Western Hotel nominated for National Historic Register

ida toniolli’s story

By Johnnie Toniolli

Ida Toniolli, the first officially recorded baby born in Glenwood Springs and longtime owner of the Western Hotel on Cooper Avenue, turns 105 on Saturday.

Ida was born Jan. 2, 1911, in the old Star Hotel (now the Hotel Denver) to Austrian immigrants Clem and Augusta Paolazzi, who had come to the United States from the Tyrolean region along the Austrian-Italian border.

Since she was almost a new year baby, the city gave her a gold ring.

During her years in Glenwood Springs, in addition to owning and operating the Western Hotel with her husband John Toniolli, Ida was active throughout the community including the Catholic Church, the American Legion Auxiliary and the Eagles Auxiliary. She held every office in the Catholic Daughters and was involved in the Saint Anne’s Circle and the Altar and Rosary Society. She was the drill captain for the Eagles Lodge and was a member of the Jane Jefferson Club.

Ida’s mother, Augusta, came to the United States around the turn of the 20th century, and met Clem Paolazzi in Telluride where they were married. Clem was a miner, and he and Augusta eventually came to Glenwood Springs and continued to work in the coal mines.

Around the time Ida was born, Clem was diagnosed with “miners consumption” and the family moved back to the homestead in Tyrol when Ida was 9 months old. Clem eventually recovered and returned to the Roaring Fork Valley by himself with the promise that he would send for the rest of the family once he found work and a place to live.

The family’s return was delayed by the outbreak of World War I. Even though Ida and her brother Quirino were American citizens, they were not allowed to depart the country. Ida often spoke of the family’s experiences with Austrian soldiers taking over their home overnight. Ida and Quirino were ordered to remain upstairs.

It took seven years before the family was allowed to return to the United States to join Clem. After 21 days at sea and another three-day train ride from New York to Glenwood Springs, they reunited with Clem on the ranch that he had purchased north of New Castle on West Elk Creek.

Ida and Quirino helped on the ranch and had to travel four miles by horse and buggy to attend school in Elk Park, near today’s Harvey Gap reservoir. Once Clem could afford another horse, they eagerly rode horseback to school. The one-room schoolhouse had 10 students. Since Ida and Quirino’s primary language was Italian, they struggled to learn English but were instructed not to speak any Italian at school and to learn the language here.

After completing high school in New Castle, Ida went to Barns Business College in Grand Junction. She paid her way through by babysitting and worked summers at the telephone office in New Castle.

John Toniolli was a miner like Ida’s father and came to New Castle to visit his brothers who had a ranch north of New Castle on West Elk Creek. John’s family was also from the Tyrol region in Europe. In 1932, they met and were soon married. John continued to work in the mines in Telluride.

Ida became worried about John’s health and in 1939 she convinced John to abandon mine work and purchase the Western Hotel which had been put up for sale by Mike Bosco, father of Henry Bosco. John and Ida raised their two children, Johnnie and Rosalind at the hotel. They lived downstairs and rented rooms upstairs. They were married for 48 years before John died in 1980 of throat cancer.

Ida continued to run the hotel over the years and has made a number of friends who continue to maintain contact with her.

On the family side, Ida has four grandchildren, four great grandchildren and four step great grandchildren.

Glenwood Springs’ oldest living native, Ida Toniolli, often told the story of the first time she got to see a $5,000 mink coat.

Don Valentine, a regular boarder during the 1930s and ’40s when Ida and her late husband, John Toniolli, first bought the Western Hotel at 716 Cooper Ave., invited her upstairs one day to check it out.

“There on the floor, under two dogs, was the mink coat,” Toniolli related in an interview several years ago.

She never got over that, or the many other stories, odd or otherwise, she had to share about the characters who stayed the night or called the Western Hotel home over the years.

Toniolli, who turns 105 years old today, the oldest known person living in Garfield County, might just get a birthday present grander than that mink coat.

