This summer, the Beaumont turns 125 years old. Owners Chad and Jennifer Leaver, who bought the hotel in 2010, figure that’s worth celebrating. So this Saturday, June 2, they are throwing the Beaumont a big ol’ birthday bash, to which everyone is invited.
In addition to a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the hotel’s recently rechristened restaurant and lounge, guests will enjoy a historic fashion show presented by the Durango Victorian Aid Society, live music in the courtyard throughout the afternoon, free hotel tours, and massages in the spa. Door prizes, given away every half-hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., include a rare bottle of wine from the Beaumont’s world-class wine cellar, spa services, dinners, a stay at the hotel, and more.
Perhaps the most meaningful event of the day takes place in the hotel’s courtyard at 11 a.m. with a tribute to Ouray’s fallen miners and their families, inspired by the fact that the hotel was originally built to impress investors with the richness of the mining opportunities around Ouray. Ft. Lewis College historian Duane Smith will preside over the ceremony.
“We are trying to let people know that we’re here,” Jennifer said. “We are so proud of this building. We want everyone to see it.”
When the Beaumont Hotel first opened its doors at 505 Main Street to a breathless public on July 15, 1887, few hotels in the entire state could compare with its gleaming opulence.
By day, sunlight shone through cathedral glass skylights into a rotunda with a sweeping oak staircase encircled by gold-painted balconies.
The Gothic brick-clad behemoth with its tower gables and mansard roof was possibly the world’s first hotel to be wired with alternate current electricity. Its ambitious developers, who together formed the Ouray Real Estate and Building Association, had simultaneously founded Ouray Electric Light and Power Company (still in operation today as the Ouray Hydroelectric Plant) to transform their hotel into an electric beacon luring investors and high-society folk to town.
In celebration of its grand opening, the Beaumont hosted a ball on the evening of July 25, 1887.
“The new hotel was ablaze with light last Friday evening,” reported The Solid Muldoon, a Ouray newspaper of the day, “and the corridors and rotunda and parlors filled with handsomely dressed women and gallant beaux. The house was beautifully decorated for the occasion and the famous Telluride orchestra and band discoursed the latest and best promenade and dance music....”
Such parties were the stuff of the local society pages for years to come.
“People traveled for days in stage coaches and carriages to come to an event at the Beaumont,” said Jennifer Leaver, elegantly dressed and perched on a plush chair in the hotel lobby for an interview a week or so ago. “Ladies would wear their diamonds and ball gowns and men would wear their top hats and tails. They would dance until four in the morning. It gives me chills to think about it sometimes.”
Over the years, the Beaumont has also exhibited surprising resilience to time’s cruel fortunes. Not long after it opened, a young woman who worked in the dining room, Eller Day, was murdered by her boyfriend in the servants’ quarters of the hotel, inspiring an outraged mob to burn the jailhouse where the perpetrator awaited sentencing. Then came the Silver Crash of 1893 that ruined several of the Beaumont’s original investors. Somehow the hotel survived all of this, plus the Great Depression and the continuing ups and downs of the 20th century.
Historian Doris Gregory writes in her comprehensive book, Ouray’s Beaumont Hotel, A Century of Ouray’s History, that the hotel was nothing short of the social centerpiece of the community. “Newly married couples used the Beaumont for receptions and dancing ... and they returned years later for their anniversary celebrations. Businessmen made use of the hotel and many deals were conceived and settled over lunch or in the privacy of a hotel room. Politicians of all parties held secret strategy meetings in smoke-filled upstairs rooms and public dinners in larger areas.”
“In its heyday, the hotel attracted guests such as Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Chipeta [wife of Ute Chief Ouray], and Lily Langtry,” another historian writes. “Sarah Bernhardt was known to belt songs from the balconies and King Leopold of Belgium demonstrated his mountain-climbing skills by dangling from the second-story railings.”
The Beaumont’s darkest days did not come until the 1960s. Chicago businesswoman Wayland Phillips, who purchased the building a few years after it had already shut down, approached the City of Ouray, asking to close off a portion of Fifth Avenue to provide parking for the hotel. The city said no. A bitter feud ensued. Phillips shuttered the Beaumont. For the next 30 years, it was inhabited only by ghosts and caretakers.
“A lot of what you hear about Way is just spite – pure mean gossip,” asserted the late Joyce Jorgensen in an interview in 1998. “She was not very social, so it was easy for people to unfairly blame her for things.”
As the former editor and publisher of the Plaindealer, Jorgenson was a strong woman herself, and one of the few people in Ouray County who befriended Phillips.
Jorgenson maintained that her old friend “wanted to turn the Beaumont into something good,” but years went by, and none of Phillips’ visions for the building ever materialized.
“Kids in town would break in and have spook sessions and sometimes steal things,” Jorgenson recalled. “Wayland was going crazy. She called me once in the middle of the night, very upset over the unwillingness of the Ouray Police to help her deal with trespassers. She became the laughingstock of the community, the butt. There was rather a mob mentality against her.”
Phillips ran ads in the Plaindealer warning that any trespassers caught in the Beaumont would be shot.
“Her people carried guns,” Jorgenson said, “And I think she did too. She received death threats.”
The town of Ouray, meanwhile, grew up around the embattled building, as if fulfilling the outsized ambitions of the leading Ouray citizens who had come together to build the grand hotel all those years ago.
Phillips died in 1997, and the Beaumont’s fortunes turned once more, when it was announced the hotel would be sold in a sealed-bid auction by the Denver outfit Sheldon Good & Co., to pay off Phillips’ estate taxes.
