Financed by and named after the early Denver developer Henry C. Brown, the Brown Palace Hotel opened on Broadway in 1892 in an elegant triangular building that was the tallest in the city at the time. For much of the twentieth century the hotel was owned by the Boettcher family, which expanded it with a modern hotel tower across the street. A charter member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America, the hotel hosted world leaders during the G8 summit in 1997 and continues to be a Denver landmark.
Henry Brown’s Palace
Henry Brown came to Denver in 1860 and quickly became one of the growing city’s most important businessmen and developers. In 1864 he filed claim on the land that became Capitol Hill (he donated the land for the state capitol), and he also owned the triangular plot between Seventeenth Street, Tremont Place, and Broadway that would become the Brown Palace. It is unknown whether the idea for an elegant hotel on that spot originated with Brown or William H. Bush. In any case, Bush and his English friend James Duff made a provisional contract with Brown for the land and excavated a foundation in 1888. They ran out of money before construction started, however, and had to convince Brown to step in and build the hotel.
In 1889 or 1890, Brown hired the architect Frank Edbrooke to draw up plans for the hotel. Edbrooke had just designed the Oxford Hotel (1890) at the other end of Seventeenth Street, which is now the only surviving hotel in Denver older than the Brown Palace. For the Brown Palace he planned a triangular building to fit the plot of land, and he wrapped the building’s three sides around a large atrium. At nine stories, it would be the tallest building in Denver, with a red sandstone exterior in the popular Richardsonian Romanesque style. The blueprints for the building reportedly took up two tons of paper.
The H. C. Brown Palace opened on August 12, 1892. It cost $2 million to build and furnish. The result was a luxurious hotel—considered the finest between Chicago and the West Coast—in which each of the 400 guest rooms had a window (thanks to the triangular design) and a fireplace. The lobby had 12,000 square feet of Mexican onyx paneling. The eight-story atrium at its center was topped by a stained-glass ceiling and a skylight, and the eighth floor held a two-story dining room and a two-story ballroom with sweeping views of the Rocky Mountains. When it opened, the building boasted elevators, steam heat, a private electric plant, and a private artesian well dug 750 feet into the ground. It was also one of the first fireproof buildings in the United States.
The Brown Palace opened at an unfavorable moment, however. The Panic of 1893 arrived the next year, forcing Brown to take out loans on the hotel to cover his debts. He feared that N. Maxcy Tabor, Horace Tabor’s son and one of the hotel’s managers, would try to take control of the heavily mortgaged hotel, so in 1900 he persuaded Cripple Creek millionaire Winfield Scott Stratton to acquire the hotel’s mortgage for $800,000. After Stratton died in 1902, the title to the hotel ultimately passed to the Myron Stratton Home, a charitable home for orphans and the elderly in Colorado Springs to which Stratton had dedicated the bulk of his estate.
The Brown Palace Tower
In 1922 the Myron Stratton Home sold the Brown Palace to the Fifteenth Street Investment Company, which was run by Horace Bennett and Charles Boettcher. Boettcher, who had made a fortune in hardware, sugar beets, cement, and a variety of other businesses, had separated from his wife in 1915 and started living in the Brown Palace in 1920. He would continue to occupy a top-floor apartment at the hotel until his death in 1948.
In 1931 Boettcher and his son, Claude, bought out Bennett’s share of the Brown Palace and assumed full ownership. Claude Boettcher became the driving force behind the hotel, successfully navigating it through the Great Depression and World War II. An avid collector of model ships, he hired the architects Fisher and Fisher and the design firm Havens-Batchelder to convert a former tearoom into the Ship Tavern, a wood-paneled pub that put Boettcher’s clippers on display. Opened in 1934, just after Prohibition was lifted, it is now the hotel’s oldest restaurant.
After World War II, Boettcher began to work with New York developer William Zeckendorf on a Hilton hotel planned for Zeckendorf’s Courthouse Square development a few blocks from the Brown Palace. Boettcher backed out of the project, apparently because of a disagreement about construction materials, and made plans for his own hotel tower across Tremont Place from the Brown Palace.
The twenty-two-story tower, known as Brown Palace West, was designed by the New York architectural firm of William B. Tabler. Boettcher died in 1957, not long after approving plans for the tower. Construction went forward, and the new building opened on April 25, 1959, during the Rush to the Rockies centennial celebration. Brown Palace West added 300 guest rooms and a ballroom to the hotel, and it was connected to the historic triangular building by a bridge above Tremont Place and an underground service tunnel. Communication via telephones and pneumatic tubes made it possible for guests to check in and out at the lobby of either building. Later in the twentieth century, the tower maintained its connection to the Brown Palace but was rebranded as the Denver Inn and, later, the Comfort Inn Downtown.
After Claude Boettcher’s son, Charles Boettcher II, died in 1963, the Brown Palace passed to the family’s Boettcher Foundation. In 1970 the hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1980 the Boettcher Foundation sold the hotel to the Associated Inns & Restaurants Company of America, which then sold it in 1983 to Integrated Resources (later called Brown Palace Joint Ventures). In 1987 the Dallas-based company Rank Hotels North America (now known as Quorum Hotels & Resorts) took over management of the hotel.
Despite the changes in ownership and management, the Brown Palace maintained its reputation as perhaps Denver’s top hotel, largely thanks to substantial continuing investments in its maintenance and renovation. During the G8 summit in Denver in 1997, President Bill Clinton, foreign leaders, and senior staff all stayed at the Brown Palace.
In 2012 the Brown Palace joined Marriott International’s Autograph Collection of high-end independent hotels, which provides a marketing boost but does not affect ownership. In 2014 Brown Palace Joint Ventures sold the hotel and tower to Crow Holdings Capital Partners, a branch of the real estate company Trammell Crow. The same year, the tower was rebranded from a Comfort Inn to a Holiday Inn Express. Quorum Hotels & Resorts continued to manage the properties. In 2015 the Brown Palace completed its most recent renovation project, a $10.5 million effort that included new meeting space, guest room redecorations, and a three-year restoration of the hotel’s sandstone façade.