Restoring Historic Hotels

History, On the Road
on October 5, 2003
Beaumont Hotel & Spa

When Dan and Mary King bought the old boarded-up Beaumont Hotel, part of its roof was collapsed, layers of paint hid exterior brickwork, and shattered glass panes littered the floors.

Long gone was the grand hotel, built in 1886, which once served as the social center for Ouray, Colo., and welcomed guests such as Sarah Bernhardt and Theodore Roosevelt. Ouray (pronounced Yoo-RAY), a high-country mining town named after a Ute Indian chief, was once proud to have the region’s “flagship hotel.”

But more than a century later, what remained of that proud establishment was a white elephant wearing a very worn coat of pink paint.

Except to the Kings. “We never looked at it the way it was, just the way it could be,” Mary says. “The minute we walked into it, there was a sense of people who had been here before you.”

Now, five years and some $4 million later, the glasses tinkle in the main ballroom and guests marvel at the elegance around them. Once again, the Beaumont is resplendent in its rotunda encircled by balconies, grand oak staircase, cathedral glass skylights, and rich wall coverings.

‘It was spectacular’

When Roger Henn’s father took his family to the Beaumont for Sunday dinner, it was a special occasion, Henn recalls.

“My earliest memory of the Beaumont was about 1921,” says Henn, 86, a Ouray native. “I was 4 years old and we would go to the Beaumont several times every year after church until my father died.”

Henn, who played on the hotel’s back stairs as a child, easily remembers the details of Ouray’s finest hotel.

“It was a fantastic thing,” Henn recalls. “You walked in a big lobby area and at that time there were (display) cases around with mining samples from various mines around there.”

The grand staircase particularly captured his attention. “It was a perfectly marvelous staircase, something that looks like it came out of the South,” he says. “Overhead was an open atrium that went up to the sky. When reflections were just right, you could see in the glass the reflections of the mountains that surround Ouray. It was spectacular.”

Henn has more than simply a passing interest in the renovation; as head of Ouray’s historical society, he was instrumental in getting the entire downtown listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“I’m so thrilled that the Beaumont’s open again,” Henn says. “I can hardly tell you about it.”

The Beaumont’s rebirth has sparked a renaissance around its part of town. “It’s alive now, and it wasn’t alive five years ago,” Henn says. “All of that end of town now has become a focal point and active part of Ouray instead of something you skipped and went down to the next block.”

Taking stock

The Beaumont indeed has injected new life into parts of Ouray, but it first had to be brought back to life itself, and that was no easy task.

When the Kings bought the three-story wood and brick structure in 1998 at a silent auction, it was just months away from demolition, despite its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The Beaumont had been closed since the late 1960s, so more than 30 years of dust and neglect awaited them.

But the Kings treasured the hotel’s history, so they looked at old photographs of the hotel, documented every layer of wallpaper, and took stock of all the Beaumont’s original hardware. The goal was to restore it as authentically as possible while upgrading its infrastructure to meet modern-day codes. That meant enlarging rooms and doors and upgrading the original electrical system.

The Kings, who employed local craftsmen and artists, took extra steps to maintain authenticity and take care of their investment. Going brick by brick for nearly eight months, workers used butane heaters to heat the exterior paint until it bubbled and could be scraped off, Dan says. They also had a special knife made that replicated a particular wood pattern.

Most of the Beaumont is original, Mary says, such as the skylight, door sashings, railings, the tin ceiling in the bookstore—one of the hotel’s handful of businesses that include a bistro, fine dining, and a gift shop.

“The windows alone were unbelievable,” Henn says. “Rather than rip out the old windows and replace them, they restored the old ones.”

And the Kings have achieved their goal of authenticity, Henn says. “It’s very, very close to what it looked like originally,” he says. “I can’t believe how well they did.”

That’s because the Kings spared no expense. “It’s something you do and you try to make sure it’s done right,” Dan says. “We didn’t take any shortcuts.”

The state of Colorado recognized such attention to historic detail by awarding them the first Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation.

Restoring the Beaumont has been a labor of love for the Kings, who had been part-time residents of Ouray (pop. 813) before buying the hotel and making the scenic mountain town their permanent home. They understand the connection local residents have to the Beaumont.

“There are strong emotional ties,” Mary says. “Many old-timers worked here back then, or their parents worked here.”

Townspeople are proud that the Beaumont is back in business, Dan says. “There’s a sense of pride (that) now we have a place that’s second to none.”

Other Restored Historic Hotels

Across the country, the doors to historic hotels are once again opening as their rich history and value are recognized. The National Trust for Historic Preservation keeps track of some of these treasures, such as:

Mendocino Hotel & Garden Suites—Mendocino, Calif.

Originally called The Temperance House, the Mendocino Hotel, built in 1878, is the town’s only remaining hotel from its heyday as a logging boomtown. The yellow clapboard hotel with an ocean view eventually became run-down until local resident R.O. Peterson bought it in 1975 and hired designers, craftsmen, and local artists to restore its physical structure and Victorian atmosphere.

The hotel’s original structure—the lobby, dining room, kitchen, and upstairs rooms—remains intact. Newer rooms have been added, yet they still provide the Victorian flavor of the town’s pioneer past.

Hotel Pattee—Perryville, Iowa

The Hotel Pattee, built in 1913 with amenities such as telephones in each room and a basement bowling alley, underwent several incarnations until Perryville native Roberta Green Ahmanson and her husband, Howard, bought it in 1993. Until the couple acquired it, so many changes had been made and facades added that the only original piece remaining from 1913 was the “Pattee” inscribed at the top of the building.

But after a 2 1/2-year renovation, the hotel reopened, with its canopy, bowling alley, and lobby—with chandeliers and Persian rug—restored.

The Windsor—Americus, Ga.

The Windsor, occupying nearly an entire city block, was a five-story, 100-room Victorian structure built in 1892 to attract visitors from the wintry north. The castle-like hotel, with balconies, turrets, and a three-story atrium lobby, once hosted balls and celebrations.

But after eight decades, the once-splendorous Windsor was well into decline, closing in 1974. Four years later, its owners donated the Windsor to the city of Americus. In 1980, the incoming mayor had two choices: either demolish the hotel or restore it.

The community overwhelmingly favored restoration, and for the next decade, organized the multimillion-dollar project that would become a catalyst for downtown revitalization. Restoration began in 1990 and the hotel reopened in September 1991 to its original grandeur.

Wentworth by the Sea—New Castle, N.H.

Daniel Chase, a Boston distiller, built the large hotel in 1874 at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. Wentworth became a world-class resort, attracting political and entertainment figures. But in 1981, a Swiss company bought the Wentworth and closed the resort. It subsequently was passed around to multiple owners.

Locals, outraged at the idea of losing the historic hotel, formed Friends of the Wentworth to seek a buyer who would restore it—a task that proved difficult. Eventually, the company that owned the hotel announced its imminent demolition, and the National Trust for Historical Preservation placed the Wentworth on its List of America’s Eleven Most Endangered Places.

Negotiations prolonged the life of the Wentworth until Ocean Properties Ltd. purchased it in 1997 and began restoring it back into a premier destination. It opened last spring.

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