Prior to the auction, the company opened the hotel to the public a number of times. Bright voices rattled off the walls, as the long-shuttered hotel once again hosted crowds of people (including this reporter) who flocked to Ouray to catch a glimpse of the ruin.
Wallpaper and plaster hung in shrouds from the walls and ceiling. In some places on the third floor, one could look right through the ceiling to the open sky – or, for a more dizzying effect, through the cracks in the floorboards to the rooms below.
The smells of dust and mildew mingled, pervading everything. The air was frigid. There was no electricity. No heating. No plumbing. An opaque layer of grime caked those windows that were not boarded up.
Yet here and there were hints at what once was. A glass case contained old guest registers and original room keys. An enormous old cookstove sat in the ruins of what was once the kitchen. A couch lurked in a dark hallway on the third floor, upholstered in dusty velvet.
Through the cobwebs, the Beaumont’s elegance still shone – its gorgeous woodwork, its charming design.
One longtime Ouray resident, Bernice Swift, who had last been in the building in 1940, recalled the place when it was still in its prime. “There were Mariposa lilies on each table,” she said, “picked fresh that morning from the top of Dallas Divide.”
Helen Moon, who had worked as a maid at the Beaumont in 1944, stood in the orchestra gallery, looking down at the ruined ballroom, its ceiling caved in, trying to hold back tears.
“At Christmas, there was a tree in here that went all the way to the ceiling, with just enough room for an angel on top,” she recalled. “And there was a chandelier – I’ve never seen anything like it. The hugest thing I’d ever saw.”
Those who knew and loved the Beaumont wondered who would have a vision grand enough – and pockets deep enough – to restore Ouray’s “Titanic in dry dock” to her former glory.
The answer came in the persons of Dan and Mary King.
It cost $87,000 to build the Beaumont in 1886. As it stood poised for the auction block in 1998, 112 years later, the hotel was assessed at $700,000. The Kings bought it for $850,000 and poured millions more into the old structure to fully restore it.
A team of local workers used blowtorches and nylon brushes to remove pink paint from the hotel’s brick exterior over a period of five painstaking months. The building was structurally stabilized with 12 tons of steel. What couldn’t be saved, inside and out, was meticulously replicated with no expense spared. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Beaumont Hotel was the recipient of the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation in 2003. The Kings were also presented with a 2004 Preserve America Presidential Award.
The Leavers, a young couple who fell in love with the Beaumont while staying there briefly as guests in the summer of 2010, caught the Kings’ dream, and over the past two years as its new owners have ushered the beloved old hotel into a new era.
“We adore the place and can’t believe it sat empty for so long,” Jennifer said. “We’re so happy the Kings came in and saved it. I’m so glad they had such vision, because they restored this place to perfection.”
The Leavers have brought youthful energy to their business, marketing the hotel as a venue for destination weddings and other events, and shifting away from an unprofitable business model that once featured a four-star restaurant, The Tundra, that the town simply could not sustain.
Today, The Tundra has returned to its roots. Rechristened “The Grand Ballroom,” the space is now used as a venue for wedding receptions, as well as occasional special events that are open to the public, including an annual Halloween Ball.
In addition to the hotel with its 12 guest rooms, the Leavers have also brought a fresh focus into other aspects of their business.
The Beaumont’s other restaurant, The Ore House, formerly Bulow’s Bistro, is heir to one of the Western Slope’s largest wine selections, curated by the Kings, with over 300 vintages from around the world. Chefs Charlie Bartosek from the Colorado Springs Hilton, Katarina Papenbrock from Das Taco and Tim Eihausen from the BonTon preside over the kitchen this summer.
Luella’s Lounge, formerly the Voodoo Lounge, is an intimate wine and martini bar tucked away on the second floor of the hotel in a space that originally housed a billiards room, with a balcony overlooking the courtyard. Luella’s is named after the last known resident of the Beaumont Hotel, a high-class lady of the evening.
The hotel’s spa is tucked away in a secluded corner on the third floor of the hotel, where the servants’ quarters once existed. Today, spa patrons gaze upon the Amphitheater and Cascade Falls while enjoying a massage or facial, or soaking in a private hot tub in the sauna room.
It is here, in the part of the hotel now occupied by the spa, that Eller Day was shot and killed in 1887. Some say her ghost still haunts the scene of her demise.
But happy ghosts inhabit the Beaumont as well. Neighbors claim to have seen a couple dancing on the hotel roof at night. At Buckskin Booksellers, one of several businesses now located within the hotel, books are said to capriciously float off the shelves of their own accord. Psychic Shirley Nelson, who visited Ouray before the Beaumont’s renovation, when it was still closed to the public, heard music emanating from within when she walked around its perimeter, saw horse-drawn carriages, and generally got a very happy feeling about the building.
Deep pockets, grand vision, a little madness and a lot of love. The Kings needed all these things to resurrect the Beaumont from the depths of ruin a decade and a half ago. And the Leavers will need all that, and more, to steer the Beaumont smoothly with her sails unfurled, into the choppy waters of the 21st century.
Looking around the lovely lobby, with the exact same check-in desk that served customers in 1887, its oaken stairway sweeping up to the second floor, its elegant clock quietly keeping time as it has done through 125 years of opulence and ruin, Jennifer said, “Ouray is so lucky someone had the vision to bring this hotel back to its original splendor. We don’t know if anyone else cares, but we think it’s huge that the Beaumont is turning 125, and we are going to make the celebration as grand as we can to honor it.”