Palace Hotel Expansion Edges Closer By Beth Dodd

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A major revitalization plan for one of Cripple Creek’s revered historic gems, the Palace Hotel, may have cleared a key preliminary hurdle

Century Casinos, the owner of the Palace, received the initial thumbs-up from the Cripple Creek City Council last week to vacate the alley behind their building. The final ordinance to legalize the move will be voted on at the next council meeting. This is an important step towards making the restoration and expansion of the Palace Hotel a reality.

Approval to relocate the alley was given in spite of objections from both Community of Caring at the Aspen Mine Center and Triple Crown Casino, who share the alley with the Palace Hotel. Although they generally support the expansion of the hotel, they are concerned about delivery access to their businesses.

The current alley can be driven through from one end to the other. The new alley would be a dead end, and delivery and trash trucks would have to back in. There was also concern about the safety of children who would have to cross the new alley to get to the city park and the Park & Recreation building. Community of Caring, Triple Crown Casinos, and Cripple Creek Park & Recreation all asked that a different alley design, a drive through “U” shape be considered instead.

Century Casinos claimed that the new 15 foot wide alley would be an improvement over the existing alley. They said that they would build a retaining wall and repair a fence at the park to help make the alley safe. The utility access in the current alley would not be built over, but Century Casinos would be willing to pay for moving the utilities if it became necessary in the future. Century Casinos also said that the fire and police departments do not have any objections to the new alley as planned.

The relocation of the alley is part of Century Casinos plan to restore and expand the historic property. If everything goes as expected, the old hotel will get a $10 million facelift. A 3.5 story addition will be built on the west side which will include 30 guest rooms as well as restaurant and retail space. The original hotel would remain basically the same, including the historic marquee sign.

According to Century Casinos General Manager, Eric Rose, after the ordinance for vacating the alley is passed, the next step will be pre-construction, including a site survey, additional design work, and approval from the Historic Preservation Committee. If everything moves forward in a timely manner, the new and improved Palace Hotel could be ready for patrons in early 2018.

A Colorful History

The Palace Hotel was built soon after gold was discovered back in 1890, when the gold camp was just beginning to boom. The first structure built at Bennett and Second Streets housed a drug store. Then it became a hotel in 1892 after stage coaches started coming to town. As one of Cripple Creek’s first hotels, it is claimed that the Palace was so crowded that they rented chairs to sleep in for $1 per night. When fires destroyed most of downtown Cripple Creek in 1896, the Palace Hotel was quickly rebuilt in brick. The hotel soon became a popular place for miners to gamble. Mine owners and other well-to-do types also frequented the Palace.

The old Palace Hotel is a beautifully detailed structure. The three story building has intricate brickwork and dentils along the roof-line, burgundy highlights around the windows and above the main door, and fancy gold detailing above the entrance. The first floor bricks were turquoise blue, with burgundy brick rows that matched the burgundy window highlights. On the inside, the first floor of the Palace was used as the hotel lobby, parlor, and dining room. There was also a pharmacy. You can still see the pharmacy sign painted on the outside. Many other original features can still be seen today.

By 1900, the hotel was owned by Dr. W. H. Chambers and his wife Kitty Chambers. Dr. Chambers is said to have seen patients and run the pharmacy while Mrs. Chambers took care of the hotel’s guests. Unfortunately, Mrs. Chambers died a premature death in Room #3 in 1908. It is thought by many that ‘Miss Kitty’ remains in the hotel as a ghost, still lighting candles and turning down beds for visitors. There are rumors of other possible “ghosts” at the hotel, including a short fat man, a tall woman, and a blind piano player.

Over the years, the Palace Hotel weathered many challenges, including the imposition of martial law during the Labor Wars in the early 1900s, the Great Depression in the 1930s, and the closing of the gold mines during World War II. As gold production declined, the hotel began to cater to tourists instead of gold barons and miners.

By the 1970s, Cripple Creek was nearly a ghost town, with only a few hundred people left where tens of thousands had once lived and worked. Then in 1991 Colorado voted to allow Cripple Creek to start limited stakes gaming, and in 1994 the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine opened, bringing jobs and people back to Cripple Creek.

The Palace Hotel recovered its popularity in modern times as a tourist attraction in the years before gaming, when it was owned by the Lays brothers; Martin, Rick and Bob. The Lays family first opened the refurbished Palace Hotel in the summer of 1976 and operated the business for over 25 years. It was popular spot because of its Vaudeville shows and music, and for the good food in its dinner theater. The Lays family worked hard to keep up the hotel’s charming, turn-of-the-century feeling and original décor.

When limited stakes gaming came to Cripple Creek in 1991, the Palace’s old dining room was filled with slot machines while the second and third floors continued to be guest rooms. Additional gaming rooms and a restaurant were located in a second brick building behind the Palace that was later torn down to make room for parking. If you look at the back of the hotel today, you can see a door on the second floor that must have opened into the former second building. There was also a first floor hallway that entered the second building that has been bricked over.

The Lays family sold the Palace Hotel in 2002. It is now owned by Century Casino Cripple Creek, part of the Century Casinos company. They closed the Palace Hotel a number of years ago. Since then, Century Casinos has been using the declining old hotel building for storage. At one point, they considered tearing it down, but the local historical preservation society objected.

Now however, Century Casinos has gotten permission from the Cripple Creek City Council for a major renovation and expansion of the Palace Hotel. It is rumored that the old hotel needs major repairs to the roof, plumbing, and heating, as well as restoration of the interior décor. Fortunately, the owners are ready to make a significant investment so that the graceful old hotel can return to its former glory and be a popular place to gamble and stay once again.