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Denver : Old West survives amid thrusting skyline and some fine little hotels : Unusual Properties Match the Best in Their Ambiance : DENVER: Hotels Tops in Milieu

May 26, 1985|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

DENVER — Get out the pad and pencil, we've completed another chapter in our lineup of the world's leading little hotels.

Besides Denver, we've covered New York, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Honolulu, Tokyo, London, Paris, Vienna, Rome and Copenhagen, among others.

And while Denver doesn't possess the number of small hotels we've discovered in other cities, it offers a couple of unusual properties that match some of the best of the rest. Namely there is the Oxford, and it is a gem. So is the Cambridge Club. Although unalike in some respects, both properties reflect the style, grace and good taste associated with the operation of a genuinely appealing small hotel.

The Oxford--it describes itself as Denver's "Grand Small Hotel"-- was a pitiful derelict until undergoing a three-year, $12-million face lift beginning in 1979, during which the little 82-room hotel was rewired, replumbed and air-conditioned. Indeed, it was renovated throughout.

While stripping paint from the chandeliers, artisans discovered sterling silver underneath. They also found that rugs had been piled one on top of the other as they'd grown threadbare. Meanwhile, a couple of other chandeliers were cast in Italy especially for the new Oxford, stunning pieces reflecting 19th-Century elegance.

A sense of well-being envelops the newly arrived guest immediately upon being ushered into the Oxford's tastefully furnished lobby with its elegant period pieces. Management likens it to an "English gentleman's club" complete with Oriental rugs, bookcases, beveled glass and a marble fireplace.

Guests lounge in deep sofas before the fireplace, sipping brandies, and when day ends mood music is provided occasionally on a magnificent piano once owned by Baby Doe Tabor.

The Oxford, which faces 17th Street barely a block from Union Station, is a delightful, intimate and unassuming little hotel steeped in tradition. During the original opening in 1891 it was acclaimed "Denver's grandest hotel." Designed by Frank E. Edbrooke who created the city's world-renowned Brown Palace, the Oxford appeals to the carriage trade, reflecting both a European ambiance and a sense of the Old West.

Guests who attended the original opening were feted with champagne and entertained by a Hungarian orchestra. Later, writers Gene Fowler and Ernie Pyle used the Oxford as their base of operations, shadowing celebrities who arrived daily at Denver's nearby Union Station, the classic old (circa 1881) "crossroads of the West." (It was from Union Station that Teddy Roosevelt began his epic visit to Colorado--this during a period when Union Station and the Oxford reigned as two of Colorado's classic landmarks.)

Denver's oldest grand hotel was the first in the city to possess a "vertical railway," which is to say an elevator that whisked guests to the top of the Oxford--a breathtaking five stories above the city where they stared in awe at Denver's skyline. Remember, this was nearly a century ago when five stories constituted a skyscraper out West. Or nearly anywhere else in the United States for that matter.

The Oxford featured frescoed walls and stained glass, a library, its own Western Union, gas lamps, steam heat. Yes, even stables. This was a period when lodging came to a mere dollar a night and meals cost half a buck.

Later the city moved uptown and the neighborhood surrounding the Oxford became a slum. The hotel had lost its luster. Not even dinner shows and jazz engagements couldstave off the end. Not even after the original Victorian style was replaced with Art Deco.

Presently, there's a combination of both, what with three rooms on each floor devoted to Art Deco styling; in addition, the bar just off the lobby is a garish replay of this particular period.

Following its restoration, the Oxford attained new prominence when it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Guests dine in the Sage Room (grilled buffalo and Mississippi mud pie). Others gather in the Oxford Club, which is open to hotel guests and members only. It is simply a smashing place to lift a snifter of Cognac while sinking into a fine old leather sofa. Again, the management likens it to one of those snug clubs that London is famous for. Likewise, the Oxford's guest rooms offer the same sense of subdued elegance.

Twenty-four-hour room service is provided along with a complimentary continental breakfast and a morning newspaper, fluffy robes, a fruit basket and the chance for chocoholics to dive into a serving of Godiva goodies.

Less Troubled Times

The Oxford is a flashback to less troubled times, providing a sense of escape, which is further enhanced by rides in old-fashioned horse carriages complete with a liveryman straight out of the pages of Charles Dickens. (Other guests are delivered about town in an ancient Hudson as well as a vintage London cab.)

As for the rates, they reflect the charm and service: $105-$140 single, $135-$170 double.

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