Rocky Mountain National Park
They have helped build Colorado’s meetings infrastructureThere are many reasons meeting planners like Colorado, among them the Rocky Mountains setting and the solid meetings infrastructure. That infrastructure wouldn’t be there, however, if Colorado hadn’t been blessed with entrepreneurial visionaries who have endowed it with some landmark meeting properties. “Colorado has become one of the most desirable meetings destinations thanks to folks like the men of the 10th Mountain Division,” says Cathy Ritter, director of the Colorado Tourism Office. “They foresaw that the ski area they were building at Vail could also become a great meetings destination. They had the vision and the will to see it through. And we’ve had a bunch of pioneers just like them to thank for one of Colorado’s strongest industries.” Many of these visionaries came from the eastern United States to search for (and find) their fortunes in Colorado, while others came with their wealth. Some made their money in silver and mining, and others did so in transportation or commerce. At least one, F.O. Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile, drove here in his fortune. These visionaries came in the 19th and 20th centuries, often bringing their famous friends with them, some of whom also played major roles in the state’s development. Many were instrumental in the establishment of Colorado’s landmark hotels. They may not have realized it at the time, but in establishing the hospitality industry here, they also helped pioneer the meetings industry.
An Italian Castle in the Old West
“I am one of the richest men in America, and I can’t buy what I want most-time.”
–Spencer PenroseSpencer Penrose left Philadelphia in 1892 to seek his fortune in Colorado. He quickly found it in real estate and mining, and by merging his Utah Copper Company with Kennecott Copper. On his overseas travels with wife Julie, Penrose became enamored of Italianate design and architecture. He decided to build a hotel incorporating that architecture in Colorado Springs, in the shadow of 14,110-foot-tall Pikes Peak.
The Broadmoor, Colorado SpringsIn 1918, he opened what’s still one of America’s grand hotels, The Broadmoor. Located in the heart of this quintessentially Western state, it was a stunning peach-colored palace. Today, The Broadmoor stands as a testament to one man’s dream. Its 5,000 acres include three championship golf courses, a spa and fitness center, a prominent tennis program and 26 retail boutiques. Its 19 restaurants include Colorado’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant, Penrose Room. In recent years, the resort has created the Broadmoor Wilderness Experience in offsite properties such as Cloud Camp, The Ranch at Emerald Valley and The Broadmoor Fishing Camp. The Broadmoor also owns local attractions such as Seven Falls, The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zipline course and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. The Broadmoor now boasts one of the finest collections of Western art in the world. In two years, it will celebrate its 100th birthday—and Penrose’s legacy—in grand style.
Father of Aspen?Jerome B. Wheeler came into money the easy way: He married into it. His wife was from the R.H. Macy family, and Wheeler eventually became president of their company, Macy’s. He visited Aspen in 1883, and was immediately taken by its beauty. So he invested in mines and the Colorado Midland Railway, and built a mountain tramway and a bank in town.
Hotel Jerome, AspenIn 1889 Wheeler spent $1 million to build Aspen’s Hotel Jerome, the first hotel in Colorado with electricity and indoor plumbing, and Wheeler Opera House. After the Panic of 1893, the hotel had several owners, among them Mansor Elisha, a Syrian-American drummer with a traveling band. Elisha owned it during a deadly flu epidemic, when its stylish parlors served as a morgue. When Prohibition came, the Jerome got around the law by serving a drink called Aspen Crud, a vanilla ice cream soda or milkshake spiked with bourbon. The beloved Aspen Crud is still served in the J-Bar. The hotel, now on the National Register of Historic Places, has been restored to its original grandeur.
Hotel Boulderado, BoulderHotel Boulderado was not built by an entrepreneur—it was built by hundreds of entrepreneurs, local businesspeople who decided their growing town needed a first-class hotel and were willing to put their money where their mouths were. The property opened in Boulder on New Year’s Day in 1909, at a cost of $131,664. Since then, it’s lived more lives than a cat, morphing from Victorian elegance through tough times in the early-1900s, prosperity in the ’20s, a collapse in the Depression, post-war modernization and subsequent deterioration. It’s now been restored to elegance, with an interesting design-mix of Italian Renaissance, Spanish Revival and Old West. Early guests included actors Ethel Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks Sr., evangelist Billy Sunday, Clarence Darrow, Helen Keller, Robert Frost, Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong. Today the Boulderado is on the National Register of Historic Places, and its turn-of-the-century elegance is epitomized by the stained-glass ceiling and cantilevered cherry-wood staircase. It’s also epitomized, according to legend, by the presence of some guests who died about 100 years ago, but who apparently liked the hotel so much that they never left.
