The Astor House Hotel stands at 822 Twelfth Street in the City of Golden. Built in 1867, the Astor House remains Colorado’s oldest standing hotel and an enduring reminder of Colorado’s commercial development. Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Astor House served several changing functions, ranging from a luxury hotel to a seedy motel catering to transients. Now owned by the city of Golden, the building was rehabilitated in the 2010s but has sat empty as the city works to identify suitable uses.
Golden, the Lake House, and “Deacon” Lake
The Astor House Hotel grew out of Golden’s early aspirations to be the political and commercial capital of Colorado. Little more than a tent city in 1858, Golden was transformed with the arrival of the Boston Company in 1859. George West constructed the town’s first frame house and W. A. H. Loveland built the town’s first store. Following the discovery of gold in Gregory Gulch, a point midway between Central City and Black Hawk, Golden became one of the area’s premier outfitters for prospectors trying their luck in the gold camps. In 1861 Congress created the Colorado Territory. Old Colorado City (part of present Colorado Springs) was initially selected as the capital, but it soon proved too remote and undeveloped. Golden was named the new territorial capital during the legislature’s second session. It remained the territorial capital until the legislature moved the capital to Denver in December 1867.
The Astor House opened in 1867, at the height of Golden’s rivalry with Denver. Following its opening, the Astor House’s stone construction served as an imposing presence in an era defined by wood and log construction. While some challenge the Astor House’s claim of being the first quarried stone building in Colorado, it remains the state’s oldest surviving hotel. Despite its stature among Colorado historic properties, the Astor House follows no established architectural style. The house’s basic form is a two-story stunted “T” plan featuring a partial basement, a partial attic, and wooden shed additions. The original building had a low-gable roof with chimneys centered at the top of its gables, along with two additional chimneys at the western rear corner and front of the roof. The Astor House’s foundation is made of rounded, fired clay and hand-cut river rock, with upper stone walls standing eighteen to twenty-four inches thick.
During its early years, the hotel was known as the Lake House after its owner and proprietor, Seth Lake. Lake was known around town as “Deacon Lake” because of his conservative religious views and his refusal to install a bar or sell alcohol at the hotel. During the Gold Rush years, the hotel built wood-frame additions to house guests, later making these structures permanent. The dining room sat sixty people, and its food gained a positive reputation in the area. Seth Lake leased the hotel in 1873 and in 1885 he sold it outright to C. W. Mon Pleasure, who promptly changed its name to Castle Rock House.
In December 1886, a fire broke out in the Astor House and rapidly spread to the nearby barn, which burned to the ground. Golden’s fire department managed to spray the house with water and, thanks to a brief lull in the wind, halt the flames. The hotel’s rear wing was badly damaged by the fire, which police later determined was likely caused by children playing with matches.
During the 1900s, the hotel changed owners several more times, eventually garnering a reputation as the area’s preeminent fleabag facility catering to transients. After another fire in 1907, the attic and roof were completely rebuilt, and a roof dormer was installed at the eastern end with a single-stack chimney and two vertical windows. During these alterations, the west end of the roof was removed and replaced with a hipped roof, and the original wooden shingles were replaced with corrugated iron.
The building’s interior features two basement compartments. The first was dug in 1895 and was accessible via a trap door in the enclosed back porch; it held the water heater. Another basement was dug in 1920 to house a furnace. The ground floor contained a prominent dining room, though a later partition split the space into a large bedroom and a living room. A large kitchen, two bathrooms, and a back porch round out the first floor, with the second story housing three bathrooms, a kitchen, and six bedrooms. The attic space contains an additional three bedrooms.
The Golden Downtown Improvement District bought the hotel in 1971 with plans to demolish the structure and install a parking lot. The Golden Landmark Association (GLA) objected to the proposed demolition and was given six months to come up with a favorable alternative to the sale. The GLA spent thousands of man-hours restoring the site and grounds, prompting the downtown improvement district to offer to sell the property at cost. The GLA could not raise the necessary funds to purchase the property, however, and asked the Golden City Council to allocate the money. The city council sent the proposed purchase to the electorate, which on June 20, 1972, voted to preserve the structure by a 2 to 1 margin. The GLA subsequently restored the entire building, complete with furnishings that recalled the hotel’s nineteenth-century construction.
In 1998 the State Historical Fund provided a $5,000 grant to the Astor House Hotel to implement an audio interpretation program. Despite its status as a local landmark and its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, fewer than ten people visited the site per day from 2000 through 2010. To increase visitation, the Golden History Museum proposed using the Astor House Hotel as a beer museum that would showcase the state’s brewing history and offer food and beer pairings. In 2015 the Astor House Hotel closed for a $500,000 rehabilitation. It remained empty for years after the renovation as the city fielded proposals for the building and debated what to do.