its start. Henry Brown not coming
to prospect for gold, he is a builder and a
businessman from Ohio, and he’s coming to
mine the miners, because miners are going
to need places to stay. Henry Brown and his wife in 1860 were actually on their
way to California. And they stopped here
in the brand new, dusty city of Denver,
and the story goes that she said to him, Henry,
you may go on to California if that is your wish, you
son and I will go no further. So it was because of her
influence that Henry ended up settling here in Denver, and
ultimately changing the face, and the fate, of the city. Henry Brown was primarily
a real estate speculator. In the early years, especially,
and one of the first things Henry built here in Denver
was a boarding house, down near Cherry Creek. – Building along the
rivers, not so smart. There was a flood, the big
one in 1864 is a huge lesson, and it does seem like H.C.
Brown was one of the people who got that lesson
with particular clarity. – When Cherry Creek
flooded, he decided to seek some higher ground, literally, and homesteaded a 160 acre plot, about a mile south east of
where Denver was growing up around Larimer Square. People in Denver said,
the city will never, ever reach that far out, and they
called it Brown’s Folly. But Henry was nobody’s fool. – [Narrator] In 1867, Denver
was chosen over Golden to become the territorial
capital of Colorado, due in part to a very generous
donation from Henry Brown. – Henry helped to seal
the deal for Denver by donating 10 acres in the
middle of his homestead property for the new state
Capitol building, because he was so generous
and civic-minded and shrewd. Henry Brown’s homestead became
our Capitol hill development, he charged a premium
for those lots, that was the beginning
of his fortune. – [Patty] Henry Brown was
really ahead of the game. It was one thing to arrive
early in a town’s settlement and it’s another
thing to know where you wanna put your
time and effort to capitalize on
that opportunity. – As the decades rolled
on, he got involved in the Denver Pacific Railroad, the Denver Tramway Company, he had his own newspaper,
the Denver Daily. He was the president
of the Bank of Denver. He was one of the
founding members of the Chamber of Commerce. – [Narrator] Henry’s
contributions to Denver’s business
boom would culminate with the magnificent
nine story structure, the tallest in town at the time. Built on a triangular
plot of land, Henry not only financed
the elaborate construction, he poured himself
into every detail. In the end, the
grand hotel would be an architectural marvel that
would forever bear his name. (gentle piano music) – [Debra] As the
Capitol began to rise, they realized they were going
to need a very impressive hostelry much closer to that
for visiting dignitaries et cetera. – What is really cool
about the Brown Palace is that it’s quite a
maverick piece of layout. This nation and westward
settlement in this nation was all about rectangles,
all about right angles. This is before the
famous Flatiron Building does a similar kind of
thing in New York City, so very innovative. – [Debra] Because he
made it a right triangle with a five-sided, basically
hole in the middle, or atrium lobby, that allowed
for every single guest room to be an exterior room. The architect of the Brown
Palace was Frank Edbrooke. He was from Chicago and
came here to Denver in 1879, at the request of Horace
Tabor, our Silver King. Frank Edbrooke ended up
staying here in Denver and designing or at
least contributing to more than 60
buildings in the city, some of them still
the finest in town. Not only was the Brown
Palace an architectural gem but it was also a technological
wonder for its day. – The Brown Palace was
featured on the cover of Scientific American
in the spring of 1892. – It was remarkable for
its fireproof construction with all of the
superstructure being iron, steel and concrete,
and then in the floors and the interior walls,
hollow terracotta block, a type of ceramic. Tall buildings really
could be deathtraps. They advertised it on
our letterhead for years, absolutely fireproof hotel. – [Douglas] If you look at
the exterior of the building, on the first floor you’ll
see a Colorado granite, and then the rest of the
building is sandstone, going all the way
up to the roof. The Brown Palace has been
described as Romanesque and also Italian Renaissance. There’s elements of
both in the design of the building. – Ancient Roman villas
were often built around a open center
corridor called an atrium. Frank Edbrooke just took
that idea eight stories high. The Brown Palace was started
in 1888, completed in 1892. Took four years to build
and lots of artisans who made the Florentine arches
and the decorative rod iron panels on all our
open balconies, and the mosaic floors that used
to be throughout the hotels. All kinds of craftsmen
from all around the world contributed to this building and that’s why it took
a while to create. – It’s hard to find a
mistake in some of the stuff that they’ve done,
like the stonework. And the stained glass was
just an integral part of it. – [Douglas] I just don’t
think there’s the craftsmen and skilled laborers
to construct a building like this today. – [Debra] Up on the
seventh floor level, in between the arched
windows are medallions. And within those
medallions are carvings of Colorado mammals, 26 of them. There are deer and
elk and mountain lions and bears and bison
and rabbits and sheep and all kinds of things. They were done by an artist
named James Whitehouse and we call them the
Brown’s Silent Guests. The most original
part of the hotel is obviously the atrium lobby. As people come in, immediately
their eyes are drawn up 100 feet to that
stained glass skylight, which just absolutely stunning. 1892, that was unprecedented,
and it became known as daylighting the
interior space, because of the natural
light that comes through the skylight. – [Narrator] The
skylight is suspended between the eighth
and ninth floors, and is not actually on the roof. A transparent gabled window
above allows in natural light while protecting the
skylight from weather. Stained glass has been a
Watkins family tradition for over two centuries. – My grandfather and great
grandfather put it in, and my dad and I worked
on it, and then I, and I’ve been
working on it since. I was involved pretty much from the time I was
seven, ’til now. It’s 65 years. It’s really pretty amazing
how high quality things they turned out. That’s what amazes me, there
wasn’t any clinkers in there that turned out junk, it
was all top quality stuff. – [Narrator] Henry
