by cindy hirschfeld
“It’s always been Aspen’s representative hotel,” says longtime Aspenite Tom Egan, communications
director for the Aspen Historical Society. “While it’s become a more high-end place to stay, they still welcome everyone to use the rest of the facilities. It provides the town with a gathering place that remains.”
As the hotel prepares to celebrate its 120th anniversary, we invite you to dive into the Jerome’s past and present.
During the 1950s the Jerome pool was town's see-and-be-seen hot spot
In the beginning...
When Aspen mining tycoon and former co-owner of Macy’s department store Jerome B. Wheeler unveiled his three-story, 92-room hotel on the eve of Thanksgiving 1889, its novel amenities—indoor plumbing, steam heat, an elevator and electricity—wowed guests from around the country. Wheeler’s goal, which mirrored the aspirational outlook of Aspen during that heady time of the Silver Boom, had been to emulate the most lavish European hotels.
For a few years Wheeler’s venture succeeded beyond what even he may have hoped. Wealthy travelers, prominent businessmen and theater stars—many of whom performed at Wheeler’s nearby eponymous opera house—were guests of the Jerome. In 1892 he sold the hotel to Archie Fisk of Denver, who couldn’t pay his taxes in the aftermath of the 1893 silver crash and eventually
relinquished ownership to the county.
Even as economic hard times embraced Aspen, the Jerome was establishing its reputation as the hub of town’s social life. An Aspen newspaper clipping from 1896 describes a party at the hotel given by Mr. and Mrs. S.I. Hallett as the “event of the season.” The tradition has continued ever since, with gatherings like the Jerome Jazz Party in the ’60s, raucous Halloween fêtes in the ’70s and the Shitkickers’ Ball today.
Aspen businessman Mansor Elisha leased the hotel in 1911, and the Jerome led a fittingly quiet existence during Aspen’s “Quiet Years.” Other than the occasional party, like the banquet
and dance hosted by the Pitkin County Stockgrower’s Association in June 1915 or the “welcome home” dance for veterans of World War I in 1919, the hotel hosted just a few guests and some long-term boarders.
During Prohibition the bar became a soda fountain, and legend has it that the Aspen Crud—a milkshake spiked with Bourbon—was invented then.
The First Renaissance
The Jerome got a second wind in 1946, when it was leased by modern town father Walter Paepcke and received a face-lift from Bauhaus designer Herbert Bayer. The brick exterior was painted white, with blue “eyebrows” over the windows. The restaurant served Swiss cuisine. The original, ornate maple bar was completely restored. In Aspen’s first wave of modern celebrity culture, stars like Gary Cooper, Lana Turner and John Wayne visited. Mortimer Adler of the Aspen Institute held court at the hotel’s pool.
photographs courtesy of aspen historical society
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