The Fairplay Hotel was designed in the Rustic style by architect William Bowman and completed in 1922. Located on the site of an earlier hotel at the prominent corner of Fifth and Main Streets, the Fairplay became the largest and oldest hotel in town, hosting club meetings and dinner dances as well as tourists and visitors to the nearby Park County Courthouse. Since the early 1970s, the hotel has passed through many owners and sometimes struggled to stay open, but so far, a combination of history, Rustic charm, and community support have helped it survive.
The Original Valiton Hotel
Today’s Fairplay Hotel stands on the site of an earlier hotel, the Valiton, which was built in the Park County mining town in 1873. Over its first few years, the hotel went by a wide variety of names: McLain Hotel, Vestal House, Radford House, and Bergh House. The last of those was for longtime owner Abraham Bergh, who acquired the hotel in 1877. In 1897 Bergh sold the hotel to Susannah Harris Young, who renamed it the Hotel Windsor and remodeled the interior. Under the ownership of Young and then William Hunter of Alma, who bought it in 1911, the Hotel Windsor gained a reputation as the finest hotel in Fairplay. That came to a sudden end in 1921, when the hotel suffered a fire and was forced to close.
A Rustic Rebirth
Fairplay residents quickly rallied to resurrect the hotel, which was a treasured local institution. In June 1921, Agnes Slater bought the former hotel’s land from William Hunter for $5,500. Wife of sheep tycoon George Slater and daughter-in-law of Denver real estate investor Seth Slater, Agnes Slater had the resources and acumen to lead the rebuilding effort. In August she organized the Fairplay Hotel Company, which quickly acquired the lot from her and started construction on a new building in September.
To design the hotel, the Fairplay Hotel Company enlisted Denver architect William N. Bowman, who was known for school buildings and county courthouses across the state. During his career, Bowman worked in a variety of styles, including the Classical, Colonial, and Gothic Revivals, but for the Fairplay Hotel he chose the Rustic style, which was popular in mountain towns and national parks at the time. A response to industrialization and urbanization, the Rustic style employed native materials such as coarse stone and wood to make buildings that seemed to grow out of their natural environment.
Bowman’s two-story Fairplay Hotel was laid out in an L shape fronting Main and Fifth Streets. A river rock foundation supported wood-shingle exterior walls that were topped by a clipped gable roof featuring shingles designed to resemble thatch. A river rock porch framed the main entrance, which faced west onto Main Street. Inside, the lobby featured maple floors, a large stone fireplace, and lots of dark wood trim. Stairs in the southeast corner of the lobby led to the accommodations on the second floor, while double doors in the east wall led to the dining room, which repeated the lobby’s maple floors, stone fireplace, and dark wood trim. From the dining room, two sets of French doors opened north to a sunroom.
The hotel held its grand opening in June 1922, when the local Chamber of Commerce held a banquet and dance there. Operations started smoothly under the management of Agnes Slater. A dentist leased space in the building, and its proximity to the Park County Courthouse ensured that it received plenty of business from jurors, witnesses, and others engaged in court proceedings.
Within a year, however, the hotel’s fortunes turned rocky. It closed for the winter of 1922–23. In June 1923 a Mrs. Biezer of Denver took over management of the property, but it soon became clear that the hotel was not taking in enough money to pay its outstanding construction bills. To recover their money, Bowman and the contractors who had built the hotel sued it for almost $27,000. In July 1923, the Park County sheriff auctioned the building at a foreclosure sale.
The plaintiffs in the suit—including Bowman—formed Fairplay Hotel Inc. and took over the hotel later that year. Under the management of J. L. Reever, the hotel achieved stability and even prosperity over the next few years. As one of the largest and finest hotels in the area, it was a popular spot for a variety of meetings and celebrations, including gatherings of the Park County Sheep Growers Association, and it benefited from being a stop on the Denver-Leadville bus line. Guests paid $4 per night for a room with a private bath, or $2 for a room with a shared bath, and enjoyed amenities such as custom laundry and a hair stylist in the building.
