top of page
  • Writer's pictureDante Mazza

The Brown Palace

Updated: Jul 23, 2023


The Brown Palace Hotel in May 2022


Located on a triangular plot of land between Broadway, Tremont Place, and 17th Street in downtown Denver, Colorado, just a few blocks from the State Capitol Building, the Brown Palace Hotel is one of the city and state's most architecturally and historically significant buildings. Recognized as one of the most beautiful historic hotels in America, the Brown Palace was one of the first buildings in Denver to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, marked as significant for its late 19th-century architecture, engineering, and role in the "cultural development of Denver." Described as the "foremost social landmark" in the city, the Brown Palace has long been a favorite hotel among dignitaries and celebrities visiting Denver, including several U.S. Presidents. As a result, the hotel has become an excellent repository of historical artifacts and played host to several defining moments in American and world history.


Henry Brown and the City of Denver


The Brown Palace was founded by and is named for Henry C. Brown, seen in this portrait hanging in the hotel. The plaque below the picture describes him as a pioneer, carpenter, and businessman


In the mid-1800s, Henry C. Brown, a carpenter by trade born in Ohio and the 19th of 20 children, was among the many thousands and thousands of men heading west to seek out fortunes paid in gold and silver. Brown arrived in Denver in 1860, shortly after its founding at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek by General William Larimer. Colorado, then part of the Kansas Territory, was amid its own Gold Rush, with gold discovered in the shadow of Pike's Peak. The city was named for James W. Denver, the Governor of Kansas Territory at the time.


Henry was no stranger to pioneering life's rough and tumble ways. Having lost both his parents at a young age, Brown worked on a farm until he was 16 before he became a carpenter, working first in Wheeling, West Virginia, and then in St. Louis while living with his brother. Then, in 1852, he went west for the first time, spending over three months on a journey from Missouri to San Francisco and reportedly walking most of the way. From California, Brown moved north to Washington State, where he put his carpentry skills to work by owning and operating a sawmill. He later sold his interest in the mill and used the proceeds to buy a ranch back in California. Then he sold the ranch and moved to San Francisco to get into the construction business, unknowingly getting a preview of the industry where he would find the most lasting success. Brown then decamped to South America and, after nearly a year living there, made the journey back to the East Coast of the United States before returning to St. Louis.


Yet the ever-restless Brown was not content to remain in his old home for long. He returned to the construction business and tried to make a living building up frontier towns like St. Louis, Sioux City, Iowa, St. Joseph, Missouri, and Decatur, Nebraska. In Decatur, Brown married his second wife, a Quaker schoolteacher named Jane Cory Thompson, and it wasn't long before the couple was on the move yet again.


In 1860, the pair headed for California, where Brown planned to reunite with some old business ventures. After six weeks, they arrived in Denver, where Jane, while enjoying the city's signature, stunning view of the Rocky Mountains, announced she would be going no further. The aimless Henry Brown had found his permanent home. As it turned out, Brown would find in Denver a treasure more valuable than the gold he could mine from any hill or creek: real estate.


This Google Maps screengrab shows how Denver's Central Business District splays southeastward from Confluence Park, where the river and creek meet, to Larimer Square, where commercial activity first began, before running into the perfectly straight north-south grid plan of Henry's Capitol Hill neighborhood. The intersection of these two plans created the triangular plot on which the Brown Palace was built.


The Browns got right to work building up their new community. They constructed a boarding house, carpentry shop, and even the first church in Denver but saw all their efforts washed away in a significant 1864 flood that hit the city hard due to its location at the confluence of the river and creek.


The couple was undeterred by the loss and instead doubled down on Denver property ownership, but this time got smart about it. The same year as the flood, 1864, Henry Brown purchased 160 acres of land to the southeast of downtown Denver, most of which sat atop a large hill and would presumably be safer from future floods. But the land would become incredibly valuable for another reason.


Around the same time the Browns had arrived in Denver, the Kansas Territory, of which it had originally been part, was split in two. The eastern portion was admitted to the United States as the state of Kansas amid the ongoing battle in Congress over the balance between slave and free states. The remainder of the territory was reorganized into the Territory of Colorado. Denver was named the territorial capital in 1867.


While Denver had been founded at the confluence of two rivers, in 1870, it became the confluence of two major railroad lines, which proved to be just as life-giving to the city. A spur down from Cheyenne, Wyoming, connected Denver to the new transcontinental railroad, while the Kansas Pacific Railroad extended east from Kansas City, Missouri, across Kansas to Denver. These connections made the city a key transit hub. At the same time, new mining discoveries were being made nearby. Colorado was ready for statehood after a few years of ensuing growth. On August 1, 1876, the "Centennial State" was admitted just a few weeks after the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The state population increased nearly 400% from 1870 to 1880, exploding from fewer than 40,000 to almost 200,000 over the decade.


With Colorado admitted, the question arose about where to place the state capital. The drafters of the state constitution decided to put the matter to a statewide vote, to be held five years after admission. While Denver may have appeared to be a natural choice given its large population and transportation infrastructure, several other cities, including Colorado Springs and Pueblo, put themselves forward as nominees. Luckily, Denver had one additional advantage: a dedicated plot of land for a state capitol building.


