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A stay at Denver’s historic Brown Palace Hotel

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Warren Resen, North American Travel Journalists Association, w630@aol.com
Photos by Jeanne O’Connor

A lot of mileage had been added to our car’s odometer since leaving Florida and traveling west to Yellowstone. Now it was time to start heading home.

Miles and miles of driving on uncrowned and sometimes deserted highways had been a delight. Driving from Custer, SD to our next stop in Denver was an easy half-day trip. But driving in Denver with its urban traffic, road construction and pedestrians was a return to reality.

Our stay was for two nights at the elegant Brown Palace Hotel in the heart of the city. Contrary to what many might think, the hotel was not named for “The Unsinkable” Molly Brown of the Titanic and later movie fame but for its builder, Henry C. Brown.

The Brown Palace Hotel opened its doors in the heart of downtown Denver on August 12, 1892. It was a momentous event for that time. The hotel’s brochure describes the building’s design, “…as a remarkable piece of Victorian architecture based on the Italian Renaissance style.” Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone was used for the building’s exterior. As a whimsical finishing touch 26 medallions carved in stone, each depicting a native Rocky Mountain animal can still be seen between the seventh floor windows on the hotel’s exterior. They are still referred to as the hotel’s “silent guests.”

The interior atrium lobby, its balconies rising eight floors, is surrounded by cast iron railings with ornate grillwork panels. Onyx imported from Mexico was extensively used in the lobby, the Grand Salon (now the Onyx Room) on the second floor and the eighth floor ballroom. The atrium is capped with stained glass allowing daylight to softly illuminate the lobby.

The hotel has remained open and welcomed guests every day since its opening. Afternoon high tea is served in the hotel’s lobby while live music from a harp or piano plays softly in the background. The Brown Palace Hotel was the height of luxury when it opened 121 years ago and after all these years still retains its elegance and sophistication.

From its very beginning the hotel’s drinking and bathing water has been drawn up from its own artesian well, 750 feet underground. This is also part of the hotel’s history. The most visual evidence of this is the two ornate silver drinking fountains in the lobby. Visitors are free to drink the clean, clear artesian water anytime.

Every president, save two, from the time of Theodore Roosevelt has stayed here. Three spacious presidential suites honoring Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan are available to guests. And then there is the suite named in honor of The Beatles, who also called the Brown Palace Hotel home during their appearance in Denver. Read on to find out which presidents have not been guests at the hotel.

Because of its history and elegance, the Brown Palace Hotel is a valued member of Historic Hotels of America. For more than forty years this organization’s members have been committed to providing their guests with unparalleled experiences, service and elegant sophistication in the most desired locations around the world.

During the week, the Brown Palace Hotel is more of a business destination than a tourist hangout. This in-city location makes it the perfect place to go and be seen in any of its restaurants and taverns all accessible from the lobby. There is so much history associated with the hotel that guided tours take place every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon to imbue visitors with the hotel’s historical importance to Denver.

The Brown Palace Hotel’s central city location allows guests easy access to many of Denver’s cultural and historical attractions especially the famed 16th Street Pedestrian Mall only one short block away.

Built in 1982, the Mall is a tree-lined, pedestrian promenade of red-and-gray granite that runs through the center of Downtown and is lined with outdoor cafes, renovated historic office buildings, glass-walled skyscrapers, shops, movies, restaurants and retail stores. Numerous fountains and plazas offer a variety of daily special events and FREE shuttle buses cruise the mile-long Mall seven days a week.

A stop well worth taking in the city is the home of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” In no way does it resemble the Hollywood mansion in which Debbie Reynolds lived when she played the role of this remarkable woman in the film. This house was typical of a prosperous merchant. However, despite the Hollywood embellishments, the movie gave fame to the extraordinary exploits of Mrs. Brown.

Take the tour and you’ll learn that the docents refer to its owner as Margaret Brown. They will tell you that the banner outside promoting it as the home of the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” was done because people might not know who Margaret Brown was.

Also within the city is the Denver Botanic Gardens, a delightful respite from tall buildings and traffic. Built over what once was a cemetery, this gem breathed new life into an old neighborhood. Every inch of its 23 acres is filled with themed gardens, color, hidden paths, shaded seating, architectural highlights and more. The gardens are a delight to the eye and senses. And for real nature viewing, the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park is only about a 1 ½ hour drive from Denver.

Every hotel at which we have stayed so far in our trip has reflected the flavor of its locale. Not being easily forgettable look alike motel chains, they have provided us with insights into the area making it easier to remember where we stayed and what we did.

In New Orleans it was the Hotel Monteleone in The French Quarter. At the La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe, we were surrounded by Spanish Colonial culture and the amazing art of the city. The Wort Hotel in Jackson Hole pays homage to the Old West and the area’s great outdoors. The Cowboy Town of Cody, WY is a city of Stetson hats and rodeos. The Chamberlin Inn was our oasis of calm while exploring this fun city. Now we were at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, a major city with all of a big city’s virtues.

We had one more stop scheduled at the storied Grove Park Inn, Asheville, NC before heading home to plan our next “See the USA” trip.

Who are the two US presidents who have not visited Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel? The first was Calvin Coolidge (#30) and Barak Obama (#44). However, President Obama still has time to correct this grievous oversight.

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