For more than a century, the Brown Palace Hotel has been setting the standard for luxurious accommodations in Denver, Colorado. Not only is it a place steeped in history while modernized for today’s travelers, but it is also said to play host to several other era spirits.
Opened in 1892 by Henry Cordes Brown, the hotel has never closed, not even for a day, though it has undergone numerous renovations.
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 that 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 Capitol Hill. A shrewd businessman, Brown 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. However, 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.
At an unprecedented $1.6 million cost, the luxury hotel was built in the Italian Renaissance style on a triangular lot at the intersection of 17th and Broadway. The exterior was built with Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone, with 26 hand-carved stone medallions depicting a native Rocky Mountain animal. Made by James Whitehouse, the carvings can still be seen between the seventh-floor windows on the hotel’s exterior.
Inside, the hotel featured the nation’s first atrium lobby with balconies rising eight floors above the ground. White onyx and marble were imported for the lobby, the Grand Salon, and the eighth-floor ballroom and some $400,000 was spent on the fine furnishings that graced the hotel.
On August 12, 1892, the hotel opened to the awed socialites of Denver, who were stunned by the iron grillwork panels, the volume of onyx and marble, the stained-glass ceiling at the top of the eight-story atrium, the fine furnishings, and numerous amenities.
Serving only the very best, the Brown Palace initially provided meat, vegetables, and cream from its own farms. It generated its own electricity, had its own incineration system for garbage, and its own artesian well to provide water.
During the hotel’s early days, a tunnel connected the Brown Palace with the Navarre building across the street, a gambling den and a brothel.
Over the years, the fabulous hotel has seen hundreds of celebrity guests, from Presidents to Rock Stars. It has a wealth of stories ranging from Prohibition raids to champion bulls having been displayed in its lobby, to the birth of the Denver Broncos, to — you got it – ghosts!
One old legend is that of a Denver socialite who once lived in room 904 from 1940 to 1955. Later, when the hotel began to offer tours, the story of her life and heartbreak over a lost love was told to the visitors. Strangely, the switchboard suddenly began to receive calls from room 904. But this was impossible, as, at the time, the room was undergoing renovation and had no furnishings, lights, carpet, or telephone lines. Before long, the story was eliminated from the tour, and the telephone calls from room 904 stopped coming.
The main hotel’s dining room, called Ellyngton’s today, was once known as the San Marco Room, where big bands played, and later the San Marco Strings entertained the guests. One night after an employee heard strange sounds coming from the room; he walked in to find a formally dressed string quartet practicing their music. Stunned, he said to the musicians, “You’re not supposed to be in here,” only to hear their nonchalant reply, “Oh, don’t worry about us. We live here.”
Another employee encountered the apparition of a man dressed in an old-fashioned train conductor’s uniform. Appearing for just a moment, he then disappeared through the wall. The spirit was seen at the current location of the airline ticket office, which once housed the railroad ticket office.
Other reports include the frequent sighting of a uniformed waiter who is seen in the service elevator, cheerful children who are known to gallop in the hallways, and a baby’s cries often heard in the boiler room.
Today, while the surrounding modern skyscrapers may dwarf the Brown Palace Hotel, its reputation is no less grand than it was over a century ago.
The Brown Palace Hotel
321 17th St.
Denver, Colorado 80202
303-297-3111 or 800-321-2599
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated December 2022.
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