Colorado's State Capitol Building stands on land donated by Henry Brown


Henry Brown had personally donated ten prime acres of land from the 160 he had purchased to serve as the home of the Colorado State Capitol Building back when Denver had been named the territorial capital. The plot was up on a hill with a beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains and was known as "Brown's Bluff". Donating land for a capitol building was a tried and true method of attracting a state government to a city. Sacramento had successfully used this tactic in California some two decades prior. However, by the time the statewide vote rolled around, Brown's land had been sitting empty for nearly a decade and, more importantly to him, increased in value from about $12 to over $50,000. Brown sued to get his land back, asserting that the new state of Colorado wasn't upholding his deal with the territorial government, which should be voided. The case went to the Supreme Court twice, and Brown lost. In retrospect, he was probably quite pleased with the decision because of what happened next.


With a population far larger than any other city in the state, Denver easily won the capital vote, as supporters of the other contenders favored their hometowns instead of coalescing around a single alternative. The land around the future capitol site became known as Capitol Hill, and the area became one of the most desirable and valuable in the city. Henry found no trouble selling his lots, especially to those who struck it rich in the mines and wanted a nice place to build elaborate mansions. Brown gave $1,000 to the city to help fund its first library and pocketed the rest of the profits, soon finding himself sitting on a nearly $5 million fortune. For perhaps the first time, Henry Brown was now a truly wealthy man, ready to impact his community.

 

Hotel History

The iron and steel superstructure of the Brown Palace was on the front cover of the May 21, 1892 edition of Scientific American magazine.


In 1889, Henry Brown picked out a triangular plot of land created by the intersection of his Capitol Hill neighborhood and the original downtown Denver street layout that he used to graze cattle on and decided to turn it into one of the nicest hotels and most impressive buildings in the United States. Brown went into business with Nathaniel Maxcy Tabor, son of the silver magnate Horace Tabor, who at the time was one of the wealthiest men in Colorado and a frequent candidate for governor, and William Bush, who, like Brown, was a native of Ohio. Both men had previous experience in the Denver hotel industry.


Bush had initially tried to secure funding for the project from an English business partner, but that deal didn't pan out. Instead, Brown put up $1.6 million for construction, an extravagantly exorbitant sum for that time, something like $50 million today, while Tabor and Bush put in $400,000. Their investment was used to cover the cost of furnishing the interior. Tabor and Bush became the co-managers of the Brown Palace when it opened.


Construction lasted four years, from 1888 to 1892. The architect for the project was Frank E. Edbrooke of Chicago; the contractors were Giddes and Seerie. Despite its beautiful architecture and all the history that would be made inside, the Brown Palace was historical from the time of its construction because it was one of America's first fireproof buildings and skyscrapers, built of fireproof hollow blocks of terracotta and rising eight stories high from a granite base.


Ironically, however, the engineering technology which allowed the hotel to rise to its then-significant height was, in all likelihood, born of fire itself. In 1871, the city of Chicago was nearly destroyed by the famous Great Fire legend says was started by Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern in its barn. As devastating as the fire was, it allowed the city to start over structurally and architecturally at just the right moment. In 1885, the (now demolished) Home Insurance Building rose as what is now regarded to be the world's first skyscraper. A whopping ten stories, the building pioneered the structural steel frame technique, supporting its weight from within. The brick on the exterior was simply for decoration and insulation.


Part of the hotel's iron and steel superstructure can be seen in the iconic atrium


A few years later, the Brown Palace was built using the same techniques; a skeleton of iron and steel rising to new heights in the heart of a growing city. The technology was so cutting-edge that the mid-construction Brown Palace was featured on the front cover of Scientific American in 1892. That skeleton frame was filled with fireproof terra cotta blocks and sheathed with Arizona sandstone.


The Brown Palace may be the single oldest hotel to feature an atrium, now a common feature of hotels across the globe, but one that did not gain popularity until the 1960s


The Brown Palace was also lightyears ahead of its time by including a feature that has come to define hotels worldwide: a central atrium. Modern visitors to the hotel are probably not surprised by the space, but that's only because of how common they have become. When the hotel was built in 1892, central enclosed atriums hardly existed, as there were few hotels large, high, and wide enough to fit them. Hotel atriums did not catch on until the Hyatt Regency Atlanta was built in the late 1960s, meaning the Brown Palace was three-quarters of a century ahead of its time and successfully predicted one of the defining features of hotels across the globe.


The Brown Palace also helped redefine the central business district of Denver, moving it eastward toward the site of the new state capitol building. The city's previous grand hotels had been built within easy walking distance of the train depot, but the Brown Palace helped move the city's center of gravity (and wealth) away from the tracks. Today, the area recognized as downtown Denver runs from Union Station southeastward to the state capitol building, with some of the tallest office buildings in the city clustered just steps from the Brown Palace, including Republic Plaza, the tallest building in the state of Colorado, seen below.