Brown spared no expense to ornament his 400 room hotel with the finest materials
and furnishings. – [Douglas] The onyx
that adorns the lobby and second floor Onyx
Room, it’s very rare and it was mined in the
city of Torreon, Mexico. You just simply can not
get this stone any more, so it’s very unique
to the Brown Palace. – [Debra] The china from
Royal Dalton and Black Knight and Limoges, all the silver
pieces were custom made by Reed & Barton,
the finest linens, the finest lace curtains,
just top drawer throughout. – We generated our
own electricity, we made our own ice, we
had our own well water, it was almost just like
a city unto itself. – Every suite of rooms,
from the beginning, had hot and cold running
water, flush toilets, shower baths, all
these factors combined. From the moment we opened,
we were considered by many one of the three best hotels
in the nation at the time, right up there with the original
Waldorf in New York City and the Auditorium
Hotel in Chicago. – [Narrator] But
the magnificence of
the fireproof hotel did not protect it
from a fire sale. A year after construction
was completed, the silver panic
of 1893 wiped out many of Colorado’s fortunes,
including Henry Brown’s. – [Debra] Because of the
crash, Henry was forced to mortgage the hotel for
a fraction of its value, and before he was able to
buy that mortgage back, it was bought by
Winfield Scott Stratton, who made his millions in
Cripple Creek gold in the 1890s. Winfield Scott Stratton,
after he bought the hotel in 1900, invited Henry
to keep his office here and to even live in
the hotel if he chose. – [Narrator] Just six
years after selling his prized Palace, Henry
passed away at the age of 85 in 1906. His body would lie in
state in Colorado’s Capitol on the very land he had donated. He was buried in Denver’s
Fairmount Cemetery, alongside his family, and
near his chief architect, Frank Edbrooke. (piano swing music) In 1922, Charles Boettcher
purchased the Brown Palace, ushering in a new era
of family ownership that lasted nearly 60 years. A German immigrant,
Boettcher had built his family’s fortune through
multiple business enterprises, becoming a leading
industrialist. Management of the hotel fell
to Charles’s son Claude, who went by C.K.. – C.K. Boettcher basically
piloted the hotel throughout the Great
Depression, World War Two and right into the 1950s, and a lot of the physical
changes happened to the hotel happened under his
reign as owner. One of the big ones was the
change of the Grand Entrance, from the Broadway
side of the building, over to the Tremont side
because of heavy traffic. So they closed that
entrance in 1935, but I think it’s a shame, because now, when people
come in the Tremont side, they sort of feel like they’re
coming in the back door, and they are. To get through the
Great Depression, the Boettcher family decided
to convert the top two floors, eight and nine, into private
residential apartments in 1937. They were called the
Skyline Apartments, very prestigious,
very pricey address. But the steady income from
those permanent residents allowed the hotel part
to continue operating without sacrificing any
elegance or excellence. – [Narrator] In keeping with
the fashion trends of the 1930s the apartments were remodeled
in an art deco style. The nautical theme
for the Ship Tavern, formerly a tea
room at the Brown, was inspired by C.K.
Boettcher’s collection of model clipper ships. Boettcher’s most
dramatic renovation idea, turning the Brown Palace
into a 26 story hotel, never materialized. – As early as the 1920s,
plans were drawn up to close off the atrium
and erect a tower on top of the Brown. But because of events
like the Great Depression, World War Two, there just
simply wasn’t the men, money, materiel to pull
that off, thankfully. I don’t know if the Brown
Palace would be in business right now if that
addition was added, ’cause it just would have
taken away the character of the open atrium. – So instead of closing
off the atrium lobby at the third floor and
building a 19 story tower up the center, someone suggested building
across Tremont Street, so our tower annex over there
was built and opened in 1959 as the Brown Palace West. There’s actually a service
tunnel under Tremont Street that connects both
of these buildings and all of our housekeeping
staff goes back and forth. – [Narrator] Decades earlier,
there was a service tunnel of a different kind. Across the street from
the high society Brown was a house of ill repute. The Navarre, also designed
by Frank Edbrooke, was originally built
as a boarding school. But around 1900, the building
was lost in a poker game to gamblers, who named it
after Henry of Navarre, a French king devoted
to decadent living. – Not a welcome neighbor
by the venerable Brown, but this was the case
all the way from 1900, clear into the 1930s,
possibly the 40s depending on who
you want to believe. And during this period, the
two buildings were connected with a tunnel that ran
under Tremont Street. It was actually a coal tunnel
between the basement furnaces. – [Narrator]
According to legend, the coal tunnel doubled
as a secret passageway to the neighboring brothel. (rolling piano music) – [Debra] From the
beginning, we have attracted heads of state, then
royalty and celebrities, the social elite, the
business and political movers and shakers. Some of our early guest
registers actually have the signatures of people
like Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Queen Marie of
Romania, Charles Lindbergh. One of the Brown Palace’s
boasts is that every President, beginning with Teddy
Roosevelt in 1905, has visited the hotel,
with two exceptions: Calvin Coolidge
and Barack Obama, who I always say has
no excuse. (laughs) And of all those Presidents,
Eisenhower spent by far the most time here, because his wife Mamie
was a Denver girl, she grew up here, so all during
Eisenhower’s administration, they would often stay
here at the Brown Palace, and the hotel became known
as the Western White House. – [Narrator] Even Presidential
visits could not compare with the fanfare
that accompanied the world’s most
famous rock band. – In August of 1964,
the Beatles stayed here when they played up at
Red Rocks for six dollars and 60 cents a ticket,
and did not sell out. – [Douglas] The Brown Palace
didn’t want them staying here because they were the
mop tops from Liverpool, they had this long hair and
Denver was a pretty conservative town at the time. – [Debra] When they
were expected, the
block was encircled by five to six thousand
screaming teenagers. The poor Beatles
