The Oxford Hotel
Denver, Colorado had an important place in the American West, back in the day. It was the place that miners tracked through on their way to riches. And it was a place for society’s finest to see and be seen. As this frontier town was built up, many beautiful buildings and hotels found themselves in the middle of the social scene. The Oxford Hotel was one of those buildings.
During the 1870’s, the major railroad arrived at what was then a small mining supply town named Denver, change came with the railroad. With each train that pulled in, came a new wave of people that began to change what was a small town into the area’s major metropolis, the capital of the Rocky Mountains, and the High Plains.
This population explosion started in the early 1870s, and Denver rapidly became the 25th largest city in the United States and the third-largest city in the West. Denver’s population reached 106,713 by 1890, and the city was at the center of a network of Colorado railroads numbering more than 100 different steel spider webs that brought a rich mountain and plain hinterland to the feet of the gleaming mile-high city.
The idea for the Oxford hotel was conceived in the mind of Frank E. Edbrooke, Colorado’s leading architect. The Oxford Hotel stood five stories high and preceded Edbrooke’s completion of red brick nine-story downtown The Brown Palace by one year. The Oxford Hotel was the funded after three men; local building and brewing tycoons Adolph Zang, Philip Feldhauser, and William Mygatt, were tired of walking the mile from Union Station to downtown hotels, they saw the need to create a first-class hotel near Union Station.
The Oxford’s Beginnings
The bar of the Oxford Hotel was first opened in 1891. It was well known for its sophisticated cocktail menu, especially its martinis, even though it was only later named the Cruise Room.
During the Prohibition era, The Cruise Room ran as a speakeasy, where codes and winks allowed illegal alcohol to flow. Employees were able to use secret tunnels and fake panels to serve and transport alcohol.
After Prohibition, the official opening of The Cruise Room took place, along with its newly completed interior and a full alcohol bar. In fact, the opening ceremony took place the very day after Prohibition was officially ended. The bar has continually operated ever since its official opening, as a welcome extension of the hotel.
That’s because The Cruise Room, is to this day and independent operation, not officially a part of the hotel. The bar is managed in an amicable partnership between the bar operator and the Oxford Hotel.
In 2012, the marble floor of The Cruise Room was replaced as a part of a complete restoration project, this included historically accurate paint in a light-pumpkin color. It was the owner/developer, Ms. Dana Crawford, who initiated this restoration after she became a partner in the Oxford Hotel in 1980.
The cocktail menu was also thoroughly updated. There was a heavy emphasis on mixology, and the drink menu includes drinks like “Pineapple Julep”, “Whiskey Clover Smash”, and “Pomegranate Sling”. The bar also offers patrons martinis in over a dozen different configurations, all of which are served from oversized martini shakers.
The Early Years
The turn of the century was a very successful time for The Oxford Hotel. Calvin Morse the hotel manager during the 1920’s, reported that the hotel was capable of hosting 35,000 guests a year. He said that they often had to turn people away. It was during this prosperous time that the owners decided to add a two-story addition at the cost of $75,000, on Wazee Street behind the property would help expand their capacity. Matching the terracotta and pink sandstone of the original façade the extension opened in 1902.
1906 saw a change in The Oxford Hotel team, with new managers being brought in, Charles B. Hamilton and James L. Brooks had new ideas and new approaches. Hamilton and Brooks took on a remodel of The Oxford Hotel. They added on a wrought iron banister to the mezzanine monogrammed, with an “OH” in the center. They were also responsible for the added marble wainscoting, a café, and the basement barbershop received an exterior entrance. The cost of the new work was over $20,000.
Over the next 20 years, the United States as a whole underwent many changes in style and taste. Art Deco was the style of the moment, and the hotel was ready to catch up. Denver architect Charles Jaka was responsible for adding an Art Deco look to The Oxford Hotel. Hand-carved panels by artist Alley Henson were added to the new Cruise Room cocktail lounge. Now all of Denver society could enjoy a drink in style.
The sheer quantity of troops arriving daily at Union Station meant The Oxford Hotel was filled to maximum capacity. Every available space was used; including the attic and the broom closets. Hot coffee, doughnuts, and turkey sandwiches were served to the troops 24 hours a day by local Mothers of Denver servicemen who would set up shop in the Oxford to help the soldiers.
After World War II ended, Denver experienced its second major boom. The city emerged as a major tourist attraction, it worked to attract federal offices, and hydropower brought energy firms. The City Council launched an effort to rehabilitate its downtown, they started by demolishing many of its current landmarks and unfortunately virtually all of its nineteenth-century hotels. Fortunately, The Oxford Hotel survived this period of rapid upheaval as a landmark of respectability in a downtown that had seen better days.
The Decline Of Train Travel
Unfortunately, train travel began to rapidly decline and Union Station was a shadow of its former self. Eventually, it was a hollow reminder of years of relevance and success of years gone by. This change in travel methods led to a rapid decline in the downtown Denver area. It took a reimagining of the Larimer Square area which was a grand success and was able to open up the city’s eyes to the visual splendor of the grand architecture of Denver’s silver age.
The Oxford Hotel become a center for jazz, folk music, and theatre in the 1960s and ’70s. Hundreds of people would crowd into the hotel to see house band, The Oxford Players’ rendition of “Ten Nights in a Barroom” as well as the Queen City Jazz Band.
How Is The Oxford Hotel Haunted?
This majestic hotel has seen its fair share of drama over the years. There are, however, two noteworthy spirits that are said to haunt the Oxford Hotel to this very day. The hotel was some common or garden tales of bathroom stalls locking by themselves and sinks that turn themselves on and off during the night. But the door of Room 320 holds the real mystery of the hauntings of The Oxford Hotel.
A woman named Florence Montague shot and killed her lover In 1898, just before taking her own life in room 320. Ever since that fateful night, guests that happen to be single, and male and that stay in Room 320 have reported feeling their arms being pulled by unseen forces, and having sheets ripped off of the bed.
As well as being famous for its martinis and Art Deco style the hotel’s Cruise Room bar has a mysterious permanent guest, a postal worker. Bartenders often report seeing a Postal worker, but dressed in an old-style postal uniform. The man walks into the bar, he always orders a beer before muttering “the children, I have to get the gifts to the children.” He then drinks down the beer leaves. But, when the bartender picks up his bottle, it’s always full. Newspaper archive research has unearthed the tragic story of a 1930s postal worker who was set to deliver Christmas presents to nearby Central City. The gifts never arrived, and when the winter snows melted later that spring, a decomposed body was found surrounded by all of the Christmas gifts. That beer at the Cruise Room may have been his last.
Today Denver is a vibrant city with many things to see and do. If you travel out there, you can be sure to enjoy museums and restaurants, as well as arts and entertainment.
There are also many historic sites to see and learn from. While you are out visiting, perhaps you will stay at the Oxford Hotel. Be sure to enjoy a drink with the postman, and if you are a single man make sure you watch out for Room 320!