Built in 1984, Republic Plaza is the tallest building in Denver and Colorado. Located across the street from the Brown Palace, the building, at over 700 feet, is as high as the hotel's well is deep in the ground below the city


As one of the world's most expensive and modern construction projects at the time, the Brown Palace was also among the most technologically advanced. The hotel featured running water, elevators, steam heat, and electricity from day one. It later became the first hotel in Denver to offer air conditioning. According to the NRHP nomination form, it also "maintained a reading library for its guests, an idea novel to that time." These features made the Brown Palace hotel "the finest of its kind between Chicago and the Pacific coast."


The water came from the Arapahoe Aquifer, located over 700 feet below ground. The aquifer is part of the larger Denver Basin, running underground from Colorado Springs to Greeley. It's believed that tens of trillions of gallons of water are sitting in the Denver Basin. As the diagram below shows, the water is as deep in the ground as the Republic Plaza building, the tallest in Colorado, is high. That skyscraper, seen above, is just across the street from the Brown Palace.


A diagram displayed in the hotel's window puts the depth of the aquifer in perspective

The first well on the site of the Brown Palace predates the hotel itself, drilled in 1888, back when Henry was still using the land for grazing cattle. The hotel used that original well until 1938 when a new one was drilled, and that replacement well was superseded by another drilled in 1978, which is used today and fills the hotel's water fountains, as seen below.




Water from the hotel's artesian well still fills its fountains


The Brown Palace opened to guests in 1892 with 400 rooms spread across eight floors, each with a window facing the street, a fireplace, and all the modern amenities mentioned above. Rooms went for between $3 and $5 per night, equivalent to $100-$165 today. The hotel was topped by a two-story dining room and ballroom with sweeping views of the Rocky Mountains, just like the one Jane Brown had enjoyed when the couple first arrived in Denver.


A historic photograph of the Brown Palace's original dining room on display at the hotel


Unfortunately, the hotel's opening coincided with the Panic of 1893. "Panic" is what recessions were called in those days. President Grover Cleveland signed a bill greatly restricting the coinage of silver as a way to shore up the economy, effectively bankrupting the Tabor family in the process. Still, it did little to stall the economic fallout. Cleveland's position on silver cost him re-nomination as his Democratic Party coalesced around the pro-silver William Jennings Bryan.


Amid the economic calamity, Henry Brown persuaded Winfield Scott Stratton to acquire the hotel's mortgage for $800,000, or more than $26 million today. The hotel passed to the Myron Stratton Home, a charitable organization for orphans and the elderly in Colorado Springs, along with the bulk of Stratton's assets upon his death in 1902. Around this time, multimillionaire and future U.S. Senator from Colorado Simon Guggenheim hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for 1,500 needy children at the hotel, according to the NRHP nomination form.


On May 24, 1911, the hotel witnessed one of the most dramatic incidents in its history. That night, New Yorker Frank Henwood, who had come to Denver hoping to build a gas plant, shot and killed Sylvester Louis "Tony" von Phul of St. Louis and innocent bystander George Copeland in the hotel's downstairs bar. Henwood and von Phul had dueled for the affections of Isabelle Springer, the wife of a third man, the wealthy rancher and businessman John Springer, who unsuccessfully ran for Mayor of Denver. Said to be extraordinarily beautiful and apparently quite flirtatious, Isabelle had carried on a long affair with von Phul when the two traveled together, which she had documented in a collection of love letters. After carrying on a second, simultaneous affair with Henwood in Denver, Isabelle told him that von Phul had threatened to send the letters to her husband. Claiming to be a true friend of the Springers intent on saving their marriage, Henwood confronted von Phul at the Brown Palace (after he arrived at Isabelle's invitation), leading to a violent physical altercation between the two men one night and the fatal shooting the next. Henwood was put on trial in a case that captivated the local media. He was convicted of murder and jailed. John Springer divorced Isabelle after the shooting. She died penniless after being essentially banished from Denver by the divorce.


In 1922, the Myron Stratton Home sold the Brown Palace to perhaps the most prominent family in the history of Denver: the Boettchers. Family patriarch Charles Boettcher was a German immigrant who smartly realized the real money to be made in the West could be earned by selling supplies to the miners searching for gold and silver. Boettcher and his brother opened a chain of hardware stores before expanding into the sugar beet and real estate industries. He founded the Fifteenth Street Investment Company, which purchased the hotel and became the largest landowner in Colorado. Charles moved into the Brown Palace after getting divorced and lived in a top-floor apartment there for nearly 30 years until he died in 1948. His son Claude Boettcher managed the hotel, shepherding it through the Great Depression and WWII and adding its now-iconic Ship Tavern restaurant.


When Claude's son Charles II died in 1963, the Brown Palace passed to the Boettcher Foundation, which has continued to spread the family's legacy around Denver with a lengthy record of charitable works. Charles died after earning the equivalent of $200 million during his business career, which made the family quite generous. Spaces at Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science, Center for the Performing Arts, Botanic Gardens, and Regis University are all named for the family. A series of murals in the Colorado State Capitol Building was paid for by the Boettchers, and the family even gifted what is now the Colorado Governor's Mansion to the state.


In 1970, while under the ownership of the Boettcher Foundation, the Brown Palace was added to the National Register of Historic Places, one of the first buildings in Denver to receive the honor. The early enrollment rightly recognized the hotel as one of the city's most historic buildings.