Mayor’s Legacy in the ‘New’ Denver
16th Street Mall, Denver (photo by Jack Grey)Federico Pena, mayor of Denver from 1983 to 1991, is considered by many the architect of the “new” Denver. Where others saw a mid-sized regional city, Pena foresaw a booming international destination with first-class transportation, business, sports and cultural amenities. Under the slogan, “Imagine A Great City,” he led the effort to build Denver International Airport (DEN) and Colorado Convention Center, and establish the MLB Colorado Rockies baseball team and its downtown stadium. Yet he also preserved the city’s legacy by creating three historic districts and 350 historic landmarks. Denver is today a world-class city, with a population of 3 million, a striking glass skyline, a reputation as the Craft Beer Capital of America, and outstanding cultural facilities. It boasts a thriving tech sector, and talented millennials to power it. The 16th Street Mall is a busy, pedestrians-only retail, dining and entertainment district with free public transportation. A new light-rail system links downtown and the suburbs.
One Man’s Vision for Red Rock
“Never in any opera house the world over have I found more perfect acoustic properties.”
–Mary Garden, Scottish soprano, after performing at Red Rocks in May 1911Red Rocks Amphitheatre, seating 9,525, is arguably one of the world’s most stunning gathering places. In the early 1900s, John Brisben Walker had a vision of artists performing in the Red Rocks area, then called Garden of the Angels. He began producing open-air concerts there, changing the name to Garden of the Titans. The rest of the world heard about Garden of Titans when Walker got renowned opera singer Mary Garden to perform there in May 1911. The city of Denver acquired it from Walker in 1927 for $54,133, and the name was changed back to the original, Red Rocks. In the Depression that followed, labor and materials to build an amphitheater were provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, and construction was completed in 1941.
Vail photo by Jack Affleck
“Everybody else thought we were crazy, but we thought we could do any damned thing we decided to do.”
–Pete Seibert, in a 1989 interviewAll Pete Seibert wanted to do after World War II was get back to skiing. His unit, the famed 10th Mountain Division, had trained near Vail Valley. Seibert returned after the war, joined Aspen Ski Patrol and eventually became manager of Loveland Basin Ski Area. He and friend Earl Eaton got the idea to develop their own ski resort there: The two climbed Vail Mountain during the winter of 1957, and agreed that was the spot for it. Vail Mountain was then owned by the United States Forest Service, and the valley was owned by ranchers. Seibert cobbled together a group of investors who came up with $1 million, the amount required for a permit. Initial investors got the steal of their lives, paying $10,000 for a condominium and a lifetime pass. Seibert would be thrilled to know that people now come from all over the world to ski at Vail Mountain Resort, and from all over the country to meet there.
Welcome to the Hotel ColoradoModeled after a palace outside Rome, Hotel Colorado opened in Glenwood Springs in 1893 under the ownership of silver-mining moguls led by Walter B. Devereux. It cost $850,000 and was built with 3 million bricks and 10 tons of sandstone. With its elegance and European spa, the resort instantly became a playground for the wealthy. The pool had an electrically lit fountain shooting 185 feet into the air, and the lounge boasted a waterfall 25 feet high. Unfortunately, a silver panic hit two months later and for a time, the only occupants were said to be ghosts. But by the early-1900s, the hotel was again attracting the swanky set. Among them was President Theodore Roosevelt, who made the Hotel Colorado his base during bear-hunting trips. Legend has it that the Colorado was actually the birthplace of the teddy bear. Hotel maids apparently gave the president a toy bear after he failed to bag any real ones, and his daughter, Alyce, dubbed it the teddy bear. The unsinkable Molly Brown was another frequent visitor, hobnobbing with her society friends. Today there’s a Molly Brown Suite, with family photos, memorabilia and period furnishings.
The Wonder of Rocky Mountain National Park
“My chief aim in life is to arouse interest in the outdoors.”
–Enos MillsEnos Mills was ahead of his time. In the late-1800s, he was a naturalist, conservationist, nature guide, businessman and author. At age 15, he made the first of his nearly 340 trips up 14,255-foot Longs Peak. He met famed naturalist John Muir in 1889, and a lifelong friendship began. From then on, Mills dedicated his life to conservation. Aided by groups such as Sierra Club, Mills lobbied Congress to establish a national park in the area, and in 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park was established. The park encompasses 415 sq. mi. and features more than 300 miles of hiking trails, wildflowers and wildlife. Mills later turned to writing about conservation, and produced a prodigious amount of work. He once said that if it hadn’t been for Muir, he would have been a wanderer rather than a writer.
Stanley Hotel, Estes ParkFreelan Oscar (F.O.) Stanley reportedly arrived in Estes Park in style in 1903—in the famous Stanley Steamer automobile he invented a few years earlier. But he didn’t go there to relax: He built The Stanley Hotel in 1909. He then constructed a road from Lyons so people could get to his white-Victorian lodge; often, he drove them there himself. He created Estes Park’s first bank, and then sewage, power and water systems. Along with Mills, he lobbied for the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park, which he knew would bring tourism to the area. Stanley’s Steamer automobile is long since gone. But his hotel stands proudly overlooking the beautiful mountain village of Estes Park, an eternal monument to Stanley’s vision.