Residence Hotel modernizes old feel under new ownership
It was July, and Susan Stone-Chen and Simon Chen decided to be their own guests.
The couple had quietly acquired the fabled Residence Hotel that month from founder Terry Butler, who owned and operated the 8,000-square-foot Residence Hotel since 1995, aesthetically curating the aging apartment units into luxury guest suites.
“We took the opportunity to stay here as guests so we could connect with the people who come here year after year,” Stone-Chen said this week.
They learned guests would like to see a bar with alcohol. Not one with service, just stocked with top-shelf liquor that guests could tap for a relaxing cocktail in the lobby. Check.
“So, we just have a good, little honor bar,” she said. “Obviously, we’re not a restaurant or a bar, but we just have an area where will put ice machines.”
“And, they’ll help themselves,” added Chen.
The couple are keeping a daily presence at the hotel, just like their predecessor. They answer the phones and act as concierges. They dine out with guests, mixing both networking and socializing. They’ve updated the booking system, so that guests can book online. Butler used to take reservations the old-fashioned way — over the phone with pen and paper.
“Running a seven-bedroom hotel is a walk in the park for us,” Stone-Chen said. “It’s not for everybody, so we don’t say that lightly. But, we know what we’re doing.”
Noticeable changes to the lobby area, which greets visitors at the top of the seven-suite hotel’s stairs, include new wallpaper and three Picassos hanging on the wall. Antique furniture pieces and fixtures remain there, and, in the suites — but in true Aspen style — they’ve been upgraded to look newer.
“Our goal was to re-use a lot of the antique and vintage pieces,” Stone-Chen said. “So, all the furniture has been re-upholstered.”
There’s no need to give the hotel a complete overhaul, they said. Guests appreciate the charm, and that the rooms aren’t cookie cutters. The Residence Hotel’s location — its facade neatly tucked away in the building’s architecture — is in the heart of downtown.
“To me, it’s old-school Aspen,” Chen said. “You look at the brick walls here, you look at the history. I first stayed at the Little Red Ski Haus in 1992, and this reminds of that feeling — walking up that really steep staircase …”
It was likely a brothel back in the town’s rough-and-tumble mining days of the 19th century, they said. Most hotels in Aspen were back then.
Butler, a 56-year resident of Aspen, said the couple are the ideal people to run the opulent hotel. Both have experience in hospitality management. Chen once was the managing director of The Little Nell, and Stone-Chen had a background in luxury-hospitality sales. They also are real-estate brokers.
“A year before, I had called them and invited them to lunch and said, ‘You’re the perfect couple to take my hotel and buy my hotel and run my hotel,” said Butler. “You can run it with your eyes closed.”
That was in summer of 2021, and people weren’t itching to buy hotels with the pandemic and travel restrictions in place.
“When Terry came to us and asked if we’re interested in purchasing it, we were like, ‘Our main priority is real estate,'” Stone-Chen said. “We weren’t champing at the bit to take on this endeavor.”
But, as public-health restrictions eased this year, the couple saw an opportunity and got back to Butler. They were ready to own and operate the Residence Hotel, and she didn’t blink.
“When I decided to sell the hotel, I had a lot of lookers,” she said, “but, honestly, anyone I would have sold to the hotel to, it was very personal for me. I ran it like my own home and lived there for 36 years, and, when they called me back, it was a marriage made in heaven.”
The building itself is owned by James E. Cox Living Trust in California, according to property records. Butler had owned the hotel business and all of the inventory, which the Chen couple acquired as part of the deal.
The new ownership closed the hotel Oct. 31 for its first phase refurbishment. It re-opens Dec. 20, they said, and is sold out through Feb. 21. The next upgrade phase will be to the suites’ kitchens.
Butler has lived in the building from where she ran the Residence Hotel since September 1987, when she leased an apartment unit for her own use. She also has a residence at Aspen Glen Club in Carbondale.
“It was hard (selling the Residence Hotel), but I kept my suite for life,” she said. “I’m an Aspen girl. I have a little cabin down in Aspen Glen, and I live between there and the suite.”
The Residence Hotel is part of the Aspen Block building stretching from 303-309 S. Galena St. The Aspen Block building — along with the LeFave Building at 405 S. Hunter St. and the Cowenhaven Building (Ute City Banque) at 501 E. Hyman Ave. — were “renovated several times to accommodate the change of businesses ranging from restaurants, saloons, and mercantiles to drug stores, hardwares, and groceries. The upper stories were originally headquarters for numerous mining companies and fraternal orders as well as offices for dentists, doctors, and lawyers,” according to nomination form for dozens of Aspen properties to listed to the National Register of Historic Places, which was filed in 1987.
The Aspen Block building was built in 1886 by two of Aspen’s earliest and most prominent citizens: H.P. Cowenhoven and his son-in-law, D.R.C. Brown. At the time, it housed real estate, insurance, and law offices. Brown’s son was president of the Aspen Skiing Co. until the spring of 1980.
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