The Jerome: history is part of the promise
December 6, 2006
How do you know if you can take a man at his word?It’s a hard enough question when it’s a single person, but what about a whole company?
As the new owners of the Hotel Jerome prepare to renovate one of Aspen’s most beloved landmarks, the question of whether they’ll be true to their word haunts the community.When the Gaylord family sought to buy the Jerome in 2005, representatives pledged not to turn the rooms into condominiums. The sale came during a period when Aspen saw a number of longtime lodging properties turn to fractional ownership, which didn’t sit well with the community.And at a recent Aspen City Council meeting, when Gaylord representatives sought approval for renovations, the issue of preserving the original building’s historic character came up as well.As evidence they’ll make good on their promise to respect the Jerome’s history (and not to go condo), representatives for the new owners cite the Gaylord family’s long history of holding on to businesses rather than flipping them for a quick profit. They point specifically to Colorado Springs’ historic, five-star Broadmoor Hotel.When the Colorado Springs nonprofit El Pomar Foundation was forced to sell portions of its for-profit businesses in 1988, the Gaylords acquired a majority interest in the hotel through its Oklahoma Publising Company. The company has since acquired the remaining interests.When El Pomar announced the impending sale of one of that city’s principle establishments, Broadmoor neighbors had concerns similar to Aspen’s. But the Gaylords found favor with El Pomar, in part because the family had its own history in Colorado Springs. Edward Gaylord had stayed at the hotel during childhood visits, and the family owned the Colorado Springs Sun newspaper during the 1970s and ’80s. Several family members also graduated from the city’s highly regarded Colorado College.Since 1988, Oklahoma Publishing has made substantial changes to the Broadmoor grounds. Among them was razing the Broadmoor World Arena, training ground for numerous figure skating champions, including Olympic gold medalist Peggy Fleming. The rink and its companion Broadmoor Skating Club have been mainstays for the U.S. Figure Skating Association, based in Colorado Springs.The new owners also removed the hotel’s gas station and greenhouse, and they built a number of upscale townhomes near the front of the hotel. These are but a few of the changes since Oklahoma Publishing took over.The list alone is enough to make a longtime Aspenite quiver. But the changes at the Broadmoor haven’t necessarily left the townspeople feeling like they’ve lost a part of their history.
The Broadmoor and the Jerome are cornerstones in their communities, both for their historical architecture and for the stalwart images they’ve maintained as the towns grew up around them.Each hotel was founded by one of the towns’ pioneers, Jerome B. Wheeler in Aspen and Spencer Penrose in Colorado Springs. And in each case, the owners who sold to the Gaylord family wanted to do more than merely profit from the hotels. They wanted to ensure the hotels’ pasts were preserved into the future.
According to Steve Bartolin, president and chief executive officer at the Broadmoor, the Colorado Springs hotel has had only two owners since it was built in 1918: the El Pomar Foundation, founded by Penrose, and now the Gaylord family.Parting with the Broadmoor was like losing a family member for El Pomar, so finding the right owners was of paramount importance to foundation members.”They were concerned about the Broadmoor and the community, and they literally sought out the owners,” Bartolin said.
In Aspen, Oklahoma Publishing is the sixth owner of the Hotel Jerome, which was completed in 1889.Previous owner Dick Butera, who co-owned the Jerome with Jim McManus before selling McManus his share, recently spoke to the Aspen City Council about operating the hotel as a labor of love.”We really felt a community obligation more than a monetary obligation,” he told the council as it mulled the Gaylords’ proposed renovations.”The soul of the community is in their hands, and they know it,” Butera said. “They’ll be great citizens of our community. I know they will.”Although Jerome General Manager Tony DiLucia will continue to run the hotel in Aspen, Bartolin has been, and will continue to be, heavily involved in the Jerome renovation as well as oversight for both hotels.”But they’ll be fiercely independent both in name and operation,” he offered as reassurance that the Jerome would maintain its unique character.
Oklahoma Publishing will draw on Bartolin’s experience in updating the Broadmoor to breathe old life into the Jerome.That will be a difficult – and expensive – task, Bartolin said, as there’s little original material left to work with at the Jerome. The key is to effect the feel of the hotel’s history rather than exactly restoring it to its original state.”You wouldn’t want to stay in what a hotel room looked like in 1889 or 1918,” he said, describing the Spartan feel of such rooms, with stick furniture and thin twin beds. Plus, 21st-century guests demand amenities that weren’t available 100 years ago.”It’s a real art to blend in today’s technology, but to blend it into a period-style guest room,” he said.
