For years, the historic Colorado National Bank building in downtown Denver has been shuttered. In 2009, Englewood-based Stonebridge Companies bought the empty building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and in May it will reopen as a 230-room Renaissance Hotel.
That's good news for fans of the late muralist Allen Tupper True. In the 1920s, True painted a group of murals for the marble-clad lobby depicting scenes of Native Americans, which he called Indian Memories. They are considered to be among True's best work.
The murals were in surprisingly good condition says Tommy Nigro, vice president of real estate for Stonebridge.
"They were dirty, so we had them cleaned up by historic preservationists," Nigro says. "It was a relatively low-tech approach, with just soap and water and a lot of labor."
The building, by contrast, needed "a lot of sprucing up" according to Nigro.
"There was a lot of graffiti on the outside of the building," he notes. "It was really run down."
Stonebridge added two new floors to accommodate hotel rooms but left the three-story interior atrium largely intact. It will serve as the hotel's lobby and will be open to the public. Several of the old bank vaults have been converted into dining and meeting rooms.
True was born in Colorado Springs in 1881 and is considered Colorado's premier muralist, says Alisa Zahller, curator for art and design at History Colorado. Other examples of True's murals can be seen at the Colorado State Capitol, the Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Co. building, Denver Civic Center and the Brown Palace Hotel. True died in 1955 at the age of 74.
True began painting Indian Memories in 1923 and completed the project in 1925. There are six scenes: “Youth,” “The Buffalo Hunt,” “War,” “Girlhood Beckoning,” “The Bead Worker” and “Happy Hunting Ground,” the largest panel. True said his intention was to depict Native Americans as they existed before the arrival of the white race: "days when he roamed the beautiful untouched reaches of our west in deep but unconscious sympathy with the loveliness of primeval nature."
"He really wanted to elevate the idea of American Indians," Zahller says. "He felt that, in the past, they were featured as savage and not having culture. So these really have to do with American Indian spiritualism and the virtues of American Indian life."