In 1980, the Brown Palace left the care of the Boettcher family. It was sold to the Associated Inns & Restaurants Company of America, which after a brief ownership, re-sold it in 1983 to Integrated Resources, a group of investors that later included Quorum Hotels & Resorts, which managed and co-owned the hotel for roughly three decades.


In 2012, the hotel joined Marriott's Autograph Collection, which provides certain perks and allows Marriott Bonvoy members to earn and redeem points at the property, but allows it to remain independently owned. In 2014, the private equity investment firm Crow Holdings Capital Partners bought the hotel and has owned it since, completing a $10 million renovation project soon after the acquisition. The hotel was closed for 64 days during the early part of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the most extensive closure in its history.


Tables set for the hotel's legendary afternoon tea service


The Brown Palace has received the AAA Four Diamond Award annually since 1976. It is tied with the Lost Valley Ranch in Deckers for the title of the longest-running Four Diamond hotel in Colorado. Guests today are as welcome as they were in 1892 to enjoy the luxurious accommodations and historical details. The hotel's dining options have also won praise in the local community, as have its spa and salon. In addition, the Palace Arms fine dining restaurant on the property has won the AAA Four Diamond Award since 1989, and afternoon tea at the Brown Palace has become a beloved tradition for Denver locals and visitors alike, highlighted by real Devonshire cream shipped directly from England, and live music.


The details of the hotel's construction, ownership, and operation only scratch the surface of the history the Brown Palace has witnessed since its opening in 1892. Read on to discover more about all that has played out within the hotel's sandstone walls.


 

American History


A plaque in the lobby tells the story of how the Denver Broncos were formed at the hotel


The Brown Palace is home to stories and artifacts significant in both American and world history, all of which are detailed below. Yet, for local Denver sports fans, the hotel might be best recognized and appreciated as the birthplace of the Denver Broncos. A plaque in the lobby, pictured above, tells the story:


"IN 1959, BOB HOWSAM AND LAMAR HUNT MET FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE LOBBY OF THE BROWN PALACE HOTEL TO DISCUSS THE NEW FOOTBALL LEAGUE THAT HUNT WAS FORMING.
IT WAS HERE THAT HOWSAM AGREED TO OWN THE DENVER FRANCHISE IN WHAT WOULD BECOME THE AMERICAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE.
FROM ONLY FOUR FRANCHISES, THE AFL GREW TO THE POINT OF MERGER WITH THE NFL AND FOOTBALL AS IT IS KNOWN TODAY. A ROYAL BEGINNING FOR THE BRONCOS! "

The Broncos were not the first or only organization formed at the Brown Palace. Far from it. For one example, the National Archives has a record of a trade group holding their inaugural meeting at the hotel:


"On September 12, 1912, fourteen manufacturers of canvas and awnings met at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver and formed the National Tent & Awning Association with A.H. Rawitzer as president. The manufacturers decided to establish the trade association initially to set standard weights and prices for canvas products, actions that would be considered illegal today. They also sought to form a unified voice to counter the price-setting strategies of their suppliers, the cotton mills. Membership spread to include not only tent and awning firms, but also canvas suppliers, and manufacturers of truck and boat covers. In 1936 the name changed to the National Canvas Goods Manufacturer's Association."

 

But the Brown Palace is recognized today for another group that called the hotel home: Dwight Eisenhower's successful Presidential campaign.


This room in the hotel, now The Brown Palace Club, was the headquarters of President Eisenhower's Republican primary campaign in 1952


Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped into the presidency almost reluctantly. He is one of the few Presidents with no prior political experience before taking office. In fact, he had never even voted before. In the post-WWII era, Eisenhower was exceptionally well known as the Supreme Commander in Operation Overlord, the successful liberation of Nazi-Occupied Europe that began with the storming of the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, which he launched by simply saying, "Okay, let's go." In 1948, Eisenhower became the President of Columbia University in Manhattan, New York. Before that year's election, then-President Hary Truman secretly approached Eisenhower about a presidential run. According to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, Truman offered to run as Eisenhower's Vice President, fulfilling the same role he had played in Franklin D. Roosevelt's final campaign and term. Eisenhower declined the offer, and Truman ran for re-election as President with Senate Minority Leader Alben Barkley in the V.P. slot. The pair won unexpectedly in one of the biggest upsets in American political history. Just over halfway through Truman's term, while technically serving as President at Columbia, Eisenhower headed to Europe to become the first-ever Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces there, reprising his role as a brilliant military general.


Truman could have run for another term as President, but his actions during the Korean War, which broke out in 1950, were so unpopular that he bowed out of the race. Democrats selected Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson their nominee instead. Seeing an opportunity to retake the White House for the first time in decades, Republicans were determined to choose a great candidate. Two options emerged: Ohio Senator Robert Taft and Eisenhower.


Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. of Massachusetts traveled to the NATO headquarters near Paris to personally recruit Eisenhower as the party's nominee. After about a year as commander, Ike left the role and returned to the States, arriving in Washington D.C. on June 1, 1952. Three days later, just shy of D-Day's eighth anniversary, Eisenhower announced he would seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States during a speech in his hometown of Abilene, Kansas, where his presidential library and final resting place now stand. From his hometown, Eisenhower proceeded to that of his wife Mamie, Denver, where his primary campaign set up shop at the Brown Palace, in the room pictured above.


