Frontier Diary column: Prohibition changed Glenwood saloon owner’s life
Frontier Historical Society
When the gong ushers in the new year of 1916, which will have been done before this issue of the Post reaches its readers, not only Glenwood Springs but all of Colorado will be dry as the Sahara desert.
— Glenwood Post, Jan. 1, 1916
For Bart Petrini and the all of the saloon owners and liquor wholesalers in Glenwood Springs, New Year’s Day 1916 marked the genesis of change. The licensed saloon in Glenwood Springs, and across Colorado, was dead. Not a drop of alcohol — beer, wine or hard spirits — could be legally sold to anyone wanting a drink. For the first time in the history of Glenwood Springs, alcohol was banned by statewide prohibition. The only thing brewing in town, possibly, was uncertainty.
The sale of alcohol had given Petrini a better life. Saloon proprietorship took the man from Italy, now 43 years old, from New Castle coal miner to Glenwood Springs business owner. The large profits enjoyed by him from the sale of alcohol provided a better life for him, his second wife, Clara, and his children. He was an active participant in the big business of alcohol — a business that could not be controlled until Colorado voters in November 1914 passed a prohibition measure.
December 1915 found Glenwood Springs’ saloon owners and alcohol wholesalers depleting their stocks. The Glenwood Post newspaper reported “a rushing business supplying those who believed in the doctrine of preparedness and who desired to fortify themselves against ‘a long dry spell.’” Spirits for “medicinal purposes” were harbored away in basements throughout town. The wholesale liquor dealers of Glenwood Springs were shipping roughly a carload of alcohol a day by the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad for distribution across the Western Slope.
Petrini’s saloon was located in James Sheridan’s building in the 700 Block of Blake Street, just two doors east of today’s Hotel Denver and across the street from the Denver and Rio Grande Depot. The saloon occupied the bottom floor, while Clara operated a rooming house, the Roma Rooms, upstairs. When asked what his business future held, Petrini responded that he would be installing a soda fountain, selling soft drinks and continuing a restaurant operation that was located in the back of the building.
However, lofty public statements do not always mesh with life’s realities.
Gov. George Carlson, with support from Colorado’s district attorneys and county sheriffs, affirmed that the prohibition law would be strictly enforced. Petrini and one of his employees became the town’s first legal test of the law. On Jan. 4, 1916, Petrini’s employee was caught rolling a barrel loaded with bottled beer down the alley from Petrini’s now former saloon. The court was left to decide if the transport of the beer violated the prohibition law.
Methodist minister E.E. Tuck of Glenwood Springs praised from his pulpit the downfall of the alcohol industry. He noted the thousands of dollars spent annually on drink could now be spent in positive and productive ways to strengthen the state. The Post predicted an increase in tourists to Glenwood Springs, citing the massive number of saloons tarnished the town’s image and created reluctance for tourists to visit.
Alcohol could be outlawed, but no state law could extinguish the desire for drink. Leadville and Lake County became a bootlegger’s paradise, with enough beer and low-grade liquor brewed and sold by individuals there to warrant attention from the state revenue department. In 1917 Petrini sold the lease of his old Blake Street establishment to T.J. Silvy, who opened the Rex Hotel in the building. Petrini and his wife then moved to Leadville.
On Nov. 5, 1917, the Petrinis were arrested for selling whiskey to an individual from their soda shop in Leadville’s Clarendon Hotel. Friends from Glenwood Springs testified that Petrini was in Glenwood Springs finalizing a property sale at the time the alleged whiskey sale was made. Also favoring the Petrinis’ case was that the man who reported buying the whiskey had a reputation for lying. In March 1918 the couple was acquitted. However, Petrini was arrested again in Leadville in July 1918 for allowing his establishment to be used for gambling activities. The Petrinis moved to Denver in the 1920s where they operated several different hotels and rooming houses.
Prohibition shifted alcohol manufacture, sale and use from the public view to private shadows. In Garfield County, Sheriff George Winters worked diligently to capture bootleggers and to close the speakeasies that proliferated in the county during the 1920s. It would be 1933 when the failed experiment of prohibition would be repealed.
For those waking up on Jan. 1, 1916, it truly was a brave new world, and Glenwood Springs had “entered an era such as was never known before.”
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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