Ghosts of travelers past

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The former Acacia Hotel on Platte Avenue now provides affordable housing for senior citizens.

The former Acacia Hotel on Platte Avenue now provides affordable housing for senior citizens.

Perry Sanders’ plans to convert the Mining Exchange Building and two adjacent properties into a luxury hotel would double the downtown hotel count – from one to two.

But 82 years ago, a traveler seeking a hotel room would have had many more choices.

According to the 1927 edition of Polk’s Colorado Springs Directory, downtown boasted no fewer than 24 hotels. Of them, only the Antlers remains – although the magnificent building which bore that name during 1927 was demolished 45 years ago.

The hotels clustered around the city’s primary transportation hub. Two railroads served downtown and as many as 30 passenger trains stopped every day to embark or disembark passengers.

Many of the city’s then-splendid hotels dated from the great Cripple Creek boom. Annual gold production rose from 100,000 ounces during 1893 to 1 million ounces during 1900.

The second Antlers Hotel, built during 1901 to replace an earlier structure that was destroyed by fire, was characterized by Marshall Sprague as “the greatest hostelry in the West.” So prestigious was the Antlers that John D. Rockefeller, scheduled to be the guest of honor at the opening of The Broadmoor Hotel on June 1, 1918, took one look at Spencer Penrose’s new hotel, and hightailed it to the Antlers, claiming that the smell of fresh paint gave him a headache.

Other substantial downtown hotels included the Alamo, the Acacia, the Alta Vista and the Plaza. Leaving the luxury market to the Antlers, they catered to commercial travelers, businessmen, tourists and visitors of all kinds.

A fragment of the Alamo hotel, which once occupied half a city block at 132 S. Tejon St., has been preserved and now houses offices as well as MacKenzie’s Chop House.

The Alta Vista, situated on an entire city block at 112 N. Cascade Ave., was the home of inventor Nicola Tesla from 1899-1901. A stately stone and brick structure, it was torn down during 1963, a year before the Antlers met a similar fate.

Ralph Hibbard, whose family has owned businesses in downtown Colorado Springs since the 19th century, has fond memories of the Alta Vista.

“There was a restaurant in the lower level – more of a lunchroom, I guess – and there was a big round table where all the businessmen used to meet,” he said. “My dad took me a few times, and we’d have lunch with all the old-timers. I remember that Mayor Bill Henderson would be there – you’d just sit down at the big table, and have lunch with whoever showed up.”

A score of smaller establishments which offered shelter to the less well-heeled, were clustered in the downtown core.

“The Kachina Lounge was in the Alta Vista, and I vaguely remember that a couple of the smaller hotels were still around,” said downtown property owner Greg Butler. “There was one on Weber, and there was The Rex next to the old Giuseppe’s.”

Hibbard also remembers The Rex.

“I think it was pretty sleazy by the time I saw it,” he said. “I remember going in the lobby once – I don’t know why.”

The Rex, at 120 S. Cascade, endured until a city-sponsored urban renewal project wiped out several square blocks of Victorian commercial buildings during the early 1970s. The site of The Rex is now a grassy knoll immediately north of the Pikes Peak Center.

Other small hotels listed in the Polk directory, such as the Clinton, the Elk, the Everhart, the Kennebec and the Imperial, have disappeared without a trace.

The buildings that once housed the Acacia and the Plaza have survived, although they’re no longer hotels. The city-owned Acacia, at 104 E. Platte Ave., is used primarily for senior housing, while the Plaza, now the property of Colorado College, is an office building.

The Cheyenne Building, which now houses the Phantom Canyon brewpub, was originally a hotel. Located two blocks from the D&RGW Depot, it was a solid, unpretentious establishment which catered to traveling salesmen and to railroad crews making an overnight stop.

The Savoy was located at 24 S. Nevada, just across the alley from the Mining Exchange Building. Torn down during the early 1930s, it was replaced by the now-vacant former city utilities building, which is prized by preservationists for its art deco architecture.

Terry Sullivan, president and CEO of Experience Colorado Springs, the convention and visitors bureau, said he’s excited about the prospect of a new downtown hotel – especially in a renovated historic building.

“We’re unique in that we only have one hotel in the downtown area – and that’s why the Antlers does so well,” he said. “Nowadays, many travelers will specify a downtown hotel because they want a downtown experience.”

Sullivan said that boutique hotels in renovated buildings are great products.

“They’ve worked well in Denver and in many cities,” he said. “It will do well, and we need more product – so let it come.”

One Response to Ghosts of travelers past

  1. Great story, John. One downtown hotel is definitely not enough. There’s certainly a niche for a high-service, boutique business travel hotel “in the thick” of downtown. Having worked in the local hotel business for 25+ years, my customers tell me so.

    The hotel story I enjoy sharing the most is of Mother Maggard’s boarding house in Old Colorado City. She moved from Denver to OCC and hosted the territorial legislature at her “hotel” when they first convened there in 1861. One of the legislators’ first acts was to moved the territorial capitol up north. They didn’t appreciate her requirement that guests assist with the household work (fetching water, cutting wood, etc.).

    Quality hotel accommodations have always been a hallmark of civilization in any community. Colorado Springs has been somewhat lucky (the Broadmoor), and not so most recently — an overbuilt market with declining occupancies and rates.

    Stu Woods
    June 17, 2009 at 6:55 am