The 1952 Republican National Convention was contested. Eisenhower was popular with the voters, but party officials had already supported Senator Taft. Also in contention for the nomination were General Douglass MacArthur (who had just been fired by Truman after a dispute over the Korean War), California Governor Earl Warren, and former Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen. Eisenhower's floor managers successfully challenged the validity of Taft delegates from some heavily Democratic southern states where the Republican Party was small and disorganized. Those delegates were replaced by ones who voted for Eisenhower. Stassen didn't get enough votes in the first round for his delegates to remain pledged to him, so they voted for Eisenhower instead, giving the General the nomination.


Ike accepted the nomination and picked California Senator Richard Nixon as his running mate. After the convention, the Eisenhower campaign relocated to the Commodore Hotel in New York City next to Grand Central Terminal. The Commodore would later be redeveloped and sheathed in glass by future President Donald Trump in the late 1970s, his first major real estate project in Manhattan.


Eisenhower and Nixon won an overwhelming victory against Stevenson, who failed to win Illinois while serving as state governor. Ike became a successful and beloved President and is best known for overseeing the creation of the Interstate Highway System, which he believed was vital to national defense, as well as enforcing the Supreme Court's decision to desegregate public schools.


President and First Lady Eisenhower board Air Force One, a Lockheed Constellation plane known as Columbine II, for one of their many trips to Denver on August 21, 1954.


National Park Service Photo


Due to Mamie Eisenhower's family connections to Denver, which she considered her hometown, the President and First Lady spent much time there, particularly in the summers. In Denver, the Eisenhowers often stayed at the Brown Palace, known as "The Western White House." The couple stayed in what is now the hotel's Eisenhower Suite during the summer of 1955, and a piece of the fireplace mantel dented by one of Ike's golf balls during putting practice is on display in the suite. Eisenhower's official schedule shows him staying at the Brown Palace as late as 1958, well into his second term.


The living room of the Reagan suite is a tribute to the President's Southern California Ranch


General Eisenhower was far from the only President to enjoy the hospitality of the Brown Palace. The hotel also has suites named after Presidents Reagan and Roosevelt (both FDR and Teddy were guests), and a special visit from Bill Clinton is detailed below in the World History section. At least 12 U.S. Presidents have stayed at the hotel at some point.


One of FDR's visits came during the 1932 presidential campaign when the candidate gave "informal extemporaneous remarks" from "an interior balcony of the Brown Palace Hotel." A transcript of those remarks held by the National Archives shows that FDR told the crowd he had a "wonderful welcome" in the "beautiful city" of Denver and stressed the importance of seeing "first hand what is going on in the country, and what the country needs in its different sections, rather than trust to the country coming to Washington, D.C." The candidate also referred to his trip "driving up the great street from the railroad station" to the hotel.


 

Crowds gathered outside the Brown Palace when the Beatles stayed there for their famous 1964 show at the Red Rocks Amphitheater


Another suite at the hotel is named for four guests as well known as, and certainly more popular than any President: The Beatles. The Fab Four stayed at the hotel after their well-remembered concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater. Some 5,000 screaming fans gathered at the hotel to greet the group. Chaos ensued, with the Palace's iconic atrium lobby becoming a First Aid station for crowd members who fainted, got crushed, or were otherwise injured in the mayhem. The concert was similarly chaotic, with attendees recounting the endless screaming of fans. While the event was not technically a sellout, some say they'd never seen the Red Rocks more packed than it was that night, and it remains one of the most famous performances in the storied venue's history.


An enlarged version of a ticket for the Beatles concert on display at Red Rocks


A scene from the Beatles concert at Red Rocks


Denver's famous Red Rocks Amphitheater is a National Historic Landmark


The Beatles only top the list of celebrity guests at the Brown Palace. Plenty more have followed in their footsteps, as the wall of sketches in the old Eisenhower campaign headquarters room shown below makes clear. Among the other big names to have enjoyed the hospitality of the Brown Palace are Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Prince, and John Wayne.


Sketch wall in club lounge chronicling famous Brown Palace guests


World History


Being the signature hotel of a major city like Denver, the Brown Palace has attracted guests who have made their mark on not just the city, state, or nation but the world as well.


President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin at the Brown Palace for a meeting during the 1997 G-8 Summit


A large share of those world leaders visited the Brown Palace in 1997 when Denver hosted the G-8 Summit, which has gone down in history because it was the first such meeting to include Russia as a group member. Several delegations stayed at the Brown Palace thanks to its proximity to the primary summit location at the Denver Public Library. The hotel is best remembered as the site of meetings between world leaders, particularly President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.


The pair appeared for a photo on one of the hotel's interior balconies in the famous shot shown above. They also took questions from the press. A transcript of the remarks posted on the archived Clinton White House website begins with Yelstin saying, "Thank you for your hospitality, for the wonderful hotel and accommodations."


Clinton, for his part, praised Yeltsin, saying, "I'm very positive about this and very pleased with this summit and pleased with the emergence of Russia as a leader in all these world institutions. It's a great tribute, I think to President Yeltsin's leadership and to the commitment of the Russian people to democracy and reform."


