The Oxford Hotel (1600 Seventeenth Street) opened in 1891 and is now Denver’s oldest surviving hotel. Developed by brewer Adolph Zang and designed by architect Frank Edbrooke, the hotel originally provided a luxurious stay for travelers passing through nearby Union Station. After being restored and revitalized in the early 1980s by Charles Calloway and Dana Crawford, the Oxford became one of Denver’s first modern boutique hotels and an anchor of Lower Downtown’s revival.
The Zang Brewing Company was Colorado’s largest pre-Prohibition producer. After the Zang family sold it to a British syndicate in 1889, Adolph Zang had at least $1 million to invest. He decided to join Denver bankers Philip Feldhauser and William R. Mygatt in developing the first large hotel planned to catch traffic from Union Station, which had opened in 1881. Construction on the Oxford Hotel, located a block from the station, began in 1890. Colorado’s leading architect, Frank E. Edbrooke, designed the five-story, red-brick, U-shaped edifice the year before designing his masterpiece, the Brown Palace Hotel. The Oxford’s roof line uses square brick caps separated by ornamental brickwork to suggest the look of a castle.
The classical simplicity of the Oxford’s exterior, with its red sandstone and terra-cotta trim, belied an extravagant interior, as opening-day guests found on October 2, 1891. The hotel, according to the Rocky Mountain News, had its own power plant and “the most perfect system of steam heating, electric and gas lighting and on each floor bath rooms with separate water closets.” Marble and carpet floors, frescoed walls, silver chandeliers, and stained glass glistened inside. With its own dining rooms, barbershop, library, pharmacy, Western Union office, stables, and splendid saloon serving Zang’s “Fritz Imperial” beer, the Oxford ranked as one of the city’s finest hotels. Another novelty, one of the city’s first elevators, whisked patrons to the upper floors for bird’s-eye views of the booming Mile High City.
In 1902 thriving business led the Oxford to construct a two-story addition on Wazee Street in the same style as the hotel. Another annex, a five-story building across the alley from the hotel at 1628 Seventeenth Street, opened in 1912. Designed by Denver architects Montana Fallis and Robert Willison, it was sheathed in glistening white terra-cotta resembling marble. This second annex brought the Oxford to within half a block of Union Station, an advantage not lost on baggage-toting travelers or on the Oxford’s ad man: “Just through the Welcome Arch [in front of Union Station]. The Real Hub of Denver,” crowed a 1912 ad. “Fire proof. European Plan. Absolutely modern Rooms. $1.00, $1.50 and $2 a day.”
To celebrate the repeal of prohibition in 1933, the Oxford had Denver architect Charles Jaka design a Streamline Moderne–style cocktail lounge called the Cruise Room, which opened in 1935. Curving lines shape its front bar, booths, and even the ceiling, which was colored black, pink, and neon. The walls were paneled with Denver artist Alley Henson’s beaverboard bas-relief portraits of characters from various nations offering toasts in their own languages.
With completion of the Brown Palace in 1892 and construction of the State Capitol throughout that decade, fashionable Denver began to move away from Union Station and uptown by Broadway. Between the 1930s and the 1970s, the Oxford declined along with the rest of its Lower Downtown neighbors. The demise of train travel hit the Oxford hard. So did urban blight and suburban flight. The Oxford, along with much of the area around it, was written off as part of “skid row,” and the once-elegant hotel flirted with becoming a flophouse.
The hotel’s fortunes changed after 1979, when developer Charles Calloway bought it and added it to the National Register of Historic Places to give it prestige as well as qualify for tax credits. Dana Crawford joined Calloway a year later; her earlier success with transforming down-and-out Larimer Street into historic Larimer Square added credibility to the Oxford project. The two spent three years and $12 million restoring the hotel with new wiring, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning. Denver architects William Muchow and Associates led the restoration, completed in 1983. Many outstanding original features were uncovered under the lowered ceilings and linoleum floors that had been added over the decades. Edbrooke’s original plans were also discovered; they now decorate the basement hallway. The corner storefront became a restaurant, and the Cruise Room bar was restored to its Art Deco glory.
The Oxford’s rebirth has made it a cornerstone of the Lower Downtown Denver Historic District created in 1988. Its success helped inspire the 2014 restoration and reincarnation of Union Station, complete with the Crawford Hotel named for Dana Crawford, the key catalyst in both projects.