Old West Saviors
Reopening Colorado's "Flagship of the San Juans."
- Written by Jana Bommersbach
- Published June 01, 2008
If walls could talk, one of the most interesting stories any walls in the West could tell would come from the Beaumont Hotel in Ouray, Colorado.
Should this country undergo another massive depression, this hotel would hardly be shocked; it’s already seen two other doozies since it was built in this beautiful but remote valley in 1886. First came the four-year panic that began in 1893 and then, of course, the Great Depression of 1929.
But then, this three-story hotel—some call it the “prettiest hotel in Colorado”—has also been through two World Wars and Prohibition. It predates the inventions of the drinking straw, safety razor and even the paper clip, as well as the coming of motels, which were first called “cabins.”
The Beaumont has been sitting at a corner in downtown Ouray, with its beautiful view of the San Juan Mountains, for so long that nobody can imagine this former mining town without it.
But without it the town went for 30 years, during a dispute between the former owner and city fathers over parking—a classic Western hissing match that found neither side with the gumption to step down.
For a lot of buildings, such a fate would be a so-what event. But in the life of Ouray, this fight caused considerable angst and anger. The closing of the hotel brought about the closing of its luxurious dining room and the town’s main gathering spot.
So it’s easy to understand the excitement Ouray’s citizens have felt since the hotel reopened in 2005 to the splendor of its first, posh days and with a new pumping heart for this town that has yet to really be “discovered.”
The Kings’ Good Fortune
It’s all thanks to Dan and Mary King, who came to town in the early 1980s on a weekend visit to friends who owned a second home there. Dan remembers he loved the outdoor life and fishing, and was taken in by the beauty of this valley that once mined silver and gold. He and Mary found their own second home here, away from their main digs, first in San Francisco, California, and later in San Antonio, Texas.
Working together, they amassed a fortune in Texas with their specialty lubricant company, and when they retired, Ouray called. Dan remembers the first time he saw the Beaumont Hotel. “Obviously the building needed a lot of work. It was definitely an endangered building. Bricks were falling off the building on the sidewalk, and the city was ready to condemn it and tear it down.”
He and Mary tried to buy it once, but the owner at the time refused. Wayland Phillips, originally of Chicago, was a woman who vowed to never again open the hotel as long as the City Council denied her the parking concessions she wanted. After her death, the hotel—painted a crude pink—went on the auction block in 1997.
The sealed bids actually covered not only the hotel that sits on three city lots, but also a second old building and three more lots. Dan and Mary got it all for $875,000, then sent their long-time accounting executive to Ouray to help prepare it all for stabilization.
“I came up in 2000, with my seventh grade daughter,” Gary Brandon says. “Now remember, I’m from the accounting side of their life. They had the vision. I didn’t. It looked more like a tearing down to me than a restoration. I couldn’t imagine it. It looked like a big pink elephant to me, and Ouray looked like a town not open for business.”
These days, Brandon is general manager of the Beaumont (now called the Hotel & Spa), and he laughs at how his accountant’s heart has come around to love the ol’ girl. He’s proud of what the Kings have done.
“I think the Kings were the best people to find this. They had the affection, the vision and their own money. I think it was a great investment for the town.”
Back in Business
The restoration took five years and $6 million—every penny earned by Dan and Mary over the course of their business lives. It’s not that the Colorado Historical Society didn’t want to help. They granted the Beaumont the largest single grant ever awarded in Colorado at the time—$1 million—but Dan remembers, “The problem with those things is they bring in a lot of bureaucracy that slows things down.”
Neither he nor Mary were interested in dallying. “We needed to get the hotel back into business,” Dan says. “There were people who wanted to get in and they had a lot of old memories, and these people were getting old—we needed to move!”
He laughs when asked if he ever expects to get all his money out of the hotel. “We knew that going in—if you’re doing this for the money, you’re in it for the wrong reason. You’re not going to see the return of everything, but my wife and I were looking for a legacy. We have no children, but we have a good American story. We were fortunate to amass enough wealth so we could do it.”
“Dan and Mary must know every inch of this hotel because they were very hands-on,” Brandon notes. “Dan’s job was to take it to the sheetrock stage, and Mary’s was to do everything from there.”
Does Dan ever regret the investment, both in hard cash and hard muscle strain? “I never asked, ‘what the hell have I done,’ but we look at it and say, ‘did we really do this?’ It’s a fantastic building, and it just needed some help,” he says.
Help came through from an all-female architectural office in Golden, Andrews and Anderson, with Nan Anderson being the lead. “It wasn’t just the money that was big,” Dan notes. “This was a big undertaking. Usually corporations take on projects like this, not a couple.”
Mary made sure the hotel stayed true to its historical roots. Some of the furnishings that came with the old building were restored and used in the 12 sleeping rooms. The Tundra Restaurant offers “fine dining in an elegant and historic setting.” The original dining room, on the second floor (elevator access has been added), features a beautiful balcony where live classical music entertains diners. The hotel also offers a second restaurant, Bulow’s Bistro, named for the hotel’s architect, O. Bulow.
“The Beaumont has another 100 years in it now,” Dan brags. “We’re proud of it, and it’s a great place. It’s out of the way. Ouray hasn’t been found yet, but it
The Beaumont has definitely been “found,” as it has been lauded with impressive awards. Dan and Mary were particularly proud to receive one of those awards in the Oval Office, when the Beaumont received an inaugural 2004 Preserve America Presidential Award. They’ve also won a 2003 National Preservation Award and a 2003 Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation from the state of Colorado. Both of the hotel’s restaurants also serve award-winning cuisine.
The Beaumont Hotel, with its walls having seen so much, is standing tall and proud, and wondering what the next century will bring.