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Historical Perspectives

The Antlers Hotel times three

When Gen. William Palmer founded Colorado Springs in 1871, his ambition was to make it the country’s premier resort city. Key to that goal was the construction of a first-class hotel to accommodate the wealthy tourists who were drawn to the city.Palmer chose 4 South Cascade Ave. as the site for the hotel, where it would be centered below Pikes Peak and perfectly framed by the trees on Pikes Peak Avenue.Boston architects Peabody and Stearns designed a five-story, English-style building, and construction began in 1881.The hotel had no name until the spring of 1883, when Palmer decided to call it the “Antlers” for the deer and elk antlers that had been sent by an employee from Manitou Park and stored at the construction site.When the hotel opened on June 1, 1883, the antlers were used to decorate the interior and serve as hat racks.The exterior of the 101-foot-tall building dominated the city’s skyline and was clad in gray Castle Rock stone for the first three stories, with wood for the top two stories – a regrettable choice when a fire engulfed the hotel. On three sides, there were gables, turrets, towers, cozy balconies and awnings.Inside, a hydraulic elevator transported guests from floor to floor.Each of the 75 guestrooms had a unique interior design, with carpets and linens provided by Arnold Constable & Company of New York.The hotel featured gas lighting and central heating, and on each floor there were two bathrooms with hot and cold running water. The bridal suite had its own bath and an open fireplace.In the summer of 1893, poet Katharine Lee Bates, an English teacher at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, stayed at the Antlers while she taught English at Colorado College.One day, Bates and her fellow teachers hired a wagon to journey to the top of Pikes Peak.”I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse,” Bates later said.Upon returning to her room at the Antlers, Bates penned the poem, “America the Beautiful,” which is most often sung to the melody written by Samuel Augustus Ward.Just 15 years after it opened; on Oct. 1, 1898, the first Antlers Hotel burned to the ground.The fire started at the Denver and Rio Grande Railway depot (also owned by Palmer) and was made worse when a freight car loaded with powder exploded. The 50 mph winds were no help, either. The city’s mayor had warned that the whole town was in great danger of being destroyed.A college football game underway at Colorado College was called in the third quarter, and the two teams rushed to help. Hundreds of volunteers struggled to keep the south end of the Antlers damp. Firefighters from Denver and Pueblo arrived by special express trains.The town was saved but not the hotel.At the time of the fire, Palmer was in London and learned of his $250,000 loss by cable. He immediately announced that work would begin on a bigger, more costly hotel on the same site.It took longer to litigate the fire than build the new Antlers Hotel. The new, 230-room hotel opened July 1, 1901. Built for $744,000, the hotel was designed in the style of the Italian Renaissance and featured modern bathrooms. It was built as fireproof as possible.Guests paid $1.50 a night and could play billiards, go bicycling or bowling, get a haircut in the barbershop or go dancing in the grand ballroom.In 1903, the 30 litigants reached an out-of-court settlement in which the Denver and Rio Grande Railway was held liable for the fire. The total loss was estimated at $1 million.Four years later, Palmer held a reunion of his Civil War regiment at the Antlers. Some of the veterans got rowdy and posted an original sign offering a reward for the capture of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America. The Gazette published a letter from a woman who objected to the sign. She was Margaret Hayes, a prominent Colorado Springs socialite and Davis’s only living child.Legend has it that in 1913, local mining magnate Spencer Penrose was riding his horse down Cascade Avenue and realized he was thirsty. He rode his horse into the Antlers in search of a drink, but hotel management asked him to leave. It has been said that Penrose vowed to build a hotel where he could be served at the bar atop his horse.Penrose offered $87,500 to buy the Antlers from Palmer’s estate. (Palmer died in 1909.) The estate manager counter-offered at $200,000, but Penrose declined and went on to build the Broadmoor.Over the next 50 years, the Antlers fell into disrepair, and urban sprawl sent the city’s downtown business district into decline.In 1964, local businessmen Henry Chase Stone and Russell Tutt were depressed by the number of businesses moving away to suburban shopping centers.Stone, president of First National Bank, had nightmares in which the bank and Patsy’s Popcorn Stand were the only businesses left in a sea of empty parking lots.Then, a Denver businessman said he was interested in building a multi-million-dollar fashion store next to the Antlers.Against the wishes of the city’s residents, who protested when they heard the news, Stone and Tutt, acting for the El Pomar Investment Co., bought the second Antlers with the intention of putting a modern building in its place.The last guest of the second Antler’s checked out Sept. 20, 1964.Stone and Tutt then started the biggest downtown development project the city had experienced since the Cripple Creek gold boom of 1900, when most of the business section was built.The third and current Antlers, then called the Antlers Plaza Hotel, opened in March 1967 as part of the Chase Stone Center. The complex cost $15 million to build and included the 16-story Holly Sugar Building and the May D&F department store.The 12-story hotel has 285 guestrooms and seven suites.Doubletree ran the third Antlers until it was sold to Adam’s Mark Hotels in 1998 for $35.4 million.On Dec. 30, 2004, Morgan Stanley and Pyramid Advisers LLC, a hotel management company based in Boston, partnered to buy the Antlers for an undisclosed amount.Today, Hilton Management Services manages the hotel under the name “Antlers Hilton.”Ghost hunters claim the Antlers is haunted.It has been said that a male entity inhabits Judge Baldwin’s, a micro-brewery located on the site. A female entity dressed in a long gown for a special evening has been spotted going down a back flight of stairs, and the entity of a young girl supposedly lingers in some of the rooms, even to this day.

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