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That’s what Bartolin claims to have done at the Broadmoor, and he’s confident Aspen will be as pleased with the renovated Jerome as he says Colorado Springs is with the Broadmoor.”I understand why they’re skeptical,” he said. “The Broadmoor is as much a treasure in Colorado Springs as the Jerome is in Aspen. … We went through the same thing here.”A community respondsThe Colorado Springs community, for the most part, has been accepting of the Gaylords’ changes at the Broadmoor, says Hank Walter, publisher and owner of The Cheyenne Edition, a weekly newspaper that covers the hotel and its surrounding neighborhood.”There’s no lasting animosity, I can tell you that,” he said. “The Broadmoor has carefully … improved the hotel by leaps and bounds. I think they care about the neighborhood.”Walter says the Broadmoor’s owners know that working with, not against, the community is the key to any business’s survival.
“They have to have city acceptance,” he said. “That might be a little different up there in Aspen than it is here, but they’re good businessmen.”Walter has worked with Bartolin on many occasions.”In my estimation, he does what’s best for the business, but not to the detriment of the community,” Walter said. “And that ‘not’ is important.”High school teacher and technical advisor Jerry Hurst sees it somewhat differently. Hurst has lived in Colorado Springs since the late 1940s and has watched the whole city, not just the Broadmoor, undergo many changes. He and his wife went on their first date at the Broadmoor in 1961 (they were seniors in high school). In the early ’70s, they moved to the southwest part of town, near the Broadmoor grounds, and they’ve been there ever since.
“My sense of the new Broadmoor is it has become increasingly sterile,” he said. “At one time – and this certainly was true for me when I was a kid – I’d go swimming, go to the drugstore, go on dates [there].” Hurst recognizes that the Broadmoor is a private hotel with no formal obligations to the general public, and he appears resigned to the changes. But his impression is that those changes have resulted in less access for a public that once enjoyed the hotel as a “community resource.””I don’t think they’re trying to pimp up the property to sell it. I’ll give them that,” he said. “But I do think they’re trying to pimp up the property for maximum investment. “Now, I don’t know if that’s a bad thing, but I think their vision is to make it more exclusive, and that means keeping out the riffraff, and that riffraff is us.”Bartolin said the notion of exclusivity might be one of perception. The hotel’s pools have long been restricted to all but hotel guests, he said, but the movie theater, retail stores, bars and centerpiece lake remain open to the public.
Changes in parking might contribute to that perception. While locals and guests could once park alongside the hotel, they now must pay (up to $5 per day) to leave their cars in a new parking garage across the street – or use the hotel’s valet service.Bartolin said the old situation was “a mess for the public and certainly the curb appeal of the hotel.”Oklahoma Publishing spent $15 million on the new garage and an additional $7 million to “beautify” the streets around the hotel and make them safer.Nonetheless, Bartolin said, “the Broadmoor is as accessible as it ever was. We don’t exclude anyone.”The Colorado Springs community has been sensitive to moving so much as a shrub, Bartolin said, but he claims the new owners have won over some of their early critics.Among them is attorney David Mize, a member of the Broadmoor Golf Club.
Mize said he and his community of friends were concerned when they first heard El Pomar would sell the hotel, but they’ve been pleased with the changes.”I think there was concern that the Broadmoor was going to be sold from a local organization to a national group,” he said. But their fears were allayed when they learned the Gaylord family’s company would take over. And, he said, the loss of some of the Broadmoor’s more popular amenities was to be expected.”[Modern] hotels don’t have gas service stations and flower shops and ice-skating rinks,” he said.The ice rink, in particular, reportedly had structural and safety problems, and many agreed it had to come down.
“I don’t know if I would have called it a loss, because even though it was nice and historic, I would have to say it was a fire hazard, too,” said Karen Cover, with the World Figure Skating Museum.Mize said the Gaylords were “charitable” in helping establish a new rink at the Colorado Springs World Arena, where the Broadmoor Skating Club now practices.The Gaylords have also preserved some of the staple businesses that are associated with the hotel, including its signature bar, The Golden Bee, the in-hotel movie theater and its high-end restaurant, The Tavern (although Hurst says he and his wife rarely dine there anymore, as was once their habit).Based on the Gaylords’ history with the Broadmoor, both Mize and Walter think Aspen can trust the Gaylords with the future of the Jerome.”You can’t call the Broadmoor developers. They’re a different breed altogether.” said Walter. “I think they are honest and have integrity.”Hurst observed that the layout of the hotels and the towns themselves makes it difficult to compare the two, but he remained more skeptical on Aspen’s behalf than the others.
“I certainly have no insight into what their plans are for the Jerome,” he said. “I would only say that Aspen itself might not have too much insight until it’s too late.”Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org