In President Clinton's briefing books for his bilateral meeting with Yeltsin, his aides stressed the importance of the meeting for the Russian leader, writing that "the image at Denver is as important as the substance" for Yeltsin because his presence at the summit was "validation for his audience at home of Russia's world-power status." Clinton's staff said his "second objective" in Denver was "to smooth Yeltsin's expanded participation at the Summit." There's little doubt that the photo and remarks on the balcony at the Brown Palace helped both men achieve their goals for the trip.


The Denver summit did end up setting the stage for a Russia more closely aligned with the national community after decades behind the Iron Curtain as the Soviet Union. What had been the G-7 grew into the G-8, starting in Denver, until Russia was expelled from the group over its 2014 invasion of Crimea, which turned out to be a precursor to Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the most significant land war in Europe since WWII.


 

The Palace Arms restaurant is decorated in the style of French Emperor Napolean


The artifacts of one of Europe's most famous land warriors adorn the walls of the hotel's Palace Arms restaurant, which opened in 1950. Owner Claude "C.K." Boettcher admired the French Emperor Napolean and used his considerable wealth to acquire some awe-inspiring items from the famous general.


One of those artifacts is this golden eagle that the hotel says "topped the parade standards carried by [Napoleon's] troops when he marched to Notre Dame to declare himself Emperor in 1804." A few days after his coronation, Napoleon distributed eagle standards to his regiments and requested they guard them with their lives. The golden eagle became one of his favorite symbols...


...and is seen here on objects that accompany this dueling pistol, one of a pair said to belong to Napoleon that hangs on the restaurant wall.


Among the world-historic figures to have dined in the presence of these artifacts are Presidents Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter, Elizabeth Taylor, and members of Pink Floyd. The NRHP Form also lists President Woodrow and First Lady Edith Wilson and Queen Marie of Romania, all of whom have direct connections to the events of WWI among the hotel's history-making guests.


 

Yet, for all of its connections to Europe, the Brown Palace is perhaps most historically significant at the world level for a guest it hosted from Asia.


Sun Yat-sen is one of the most influential figures in the history of modern China. Though born to a poor farming family, Sun was unusually well-educated and well-traveled for his time and station. Throughout his life, he would visit places as disparate as China, Hawaii, Japan, Great Britain, Canada, and the mainland of the United States, all in an era before air travel. He studied at British and American schools in Hawaii, where he developed a strong understanding of Christian theology, before returning to China to attend medical school in both Hong Kong and Guangzhou.


Despite his training, Sun Yat-sen was neither a priest nor a doctor. Instead, he was a political leader and revolutionary. Many of his travels were due to his frequent status as a political exile. Sun dedicated his life to overthrowing China's Qing Dynasty, and he often paid the price, once fleeing his home nation in 1895 after a failed uprising in Guangzhou to begin 16 years in exile abroad, including a period of captivity in London as a prisoner of the Chinese legation. Sun claimed responsibility for ten failed uprisings in China during his time abroad.


By 1911, Sun Yat-sen was touring the United States to obtain financial and moral support for his cause from Chinese Americans. On October 10, 1911, Sun and a friend were staying at the Brown Palace. Their signatures are the last two on the ledger below.


Sun Yat-sen and his traveling companion signed into the Brown Palace as guests


Unbeknownst to the pair, back in China, things were changing fast. Another uprising was beginning in the city of Wuchang, now part of modern Wuhan, with revolutionaries seizing on public opposition to a plan to nationalize China's railroads. The revolt was successful, sending the Viceroy of the province fleeing from the surprise attack. Things quickly spread throughout the province and then to others, resulting in what is now known as the 1911 Revolution. Sun read about the campaign in the newspaper at the Brown Palace the following day and immediately headed for China, where he was elected the first Provisional President of the new Republic of China. The war continued until Sun agreed to hand over power to Yuan Shikai in exchange for the abdication of the Qing Empress and the end of over 2,000 years of monarchy in China.


Yuan eventually tried to install himself as the new Emperor of China, which led to years of civil war in the country. Yat-sen became the Chairman of the Kuomintang, also known as the Chinese Nationalist Party, which remained a force under his control but was unable to unify the nation. After Sun's death in 1925, his protege Chiang Kai‐shek led the party to success before he and his followers were forced to the island of Taiwan during Mao's communist revolution.


Because of that history, Sun Yat-sen is revered in Taiwan as the "Father of the Nation." Even so, in mainland China, it is recognized that Mao's communist takeover could not have happened without Sun's removal of the Qing Dynasty. For that reason, Sun is also honored in mainland China as a "Forerunner of the Revolution," making him one of the few men exalted in both places. A statue of Sun stands inside First Uprising Plaza in Wuhan to mark the location where the revolution began. There are Sun Yat-sen Memorial Halls in both Taipei and Guangzhou, while his massive mausoleum stands in Nanjing. Sun appears on currency and postage stamps, there are roads and parks and plazas and schools named for him all around the world, and his portrait is hung in classrooms, all because of the revolution that started on the day he stayed at the Brown Palace. The room where he stayed that day, now the Coronet meeting room, is pictured below. Chinese and Taiwanese visitors still come to the hotel as a pilgrimage to pay tribute to Sun and his accomplishments.


