Breathing Life Back Into History: The Hotel Jerome’s Historic-Victorian Renovation

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Posted on March 28, 2019

Z-Group Architects is a direct outgrowth of Caudill Gustafson and Associates, Architects, who opened shop in Aspen back in 1952. We have been part of weaving the fabric of Aspen’s heritage and landscape since. Including, but not limited to, their historic touch to the Hotel Jerome.

When Jerome Wheeler, co-owner of Macy’s, came to the new mining town of Aspen he saw promise and invested. He built his Hotel Jerome in 1889 during Aspen’s “Silver Boom”, it was Aspen’s first luxury hotel. It was his intention that it rivaled the finest European luxury hotels of the Victorian era. When it opened to much fanfare it boasted being one of the only buildings west of the Mississippi complete with electric lighting. The town’s population reached upwards of 16,000 and it was the “Crown Jewel” of Aspen up into 1893 when the Sherman Act put silver in decline, the mining industry, and the city of Aspen with it. Aspen and The Hotel Jerome entered the “Quiet Years.”

The hotel survived the “Quiet Years” as Aspen’s only hotel, sometimes boardinghouse, and in 1918 as a morgue. At this time some of the first ski tracks were being laid down in the area mountains. The 10th Mountain Division would ski over from Camp Hale and spend their weekends on leave at the Jerome. In 1936 Billy Fiske built the first ski lodge, the boat tow on Ajax, and initiated the turnaround of Aspen. In 46’ Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke found Aspen to be ideal for their plans to create an alpine center for arts and culture, they invested in the Aspen Ski Company, founded the Aspen Institute, and purchased the Hotel Jerome. They enlisted the Bauhaus Architect Herbert Bayer to bring the Victorian hotel back to life. With the original bar restored and a pool added it drew a new audience of celebrities such as Lana Turner, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne. The building aged hard through the 60s. In the 70s intellectuals such as Hunter S. Thompson, The Eagles, Jimmy Buffet, and Jack Nicholson honed their craft at the Jerome’s J-Bar.

The hotel was nearing its first century in Aspen’s history when it found a new owner with developer Rick Butera. It was time to invest in restoring this piece of history back to its Victorian-era glory, and with 7 months before a Historic Preservation Tax Credit expired, Z-Group Architects drew a plan for an extensive re-structuring and fast-tracked the construction. The building was stripped down to its bare framing and a new steel structure was delicately threaded into the building. The old stone foundations underpinned, and the basement lowered. The exterior lightwell in the center of the building was capped to create a “sky roof”, inviting guests in the lobby to a bright two-story atrium. The Victorian-era details were carefully removed and lovingly restored and reinstalled, and miraculously the Certificate of Occupancy was issued on December 31st. just hours before the Historic Preservation credits would expire forevermore.

The renovated Hotel Jerome would receive numerous awards and recognitions including the Aspen Historic Preservation Award, the AIA Student Awards Citation, The Historic Hotels of America Designation – by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, The American Institute of Architects – Honor Award, was selected for the “Leading Hotels of the World” and became designated within the National Registry of Historic Places. The author Janet Dailey says it well “…once again, the Hotel Jerome stood in stately dignity… no longer a symbol of Aspen’s rich past but a vital part of its present.” No small amount of effort was dedicated to rebuilding a century old, run down, structurally failing hotel; to Z-Group Architects it was the only solution for the centerpiece of our Aspen social life. This year the Hotel Jerome enduringly and endearingly celebrates 130 years of housing, feeding, and serving the Aspen community. It’s very much part of what sustains that enigmatic quality that makes Aspen so special.

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