had to be smuggled into the employee entrance and up a service elevator,
straight to their suite. We do still have
a Beatles Suite, it’s been done in kind
of 1960s style, the core, all the prints replaced with
album covers and posters, but the coolest
thing in that suite is a jukebox that
plays everything the Beatles ever recorded,
more than 225 songs, you don’t even have
to put a dime in it. (string waltz music) – [Narrator] The hotel
is both a reflection of the changing cultures
it has survived, as well as the originator
of some of Denver’s more elite traditions. – When you come
through the doors of the Brown Palace, you are
leaving a modern Western city and you are entering
another time and place, where you have elegance
and you have beauty and you have the refined
customs of afternoon tea and it’s just a magical
place like nothing else in downtown Denver. The Brown Palace
tradition that launches the holiday season for the
hotel is our champagne cascade. All the furniture is cleared
out of our atrium lobby, and they build a pyramid out
of 6,000 champagne glasses. It’s almost two stories
high when it’s finished. A master swordsman
who knows the lost art of sabering a
bottle of champagne, takes an antique sword
and he knows right where to hit the bottle at the
throat so that the cork pops out but you don’t
lose all the champagne. He does it to four magnums
of Moet et Chandon, pours it in the top
glass, it cascades down through the others, and
even with four magnums, it never gets anywhere near
the bottom of that pyramid. Since 1955 the biggest party
that we host every year here at the Brown Palace is
the Denver Debutante Ball. In fact, the Debutante
Ball are joint owners with the Brown Palace of
our huge 25 foot by 25 foot LED chandelier, suspended right
in the middle of the atrium, it’s spectacular. The debutantes come
down our grand staircase in gorgeous white dresses
and then they have the first waltz with their
fathers in the atrium lobby. The most unique tradition
that we have here at the Brown Palace happens
every year in January at the end of the National
Western Stock Show. We exhibit the grand
champion steer. This silly tradition goes
all the way back to 1945. Two Hereford bulls
auctioned that year for a record shattering
$50,000 each. It made national news,
tradition was born. (gentle rolling piano music) It’s important to
preserve old places like the Brown Palace,
because they’re not just old, they are storied,
they are iconic. This building to me
represents a time in the past when important architecture
added to the beauty and the character of a city. – The changes that were made
in the 1920s and 30s to now, we always want to
preserve the DNA, but certainly we need to
be up with the technology. – Like any grand lady
of a certain age, there are problems
with leaky plumbing and internal
temperature control, and deteriorating
appearance. (laughs) – [Narrator] The Brown
Palace has undergone many incarnations
over the decades. An extensive renovation in 1995 revitalized the Victorian
era in many guest rooms. The decors of Ellington’s,
the atrium lobby and Churchill’s Bar
were also transformed while maintaining their
historical imprint. – Two Presidential
Suites were added with our last major redecoration
of the top two floors in 2000, and the
designers at that time selected two Presidents
from very different periods of Western history. One, and my favorite
in the whole hotel, is the Teddy Roosevelt
Suite, and that’s done in Edwardian style,
nineteen-teens, lots of dark wood
paneling and wilderness and wildlife touches,
because he was a hunter and a conservationist, and the other is
the Reagan Suite. And that’s done in
California ranch style, with mission-style doors, well
treated to look like stucco. – [Douglas] One of the
big preservation projects that we just finished
was a refurbishing of the outside of the
side of the building. That was a three year project,
one side of the building per year. – [Narrator] 180 tons
of Utah sandstone was used during the restoration
of the hotel’s windowsills and exterior walls. Historical photos and
construction drawings helped specialists ensure
the existing facade would remain supported
during the replacement. Over the years, Colorado’s
winters had taken a toll on the Brown’s
sandstone exterior. – [Debra] Sandstone is a
really foolish material to use in this climate, because after a few
cycles of freeze and thaw, gets very unstable and
brittle, breaks apart, and over the decades
we’ve lost quite a bit of elaborate raised stone trim that used to
decorate the outside and has not been replaced. – [Narrator] The hotel’s Silent
Guests in sandstone carvings were not repaired during
the restoration project. – [Debra] Unfortunately,
some of those are so badly deteriorated now, you can’t even be sure
what animal they are, so I hope before too much longer there’ll be some money for some
actual artistic restoration and we can bring them back
to their former glory. – [Narrator] One of the
artistic carvings includes a bas-relief of
Henry Brown himself, ever watching over the
hotel that bears his name. (gentle piano music) – The value of historical
architecture is, it’s a touchstone to the past. You’re not just reading about
it, you are surrounded by it. To stand on an atrium
balcony where Margaret Brown may have stood after
the Titanic disaster, to stand in front
of the Palace Arms and take in the view
of the atrium lobby that President Taft stood
in awe of when he arrived, that’s the sort of thing
that brings it to life. The legacy of the Brown
Palace is that it has always represented the very best
that the city has to offer, and this has always
been the place where deals have
been negotiated, where milestones
have been marked, where anniversaries
and achievements
have been celebrated. – Things were built differently,
things were built right, things were built to last. Sometimes I think we’ve
lost a bit of that. – The stained glass is
just part of that orchestra that Edbrooke put together
when he designed the building. I feel really proud
that people can enjoy things that I’ve made. And I think my dad did, and I
know my grandfather Frank did. – I think the Brown Palace
is a place for an experience. In fact, I got
married here in 2001. The place is near
and dear to my heart. – It’s the repository of
generations of memories and I think you feel that
when you come inside, not only what has
gone in the past but you are somewhat inspired
to add your own contribution to the memories and
the wonderful things that have happened here. (bright string music) (gentle piano music
with wooden percussion)