The Coronet Room, where Sun Yat-sen stayed on the day the 1911 Revolution began in China


 

Architecture and Design


The Brown Palace, with its iconic triangular shape, is one of the most beautiful and unique historic hotels in America


Despite all the incredible history laid out above, the Brown Palace was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance. The hotel was designed by architect Frank E. Edbrooke of Chicago and built by the contractors Giddes and Seerie. Edbrooke had strong connections to the history that led to the construction of the Brown Place. His father was an architect who helped rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871, the same fire that ushered in the age of steel-skeleton buildings like the hotel. Plus, Edbrooke came to Denver to supervise the construction of the Tabor Block and Tabor Opera House, which he worked on with his brother. Both those buildings were named for silver magnate Horace Tabor, whose son Nathaniel Maxcy was Henry Brown's business partner. Edbrooke became recognized as the "dean" of Denver architecture, with the Brown Palace as his crowning achievement.


The Broadway facade of the Brown Palace, including the central tower over what was originally the main entrance of the hotel


The exterior of the Brown Palace was designed by Edbrooke in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, which can be identified by two design features of the hotel: sandstone (in this case from Arizona) and the arches at the top of each bank of windows.


The hotel's ground floor is sheathed in red Colorado granite rather than sandstone and punctuated by columns of stone topped with a shield motif. That stone continues as a cornice around the top of the first story of the entire building.



Above that stone cornice rise columns of windows, six stories high and topped by an arch, as indicative of the Romanesque style.


One of the hotel's most unique and overlooked, architectural features is between each of the arches: a series of carved medallions depicting various Colorado mammals. There are 26 medallions encircling the building, each carved by James Whitehouse of Denver. Today these carved medallions are known as the hotel's "silent guests."


The hotel is topped with two final stories of rectangular window bays and another cornice, this time a pattern carved out of the stone facade.


A complete view of the Brown Palace's south and west facades

A look at the 17th Street (south) facade of the building, as seen from Republic Plaza. Each architectural element of the hotel noted above can be seen in this photo.


The additional cornice on the Broadway (east) facade marks the original Grand Entrance of the hotel.


This elaborately decorated arch was the original Grand Entrance to the hotel from its opening in 1892 until 1935. The arch faces Broadway, a long one-way street that cuts through downtown Denver at an angle but is essentially a perfectly straight line. In the days of horses and carriages, the street layout didn't matter much, but when automobiles arrived, an extra wide, straight, one-way road meant only one thing to motorists: speed. Broadway's heavy, fast-moving traffic was the last thing the hotel wanted its discerning and high-profile guests to battle at check-in, so the main entrance was moved around the corner to Tremont Place while the arch was filled with brick and glass, as seen above.


This relief carving of Henry Brown sits to the right of the Grand Entrance Arch


These leaded stained glass windows now fill part of the original Grand Entrance Arch...


...and make up one of the walls of the private dining Independence Room back inside the Palace Arms restaurant. The most important feature of this room is the wallpaper, issued in 1834 by a French firm, Jean Zuber and Co., and designed by French artist Jean-Julien Deltil. Formally titled Vues de l’Amerique du Nord (“Views of North America”), the wallpaper depicts scenes from the early days of the United States. This wallpaper is in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, where it greets visiting heads of state. A copy of the wallpaper was taken from an old home in Maryland before its demolition and presented to First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy in 1961 during a renovation of that room. Among the most famous scenes depicted in the wallpaper are:


The Parade Ground at West Point, New York, in the Hudson Valley


Boston Harbor (titled specifically “General View of Boston”) with the Massachusetts State House and some of the city's famous church spires clearly visible


Niagra Falls at the U.S.-Canada border in Western New York

The wallpaper is just one of many significant works of art displayed at the hotel. This painting, titled "Colorful Fantasia" or "The Sultan's Dream" by Italian artist Virgilio Tojetti, is shown here in the Churchill cigar bar but has been on display somewhere in the Brown Palace ever since the hotel's opening in 1892.


Exiting the Palace Arms restaurant, guests return to the centerpiece of the entire hotel: the atrium lobby. Because the original entrance to the hotel was in the space now occupied by the restaurant, this was the view that pre-1935 visitors to the Brown Palace would have been greeted with. The atrium is done in the Italian Renaissance style, which the NRHP nomination form calls "the overall architectural motif" of the hotel.


The striking Florentine arches of the mezzanine level are one of the Brown Palace's most notable interior architectural features.


In between the arches are beautifully detailed paintings of what appears to be a woman in an Ancient Roman helmet with a rose on either side of her and laurels surrounding both in a V-shaped pattern.


Decorative golden sunbursts light the interior of each arch, giving the mezzanine level a collective glow.


Another view of the lighted interior of the arch. Note also the onyx support pillars.


The lobby's polished golden onyx was imported from Coahuila, Mexico. The stone is thought to have calming powers and exude positive energy, making the lobby an attractive and relaxing place for visitors and guests to enjoy. Some also say the stone attracts happy spirits who come to feel the good vibes one last time before moving on to the afterlife.


