American, land of the free and home of the brave. Once she was thought to be the land of milk and honey. Full of splendor and promise, she was the belle of the ball, exuding opulence and grandeur. During the late 1800’s, heavy industrialization proliferated throughout the eastern states of a still young America. Fortunes where made and the rich, luxuriated in their lavish lifestyles of wealth and abundance. This sprang forth the Gilded Age, an era of rapid economic and population growth in the United States during the post-Civil War and post-Reconstruction eras of the late 19th century. The term “Gilded Age” was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.
The Gold Boom’s of California in 1848 and Colorado in 1859 further expanded both the population and fortunes of our great nation. The Colorado gold rush, which followed approximately a decade after the California Gold Rush, was accompanied by a dramatic influx of emigrants into the region of the Rocky Mountains and exemplified by the phrase “Pikes Peak or Bust”, a reference to the mountain in the Front Range that guided many early prospectors to the region westward over the Great Plains. The prospectors provided the first major white population in the region, leading to the creation of many early towns in the region, including Denver and Boulder, as well as many other smaller mining towns, some of which have survived.
Many struck off to Colorado, looking to stake their own claim on fortune. Henry Cordes Brown, a carpenter-turned-real-estate entrepreneur from Ohio, came to Denver in 1860 after a number of adventures in California, Peru, Nebraska and St. Louis, Missouri. In Denver, Brown purchased several acres of land, including a triangular plot at the corners of Broadway, Tremont and 17th street, where he grazed his cow.
Brown originally left his Ohio home in 1860, planning on striking it rich in California. However, as his family passed through Denver, his wife liked it so much, she reportedly said to him, “Mr. Brown, thou may press on to California if such be thy wish. I shall remain here.”
Making Denver their home, the Browns soon homesteaded 160 acres on what would later become known as Capitol Hill. A shrewd businessman, Brown soon developed the acreage into the most influential neighborhood in the city, where the wealthy began to build palatial brownstone mansions up and down Grant and Sherman Streets.
Henry made a fortune from his real estate development; however the economic panic of 1877 nearly destroyed him. He was forced to sell his palatial estate to Horace Tabor for $50,000, but the enterprising Brown soon recovered his fortune and by 1880 was worth nearly five million dollars, making him one of the wealthiest men in Colorado.
When the Windsor Hotel, one of Denver’s most elegant at the time, would not let Brown enter because he was dressed in cowboy attire, Brown decided to build his own hotel, and in the process, outdo the Windsor. In 1888, he retained architect Frank E. Edbrooke to design a new hotel, the likes of which had never before been seen in Denver.
Edbrooke designed Brown’s hotel in the Italian Renaissance style, using Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone for the building’s exterior. For a finishing touch, artist James Whitehouse was commissioned to create 26 medallions carved in stone, each depicting a native Rocky Mountain animal. The hotel’s “silent guests” can still be seen between the seventh floor windows on the hotel’s exterior.
For the interior, Edbrooke designed an atrium lobby, with balconies rising eight floors above ground, surrounded by cast iron railings with ornate grillwork panels. No one knows for sure whether it was done intentionally, but two of the grillwork panels were installed – and remain – upside down. Edbrooke imported onyx from Mexico for the lobby, the Grand Salon (now the Onyx Room) on the second floor, and the eighth floor ballroom. The hotel was hailed as the second fire-proof building in America. No wood was used for the floors and walls, which were instead made of hollow blocks of porous terracotta fireproofing.
After an expenditure of $1.6 million – a remarkable sum for the time – and another $400,000 for furniture, The Brown Palace Hotel opened on Aug. 12, 1892. It had 400 guest rooms (compared to 241 today) that rented for between $3 and $5 a night. There were two banquet halls, a ladies’ ordinary (lounge), and a Grand Salon. The lobby housed a smoking room, a men’s bar, a ladies’ waiting room, and at least 18 stores. Today, there are four restaurants, 11 banquet rooms (all but one on the second floor), a gift shop, spa, floral shop and business center.
There were, and still are, many interesting and unique features about The Brown Palace. Because of its triangular shape, all rooms face the street. Early on, guests were asked whether they preferred morning or afternoon sun. The hotel derives all of its water from its own original artesian well. A huge carousel oven, at least half as old as the hotel and one of only three known to be in existence, still turns out the melba toast, macaroons and other baked goods on a daily basis in The Brown Palace bakery.
The Brown Palace Hotel has been open for business every minute of every day since Aug. 12, 1892. Unlike most and perhaps even all historic hotels, The Brown Palace has never closed for renovation. Instead, it has been remodeled, refurbished, updated and redecorated on an ongoing basis, including the latest $6.5 million restoration of the top two floors, and $3 million for the newly constructed Spa at The Brown Palace.
Standing the test of time, The Brown Palace today remains what it was originally meant to be – a grand, unprecedented hotel. Indeed, The Brown Palace is still known for many of its original qualities: its unusual triangular shape, its stunning, eight-story atrium lobby, its elegant atmosphere, and perhaps most importantly, its ability to treat weary travelers like royalty.
The Brown Palace is truly a rare gem. Few places exist in this day and age which exude the same grandeur and regalia. They sure don’t make them like they used too! A chance last minute business meeting landed us in Denver last week- on a long Memorial Day weekend, nevertheless. We stayed at the Brown Palace, where we did indeed feel like we had stepped back in time and where we also felt like we were being treated like royalty.
What has this all got to do with my meager little food blog, you may ask?
We where also very pleased to find out Denver happens to be a splendid little food town. Here are a few highlights from our food-filled adventure in the Mile High city…
located at The Brown Palace, Denver Colorado
The Delectable Egg
Lou’s Food Bar
1851 West 38th AVE.
TAG Continental Social Food
Denver, CO 80202
The Windy Saddle
1110 Washington Avenue
Golden, Colorado 80401
The Brown Palace Atrium
The Brown Palace
Denver has a fabulous food scene indeed. We just touched the tip of the iceberg in the four days we where there. On a return trip, and very soon, I might add, we hope to visit Table 6, Riajo, Bistro Vendome, and Panzano as well as the many other outstanding eateries, food trucks and other culinary delights which Denver has to offer!
Notable Guests at The Brown Palace
Since Theodore Roosevelt visited in 1905 en route to a bear hunt in the Colorado Rockies, every U.S. President except Calvin Coolidge has stayed at the Brown Palace Hotel. Dwight Eisenhower even ran his 1952 presidential campaign from offices on the second floor of the hotel.
During World War II, troops were quartered at the Brown Palace Hotel and soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division were known to rappel from the balconies, much to the management’s chagrin.
Pop-star Billy Joel once joined the lobby pianist for a duet, and actress Zsa Zsa Gabor’s cat was once lost in the hotel heating system.
The Beatles stayed at the Brown Palace during their 1964 tour and the hotel was inundated with applications from young women eager to work as housekeepers during their stay.
The Rolling Stones brought more than 200 pieces of luggage during their two-night stay in 2003.