The old hotel she and her family called home since 1939 has been nominated by her children and the city of Glenwood Springs for the National Register of Historic Places.

The Colorado Historic Preservation Review Board will review the application at a Jan. 15 meeting in Denver. That panel will decide whether to forward the nomination to the Department of Interior, National Park Service, which makes the final determination.

If approved, the Western Hotel would join such Glenwood Springs landmarks as the Hotel Colorado, Citizens National Bank Building, the Edward T. Taylor House and the Starr Manor on the national register.

The state has already found that the hotel, constructed in several phases beginning in 1888, is “locally significant in the area of commerce for its long association with providing area residents, visitors and guest with accommodations of a restaurant, early-20th-century saloon, rooming house and working-class hotel,” according to the nomination application.

It is also being nominated for its long association with another famous Glenwood Springs immigrant family. The Boscos, including Marcus (Mike) Bosco, father of longtime Hot Springs Pool investor Hank Bosco, ran the hotel as the “Bosco Rooms” for a period of time in the early 1920s before it became known as the Western Hotel in 1925.

“Working-class hotels are often overshadowed in a town’s lodging history by the larger, more prominent and elaborate hotels, which was the case in Glenwood Springs,” according to a narrative included with the application.

Places like the Hotel Denver, Hotel Colorado, Grand Hotel and Hotel Glenwood were the destination hotels, catering to the white-collar tourists and travelers.

The smaller, two-story hotels in town offered modest accommodations for working-class visitors and often doubled as boarding houses for local workers.

“One resident lived at the hotel for about 25 years,” the narrative notes.

Another former resident of one of those rooms was John Gonzalez, current caretaker of the building, which has not been open to guests since about 2012, when Ida retired.

“I’ve known the Toniollis all my life, and used to deliver papers here to the hotel as a kid,” Gonzalez said.

As a young man, he rented one of the upstairs rooms for $25 a week.

In more recent years, Ida hired Gonzalez as a painter and maintenance man.

Ida Toniolli was born in the Star Hotel, predecessor to the Hotel Denver, on Jan. 2, 1911, which also was owned by the Bosco family.

Mike Bosco ultimately would sell the Western to John and Ida Toniolli in 1939 for $5,000, same price as that old mink coat was purported to be worth.

“Mike was very knowledgeable in the lodging business and offered to mentor the Toniollis in getting started in the hotel business,” the narrative states. “The Toniollis were going to charge .50 per night, but Mike told them they could easily get .75 per night.”

Even more could be charged during the annual Strawberry Days festival, Bosco also advised.

The building itself was first constructed as a one-story brick building in 1888, which was occupied by a restaurant. A middle two-story brick section was added sometime between 1904 and 1907, followed by a second story over the original structure sometime between then and 1912.

According to a description of the building’s history, another two-story rear section was then built around 1945, and in 1951 the first-floor main facade was renovated to provide a more modern feel.

The most-recent addition was a 1985 wood sign painted brown with “Western Hotel” in white letters that still remains above the front entrance.

The Toniolli family lived in the owner’s quarters located on the south end of the first floor. A large guest lobby sits just inside the main entrance, still furnished same as Ida’s house and the guest rooms.

A basement level also extends beneath the original 1888 structure, including a small room where John Toniolli, an immigrant from the Tyrolean region in northern Italy, made wine for the family and hotel guests.

Use of the second story prior to 1912 is unknown, although speculation is that it may have been part of Glenwood Springs’ famed brothel district.

“In 1916, with the saloons closing (due to Prohibition) and prostitution laws enforced, the brothels closed,” the Western Hotel narrative reads. “With the decline of the red-light and saloon district, the Western Hotel building was converted for other business enterprises.”

Ida Toniolli continued to own and operate the hotel after husband John’s death in 1980.

Now in nursing care, she retired in 2012 at the age of 101, closed the hotel and kept it as her private residence. She and the family are hoping the historic designation can help them make some necessary repairs, restore the hotel and possibly reopen it again as a working-class hotel and boarding house.

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