Can you name a building in Denver that’s older than the state Capitol, was one of the first fire proof buildings in the country and has hosted almost every U.S. president since Teddy Roosevelt? Here’s a hint: Its 125th birthday is this weekend.
Yep, we’re talking about Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel.
The anniversary celebration kicks off Aug. 10 and runs through the weekend. But before the festivities begin, now is a good time to take a trip down memory lane with one of Denver’s most iconic buildings.
The Birth Of The Brown Palace
Henry C. Brown, with architect Frank E. Edbrooke, built the Brown Palace Hotel in 1892. Both had a hand in the construction of the state Capitol building as well.
With the arrival of the railroads in the 1870s, Denver was often thought of as the center of the Rocky Mountain Empire with 17th Street being “the Wall Street of the West.” The Brown Palace wasn’t at the center of the action — at first.
“There were a lot of really rather grand hotels already in Denver, but they were all down at the other end of 17th Street kind of clustered around Union Station,” Brown Palace Historian Debra Faulkner told Colorado Matters in 2013. “But with the Capitol going up they sensed a need for something grand much closer to that.”
The Brown Palace was designed to be a completely fire proof building. Instead of wood, it has a skeleton structure made up of iron, steel and concrete. The building was also equipped with a 700-feet deep artesian well that supplies every drop of water in the hotel, even the water in the toilets.
Tunnels were also built under the Brown Palace. They were most likely used for coal carts, but old rumors say guests in the early 1900s also used them to access a brothel across the street.
The Brown Palace Through History
Whenever the Unsinkable Molly Brown stayed in Denver it was usually at the Brown Palace. She was well-liked around the hotel too, apparently buying presents for every bellhop, doorman, wait staff and housekeeper during Christmas.
Beginning with Theodore Roosevelt, every president, apart from three, has visited the Brown Palace. The only presidents to not make it to the hotel are Calvin Coolidge, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
The Brown Palace becomes the site of a double murder when two men tried to win the love of married socialite Isabel Springer. Businessman Frank Henwood murdered Tony von Phul of St. Louis when their argument over Isabel escalated to gun shots. In the crossfire, a bystander, George Copeland, was also killed.
Room 321 is a huge tourist destination for Chinese visitors because the first president of China, Sun Yat-sen, was staying in that room at the Brown Palace when the Republic of China declared its independence on January 1, 1912. The room has since become a sort of “pilgrimage spot for Chinese tourists.”
For the last 72 years, the Brown Palace has invited the top prize winning steers from National Western Stock Show’s Junior Livestock Show. These days the steers are sent to a meat packing plant after their time at the Brown Palace. In a now-defunct “meet ‘em and eat ‘em” tradition, the steers would be served right in the hotel following their moment in the spotlight.
When The Beatles played their only Colorado show at Red Rocks, they stayed at the Brown Palace. That gave birth to the iconic Beatles Suite at the hotel. Later, the Brown Palace sold one inch squares of the sheets John, Paul, George and Ringo slept on. The price? A mere 25 cents.
Folk star Joan Baez first met The Beatles at Red Rocks. She went back to the Brown Palace with them after the show to talk them into meeting Bob Dylan. That connection had a great influence on their later music.
President Bill Clinton chose Denver to host the 23rd annual G7 summit (later re-named G8 after the addition of Russia) and they all stayed at the Brown Palace. Every major world leader and their staff was put up in the hotel.
After the Brown Palace passed through three different owners’ hands, it was up for sale for a fourth time. Previous owners Brown Palace Joint Ventures sold the hotel to current owners Crow Holdings Capital Partners for $103 million.