- Historic Sites
July/august 1989 | Volume 40, Issue 5
A fine base from which to explore these and other attractions is the luxurious pink terra-cotta Broadmoor Hotel, built in 1918 by Spencer Penrose, the second great champion of Colorado Springs. A generation younger than Palmer but, like him, a Philadelphian, Penrose made his fortune in the gold refineries at Cripple Creek. Before Penrose built the Broadmoor, he constructed a toll road to the top of Pikes Peak, refusing to be discouraged even as each successive mile cost five or ten times what had been estimated. (To ensure a return on his quarter-million-dollar investment, he thought up stunts like sponsoring Barney Oldfield in an auto race to the top.)
Once he had decided to enter the hotel business, Penrose tried to buy the Antlers from Palmer, riding into the lobby, legend has it, on his horse. When the two men couldn’t agree on a price, Penrose turned his attention to a site on a man-made lake southwest of town.
Penrose hired the New York architects Warren and Wetmore, designers of Grand Central Terminal and the Commodore and Biltmore hotels, who drew up plans for a Mediterranean-style palazzo overlooking the lake. To furnish it, Penrose imported marble for the staircase from Italy, hired European craftsmen to decorate the ceilings, and bought a centuries-old Venetian fountain for the entrance. As a masterstroke, he arranged for John D. Rockefeller to be the first to sign the guest book when the hotel opened. Hours later, when Penrose looked for his guest of honor, he found he had left to check into the Antlers, driven away by the smell of fresh paint.
The fountain still splashes near the front entrance to the Broadmoor, and you climb the marble staircase to the heart of the hotel, which is the terrace facing the lake and Cheyenne Mountain. Shaded by juniper trees and decorated with massive urns spilling over with flowers, the terrace perfectly embodies Penrose’s dream of a world-class resort in the American wilderness. There may be no surer way to seize hold of an era than to take up residence, however briefly, in one of its great hotels. In Colorado Springs the Broadmoor is the one.
Shaded by juniper trees, the terrace at the Broadmoor embodies Penrose’s dream of a world-class resort in the wilderness.
Over the years the Broadmoor has had to expand, adding wings and golf courses and fitness trails. Guests who used to arrive with their trunks for a summer of rest now come for a day or two of conventioneering or sport, but the hotel is none the less grand for that. From the Broadmoor it’s a ten-minute drive to Old Colorado City, so named by its founders in 1859 in the naive hope it would become the state capital. Its main street, once home to the bars and brothels outlawed in Colorado Springs, is given over to shops and restaurants now. Incorporated into Colorado Springs in 1917, it has the feel of a real place that the downtown somehow lacks.
A few miles north is Manitou Springs, where there are springs and Victorian hotels with porches, although souvenir shops threaten to overwhelm the landscape. Manitou is also the starting point for the cog railway up Pikes Peak. And on the far side of the peak are two goldmining towns that make an excellent day trip. The drive there along Route 67 winds through the glorious mountain scenery people come to Colorado for, and when you round the bend onto Cripple Creek’s main street, you’re smack in the middle of the Old West. The restored and sandblasted brick storefronts now sell T-shirts and ice cream—the get-rich-quick enterprises of a new generation. Six miles farther along is Victor, a half-deserted hillside town of ghostly beauty. Black clouds gathered as I was there, and a sudden hailstorm materialized out of the July afternoon, sending torrents of rain and ice through the streets and driving everyone indoors. For a moment Victor seemed as sodden and godforsaken as these camps must have been most of the time—making the nearby civilized comforts of Colorado Springs all the more pleasurable.