  1. Paul Suprono

    Learned more in this last hour, about the Brown Palace . . . than the nine years I lived in Denver, and Colorado. With entertainment . . . you settled for the Red Rocks & John Denver . . . for culture, seems like the Brown Palace lead the way !

  2. Wild West Gal

    And they serve a traditional English afternoon tea!!! Ok, so this magnificent building just got added to my bucket list of places I have to stay at least once. Wonderful docu!

  3. Alan Horning

    Wow! Cheery Creak was spot in the road back then!! I have stayed in the Brown Palace many times only because I'm from Colorado and helped build so many high rise buildings for years. To me Denver Is and always will be an amazing City. I can't believe how small the Brown Palace looks now because of all the high-rise buildings around it! But they are such a respected place in Denver!!! Still one of the BEST buildings in Denver. I highly recommend If you ever get the chance to stay there. Do It!!!! Better than any place in Denver even today!!!! Also there are many tunnels under there and Denver. Most are not in use now but I did have the experience of going through them before closed. I still remember the Beatles staying there and I even went to the concert and cost ma bunch of hard earned money. 6.60 to go!! Ha Ha!!! Was Lot's of money then!! I only made 1.35 an hour. But then joined the union and made big bucks. 4.16 an hour!!!! Wow!! What memories!! Fun times back then!!

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