A Fairplay Institution
Around 1927, Norman J. Hand started leasing the Fairplay Hotel. The Hand family—Norman, his wife, and his parents—were major players in the Fairplay hospitality industry, and they remained involved with the Fairplay Hotel as managers and then owners for the next two decades.
During the 1930s, the Great Depression put a damper on business, causing the Hands to cut prices to only $1.50 per night in 1938. At the same time, other changes helped the hotel survive. After Prohibition ended in 1933, for example, the Hands opened a lounge in the hotel’s sunroom, installing a Brunswick bar from a former Alma saloon. Meanwhile, by the end of the decade, US 285 had been improved between Kenosha Pass and Buena Vista, making it easier for travelers to reach Fairplay by car.
After managing the Fairplay Hotel for more than a dozen years, the Hand family bought it in 1940. Unfortunately, in 1942 they had to close the hotel because gas rationing during World War II curtailed travel and kept them from getting enough visitors to make ends meet. They survived by continuing to operate the smaller Hand Hotel, built in 1931. The Hands reopened the Fairplay Hotel after the war ended in 1945 and experienced a boom as tourism spiked with postwar prosperity. The most famous guest during these years was probably comedian Bob Hope, who was spotted at the hotel a couple of times in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
In 1951 the Hands sold the hotel to Charles and Frank Burgess, and in 1954 Frank took over as sole owner for the next twenty years. During Burgess’s ownership, more visitors came to Fairplay for outdoor recreation, and the hotel advertised itself as a base for activities such as fishing, hiking, and jeeping. In the 1960s, the hotel’s location on Highway 9 made it a popular stopping place for skiers headed to the new resort just over Hoosier Pass in Breckenridge. In addition, the hotel often hosted workers on nearby road and dam projects, and it was a popular venue for local club meetings and wedding receptions.
Toward the end of Burgess’s ownership, he leased the Fairplay Hotel to the Nicholson family, who tried to update the aging building and implement new attractions. The Nicholsons offered to arrange guides for guests interested in fishing and jeeping, and because Jack Nicholson was a former television director and drama professor, they also put on a summer dinner theater from 1971 to 1973. Trying to ride the rising tide of Colorado mountain tourism, the Nicholsons developed a plan to expand the hotel by constructing a dedicated venue for dinner theater along with a thirty-three-unit condominium complex. Their plan was approved by the local planning commission, but it was never built, and owner Frank Burgess sold the hotel in 1974.
Since Burgess sold the Fairplay Hotel, the building has passed from owner to owner, with no one keeping it for very long. Like many former mining towns in Colorado that did not become ski resorts, Fairplay struggled to attract visitors in the late twentieth century. Nevertheless, new owners continued to invest in the Fairplay Hotel in attempts to make it into a tourist draw. Most notably, Henriksen Data Systems, which owned the hotel for three years in the mid-1990s, significantly updated the building’s heating and plumbing, remodeled the kitchen, and removed seventy years of accumulated interior changes to reveal the original maple floors.
In 2004 David W. Meredith acquired the hotel with the goal of reviving it as a hub for the Fairplay community, and in 2008 he got the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Despite Meredith’s good intentions, the hotel closed in September 2008—a casualty of the Great Recession—and was in danger of being demolished before it was bought by Constance Tiel Schoppe in early 2010.
In a nod to the original hotel on the site, Schoppe renamed the hotel the Fairplay-Valiton and reopened it in the summer of 2010. Over the next three years, she cleaned and redecorated the hotel and revived its bar and restaurant. In August 2013 Schoppe arranged to sell the hotel to brothers Brad, Mark, and Ryan Poage after a ninety-day transition period, but management problems and unpaid wages under the Poages forced her to reclaim management in October and cancel the sale.
In 2014 Schoppe listed the Fairplay-Valiton again and sold it that August to Denver accountant Lorna Arnold. Arnold owned the hotel for less than a year and a half before unpaid mortgage and utility bills forced her to file a deed in lieu of foreclosure and return the building to Schoppe, who had financed the purchase. Schoppe reclaimed ownership in early 2016 and reopened the hotel and restaurant later that year, but as of 2017 she had once again listed the property for sale.