The front door of the Hotel Jerome is opened for me by a young man dressed in classic western attire: boots, jeans, buttoned-up shirt, and a cowboy hat casting shadows on his face. All the bellhops appear this way, yet none are identical which allows for a certain authenticity; one can’t help but believe this is how these men dress when off the job.
Once inside the terracotta-colored brick building (the bricks were locally-sourced), a richly elegant setting greets everyone entering the hotel. Dim lighting and dark walls immediately offer a throw-back to an era long gone. But natural light in the background over the sitting area of the lobby spills through a ceiling of crossed beams, illuminating the lounge which increases the modest portrayal of wealth and prosperity—a time of hard work and money earned.
Find Everything Historic got to spend some time with Shawn Tanozzi at the acclaimed Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colorado to give our readers some of the real history behind the operation.
Shawn meets me at the front desk, which is set directly on the right side of the front door in a position that is easy to miss. Born locally, he is a perfect guide in his boots and hat and seems eager to share his knowledge of the hotel, beginning with the front desk.
“In the day the thinking was more about arriving at the hotel,” Shawn tells me, “And checking in was the biggest part of people’s stay so it really took up the whole lobby, but now the thinking has changed and now they want this space for people to enjoy their stay, so they moved the front desk.”
He gestures to the sitting area with the natural lighting to show me where the desk was originally placed. He points out that the desk countertop, made of thick green granite, is actually heated and puts off enough Btus to heat the entire front lobby in winter. The room keys behind the desk are all original.
Stepping away from the entrance of the hotel we enter the sitting area, where a large portrait of Jerome Wheeler watches over the lobby.
“He (Jermome Wheeler) built this, the Wheeler Opera House,” Shawn starts, “And the museum was his home. He was married to the Macy’s family in New York. There were 15,000 people in Aspen when he came and built the hotel, so it was a really fun place to be; there’s never been that many since.”
Jerome B. Wheeler first came to Aspen in 1882 and immediately began pouring money into the local economy, investing his wealth primarily in silver mines. Aspen at the time was considered to be a mini-metropolis due to the mining, so Wheeler felt that the structures he built were important additions to the architectural history of the town. The Hotel Jerome was built as a potential rival to London’s Savoy Hotel. It was the first building west of the Mississippi to have electricity. Shawn points out the electric call box hanging on the wall, one of the first in the world. “They even had light before most of New York City because of the local hydropower”, Shawn notes.
Still in the lobby lounge, Shawn points out the mounted goat heads. Rumors say that they are the remains of the first meal on the opening night of the hotel, on Thanksgiving 1890. Across the lobby a mounted grandfather clock rests, which has never been moved. Above our heads are the cross beams, originally filled with rose-tinted glass, “so it would accent a woman’s makeup.”
As we walk towards the ballroom in the back of the hotel, a portrait of “Water Boy,” the ghost of Jerome, hangs in a slightly creepy manner on the wall. The boy is said to fill guests’ sinks with soapy water, particularly in room 310. He drowned in the pool while vacationing with his family and still reportedly returns to the room, soaking wet, looking for his family. Another employee walks by as I acknowledged the portrait. “Look across from the painting and you’ll see drip marks on the wall.” But I don’t see anything.
Originally there were one hundred rooms in the historic wing of the building but today there are only twenty. Significant renovations have occurred since 1946, including removing the white paint that had been put over the beautiful exterior brick and the upgrade from communal bathrooms.
But one consistency carried throughout the hotel is that its décor is modern and classic yet always invoking days of mining the Colorado Rockies. Even the newer additions are filled with dark wood, dark lighting and dark wallpaper or paint that invokes the Victorian era. We enter the room directly behind the lobby, with its comfortable seating between a fireplace and bar. Only two years old, the room is a dark smoky color throughout. Todd Avery Lenahan was the designer behind the most recent renovation and the result is a perfect blend of modern grace and elegance with classic western mountain style.
“The designer is so brilliant he really has his own brand for sure,” Shawn tells me, “They gave him a palette and he really had fun with it.”
Our last stops are the above-ground ballroom and up to a presidential suite. Some of the rooms contain original features, including the bathrooms, but the majority have been updated to suit modern design needs. Shawn isn’t shy about the recent renovations.
“What’s neat about the rooms being re-done is that they moved a lot of the antique pieces [of furniture] into the public areas. The stuff that came in the eighties when they made it more western, that’s all been given to the Habitat stores and no one’s buying it.” The elevator walls are lined with square panels filled with leather belt pieces. “There’s a fashion show in Carbondale, CO, and the architect here hosts that fashion show and it’s all about re-purposing things. It’s neat because the designer let local architects help with the project.”
The Jerome Hotel may be an historic structure, full of a rich history including several famous visitors as well as having survived “the quiet years” when rooms went for $10 a month and silver was no longer to be found, but the modern details enhance the sophisticated undertones of historic wealth.
Always a popular social venue for locals of all backgrounds, the hotel fell to neglect for a long time and became a space filled with ski bums. But today, with all its upgrades and attention to detail, the space has re-invented itself to its original intent, of being a hotel comparable with the most exclusive boutique hotels, without losing the authentic feeling that perhaps this is the way it has always been.
For more information about the Hotel Jerome: http://hoteljerome.aubergeresorts.com/