Denver - Past & Present
There was a time when Denver Colorado was only considered a “gateway city to the Rocky Mountains,” or the nearest airport city to the hip and artsy city of Boulder. Ironically, Denver was hip before the word was invented. In fact, some of the world's most fascinating iconoclasts once lived here. Their presence echoes within Denver's hotels, bars, restaurants and parks.
Railroads and Silver: How It All Began
During the late 19th century, two significant events put Denver, Colorado on the map.
1. The building of the Denver Pacific Railroad in 1868
2. The discovery of silver in the nearby mountains in 1880
The railroad delivered tourists, new residents and supplies to the mile-high city, and the discovery of silver bought wealth and opulence, which often danced on the borderline of gaudiness. The influx of tourists necessitated a place for them to stay, and the newly-rich silver barons knew exactly what to do with their money.
The Grand Hotels of Denver
Denver has its share of modern, big-box hotels, but those who yearn for an authentic taste of the city's history should book a stay at one its well-preserved Victorian hotels. These hotels preserve the ambiance of the past, while offering modern amenities.
The Oxford Hotel
Denver's first hotel, the Oxford, opened in 1891. Its cutting-edge technology, which included an elevator, steam heat and electric lighting, wowed its wealthy and sophisticated patrons. In the 21st century, extensive renovations restored the hotel's Victorian splendor, but despite claw-foot bathtubs and four-poster beds, free Wi-Fi, Bose stereo systems, mp3 player docking stations and plasma TVs satisfy those who require the conveniences of modern technology.
The hotel bar, called the Cruise Room, claims to be Denver's first bar. Its opening occurred in 1933, on the day after the repeal of Prohibition. The bar houses examples of 19th and early 20th-century works of art. Some of the pieces were offered in exchange for payment of the artist's hotel bill or bar tab.
The Brown Palace Hotel
The Brown Palace Hotel -- listed with the Historic Hotels of America --opened on August 12, 1892. Sandstone and red granite comprise the hotel's distinctive exterior, and a close examination reveals 26 hand-carved stone medallions depicting typical animals of the Rocky Mountain. Step inside and marvel at the first atrium lobby in the United States, appropriately adorned with white onyx and marble and an elaborate stained-glass ceiling.
The Brown Palace Hotel offers tours of the premises. You might even view the hotel's three presidential hotel suites -- the Roosevelt, the Eisenhower and the Reagan -- named after presidents who have stayed there. Other guests of distinction who stayed at the Brown Palace, includes Titanic survivor, Molly Brown.
The Iconoclasts of Denver
Molly Brown, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg and Golda Meir are just a few of the people who lived in Denver at various points of their life. While all of them represent the “take the road less traveled by” philosophy, they seemed to have blossomed while living in Denver. Evidence of their former presence still graces some of Denver's neighborhoods.
Unsinkable Molly Brown
Margaret Tobin Brown began life in 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri. Her parents were part of a progressive group of Irish immigrants, who held enlightened views about education, freedom and equality. Molly moved to Leadville Colorado at age 19, where she met her husband, silver mine worker James Joseph Brown.
The Silver Crash
The silver crash of 1893 brought poverty to Leadville, Colorado, but James Joseph Brown had a stroke of luck when he discovered gold in the Little Johnny Mine. The owners of the mine rewarded the Browns with generous shares in their company. The Browns became overnight millionaires, and used their newly-earned wealth to finance their move to Denver.
Denver and the Progressive Movement
Denver also suffered from the effects of the silver crash. Entire families were homeless and starving. The Progressive Movement formed as a result of these conditions. Molly joined these reformers and fought for the installation of public baths in the courthouse, more public parks and other urban improvements.
The Travels of Molly Brown
Travel joined philanthropy as one of the Brown's passions. Their wanderings delivered them to Ireland, France, Russia, India and Japan, and other corners of the globe. Molly wrote travel articles for the Denver newspapers. She was traveling through Europe and the Middle East, when she learned that her grandson was ill. Molly booked passage back home on the Titanic, where her heroism in getting people to safety and assisting the survivors and getting people to safety won her recognition from the French Legion of Honour and other organizations. The Molly Brown House Museum in Denver features detailed, informative tours that show the highlights of this heroic woman's life.
Drinking With the Beats
In 1947, a young man named Jack Kerouac left New York City, and headed for San Francisco. He stopped in Denver and met poet Allen Ginsberg and his protégé, Neal Cassady. During this time-frame, Ginsberg lived in the Colburn Hotel. He and Neal Cassady spent many a drunken evening at Charlie Brown's, the bar on the ground floor of the hotel. Charlie Brown's was not their only watering hole. A note on the wall of My Brother's Bar, once called Paul's Place reads:
At the corner of 15th and Platte streets there's a cafe called Paul's Place, where my brother used to be a bartender before the army… I believe I owe them about 3 or 4 dollars. If you happen to be in that vicinity please drop in and pay it will you?"
The note is from none other than Neal Cassady. If you read Kerouac's On the Road, you know that Cassady inspired the Dean Moriarty character, and that Sal Paradisio embodies Kerouac's own persona. In 1974, Kerouac and Ginsberg co-founded the Naropa Institute's School for Disembodied Poets.
From the Gold Rush to Golda
In her autobiography, Golda Meir wrote that “It was in Denver that my real education began.” The former Israeli prime minister was born in the present day Ukraine, and spent her childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At 14, her mother wanted her to leave school and get marries. Golda had other plans. She hopped a train to Denver, and went to live with her married sister, Sheyna Korngold. The Korngolds hosted intellectual debates at their home, ranging from Zionism to women's suffrage and trade unionism. While living in Denver, she also met Meyer Meyerson, who she eventually married.
Golda Meir House
In 1981, experts identified a duplex at 1606-1608 Julian Street as the Denver home of Golda Meir. The house, scheduled for demolition, was rescued by a small group of concerned citizens. In 1988, the Auraria Foundation relocated the house to the Auraria Campus. Visitors enter and see Golda's kitchen as it appeared when she lived here.
A four-square block area -- called the Denver Performing Arts Complex -- opened in 1978. Its centerpiece, the Boettcher Concert Hall, was modeled after the Berlin Philharmonie in Germany. The facility continued to grow, and this multi-venue site now accommodates all types of dance, music and dramatic events. In addition to this larger complex, Denver keeps its commitment to thinking outside the box by offering a large selection of independent theaters. The Curious Theater, located within a former 19th century church, is an example.
The next time your plane lands in Denver, stay a few days before rushing off to your next destination.