The onyx-clad entrance to the hotel's spa and salon was once the lobby's Grand Fireplace.


Known as the Millennium Clock, this ornate timepiece hangs behind the hotel's front desk. On either side of the clock are griffins, a combination of lions and eagles that are known in mythology for guarding treasure or prized possessions. Since Denver was in the midst of a gold rush at the time of the hotel's construction, the griffins act as protectors of the treasure found in the Colorado hills and streams. The griffins appear in the hotel's official logo as well, standing on either side just as they do on the clock, and a pair of griffins are a common design motif seen throughout the property.


The stained glass skylight at the top of the lobby is another architectural star of the property. It is protected from the elements by a large glass pyramid on top of the roof, allowing natural light to flow into the building from above. The Denver Post reported in 2017, for the hotel's 125th birthday, that the same family-run company has been caring for the skylight since the 1800s.


The glass walls directly below the skylight denote the top two floors of the hotel, which now house the Top of the Brown Guestrooms and the Royal Suites but were once private residences known as the Skyline Apartments. These flats were added during the Great Depression to help the hotel keep revenue coming in despite the harsh economic climate and remained available as residences until the 1980s. These top two floors originally housed the hotel's grand dining and ballroom, encompassing two floors and boasting beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains.


Leading up to the glass walls and skylight are several floors of filigreed decorative cast iron panels, nearly 740 in total, that are also distinctive features of the hotel.


For some reason, two of the panels were installed upside down. The middle panel in the photo above is one of them. This could have been a simple mistake, or it could have been done purposefully in the grand tradition of builders including slight, harmless flaws in their work as a reminder that only God is perfect and humans are always fallible.


Denver is famous for being the Mile High City, with the official marking of one mile above sea level on the State Capitol's steps. The Brown Palace has its own marker, as pictured above. A plaque on the wall next to the staircase reads: "The plaque on this staircase marks the elevation of one mile. It was installed in 2017, the 125th anniversary of the Brown Palace. Survey was provided by Harold Schuch, PE, of the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Colorado-Denver."


A closer look at the height marker


Perhaps the most beautiful of the hotel's meeting facilities is the Onyx Room, shown above and aptly named for its rare white onyx wainscoting, similar to that found in the lobby. This room was originally the Grand Salon of the hotel and featured two enormous fireplaces.


Aside from the namesake onyx, the room's main attraction is this beautiful ceiling fresco with its cherub angels. This was an original feature of the room but was destroyed by leaky plumbing in the 1940s and plastered over.


In 1980, artist M. Lloyd Way was hired to restore the fresco, using an old drawing of the room for inspiration. Each of his new cherubs was painted with the face of someone he knew.


The cherub seen here holding a yellow pennant depicts the artist himself as a child.



The work of another great artist stands in the hotel's elevator lobby. Colorado Native Allen Tupper True, a talented magazine illustrator, is well-known for his depictions of life in the West. His murals can be found in the Colorado, Wyoming, and Missouri State Capitol Buildings—his work in The Brown Palace dates to 1937. The first mural, shown above, sits on top of the hotel's elevators (which feature the griffin logo). This mural represents early Denver, with travelers arriving by stagecoach.


The companion mural, located nearby, depicts "modern" travelers to Denver disembarking from a United Airlines DC3 in 1937. True began the murals in his studio but then painted them himself at the hotel.


The final unique architectural feature of the hotel is the Ship Tavern. Opened in 1934 to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition, the tavern takes its name from the collection of model sailing ships C.K. Boettcher collected on a trip to New England and gifted to his wife. She did not want them displayed at home, so she suggested he instead bring them to the hotel, where they provide a nautical theme to the restaurant. The central pillar was rigged up as a crow's nest. The Ship Tavern is known for its prime rib and functions as the hotel's de facto sports bar. The restaurant is located within one of the iconic corners of the property.


Significance


"Aside from its architecture and engineering achievements with stone and steel, the Palace's chief significance lies in its role as the social and cultural landmark of Denver. The success of the silver strikes in the nearby Rockies drew European and eastern financial interests to the Denver vicinity. These interests demanded more amenities than the usual found in western towns. Thus the occurrence of the opera houses, theatres, and grand hotels of the area." -NRHP Nomination Form


The hotel's NRHP Nomination Form includes a quote attributed to an unnamed author: "The story of Greece is in its temples; that of America is in its hotels." That's the case when it comes to Denver and the Brown Palace. Like an old couple or best friends, the city and hotel have been through everything together, along Denver's journey from a frontier outpost to a wealthy mining town to the major metropolis it is today.


When significant events have come to Denver, from the mining boom to presidential campaigns, the Red Rocks Beatles concert, the G8 summit, or even the COVID pandemic, the hotel has always played a role in the story. Through it all, the Brown Palace has functioned as a community center for Denver's leading families, the rare place where once-in-a-lifetime moments, family traditions, casual meetups, meals, and business meetings can all happen under the same beautiful stained glass roof.


With some of the most stunning architecture and groundbreaking engineering of any historic hotel in America, the Brown Palace is a genuine Denver and Colorado treasure, the beating heart of a community lucky to have such an iconic property at its very core.



 

For Further Information







Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page