Hotel Jerome, Redstone Castle featured on new season of Rocky Mountain PBS’s ‘Colorado Experience’
The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Colorado Experience’ Road Show
Where: Hotel Jerome
When: Monday, Dec. 10, 6 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: The event will include screenings of new “Colorado Experience” episodes about the Redstone Castle and historic boarding houses including the Hotel Jerome. Filmmakers from Rocky Mountain PBS, staff from the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media, and local historians will be on hand for Q&A sessions; coloradofilm.org
The Hotel Jerome’s days as a dirt-cheap boarding house and the Redstone Castle’s tumultuous history are featured in new episodes of Rocky Mountain PBS’s “Colorado Experience.”
The public television station and the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media are bringing both 30-minute documentaries to Aspen tonight for a free screening at the Jerome. This “‘Colorado Experience’ Road Show” has toured statewide since 2015, with interactive events in the places the series covers.
“It’s an opportunity for us to premiere these episodes in the communities that they relate to,” said Rocky Mountain PBS filmmaker Eric Hernandez, who directed the Redstone Castle episode and served as cinematographer on the Hotel Jerome shoot. “It’s nice to see how excited people are to connect with their local history.”
Both episodes — part of an ongoing 13-show season — use these historic buildings to tell the story of industrialization in the mountains in Colorado, the influx of money it brought and the enduring boom-and-bust economic cycle it kicked off for the Centennial State.
“Room & Board” covers the little-known history of Colorado boarding houses in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the Jerome. It features on-camera commentary by Aspen Historical Society’s Nina Gabianelli. She refers to Jerome B. Wheeler — the namesake of the hotel and the Wheeler Opera House — as less an Aspen founding father and more of “our rich uncle.”
The show recounts how the Jerome’s original developers failed to pay contractors, faced lawsuits and fled town, leaving the half-built hotel behind. (This tale will sound familiar to locals who have followed the saga of Base Village’s development in Snowmass Village over the past decade.) Wheeler stepped in, funded and finished the opulent 92-room hotel with its grand ballroom, marble floors, oak fixtures and its J-Bar. At the height of the silver mining boom, it was completed in 1889 after less than a year of fevered construction.
But after the silver bust in 1893, Wheeler quickly went bankrupt and lost the hotel, which changed hands many times in the coming years until 1911 when Mansor Elisha bought it for just $3,000 in back taxes.
Elisha operated it as a boarding house in the lean years that followed, with rates so low that through the so-called “Quiet Years” that local families would move in for the winter.
“It was cheaper in the 1920s to come live (in the Jerome) than to buy coal to heat their homes,” Gabianelli says in the episode.
The hotel never closed, despite the bleak economic times and the scant population of Aspen between the silver bust and the onset of the ski era.
Its renaissance began in the late 1940s, as Aspen city father Walter Paepcke took it over and had the Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer renovate it. But even for decades afterward, through the 1980s, the Jerome continued operating — at least in part — as a boarding house. A 1985 renovation spurred its evolution into the tony hotel of today, when a single night’s stay can cost nearly as much as Mansor spent to own the whole hotel a century ago.
“The fact that it went from a boarding house to a four-star hotel, that’s quite a journey,” Hernandez said. “It’s always maintained its same spirit, its essence of hospitality.”
The Redstone Castle episode uses a similar place-based storytelling style, outlining its colorful history from the construction of this ornate 42-room mansion by coal tycoon John C. Osgood on the banks of the Crystal River in 1903 to its recent entanglement in a Ponzi scheme and rebirth as a boutique hotel.
Osgood lost his fortune soon after building it — and eventually lost his company to John D. Rockefeller — and was the first of many owners who struggled in the castle.
“It seems every owner that has tried to establish himself there has had difficulty,” Hernandez said. “Nobody could figure out what to do with a building of this stature.”
Osgood had his personal papers and photographs burned when he died, so primary documents relating to his life are limited. But Hernandez and the Rocky Mountain PBS team worked with the Redstone Historical Society, the Denver Public Library and History Colorado to piece together this dramatic tale.
“As I started reading about it and researching it, the story just became more and more interesting,” Hernandez said.
The Emmy-winning “Colorado Experience” series — which airs Thursday nights — is aimed at encouraging civic engagement and an understanding of state history. This season’s episodes include a profile Colorado Springs nightclub owner Fannie Mae Duncan and histories of beer brewing in the state, the Colorado-led movement for the Americans with Disabilities Act, state prisons in the 19th century, the Meeker Sheepdog Trials and the BIBArk whitewater festival.
“We’re hoping to not only educate but also to inspire people through the richness of our state,” Hernandez said.