Since I never intend to seek public office and the statute of limitations has long passed, I can confess that I stole a bathtub out of an abandoned hotel in the hills above Denver back in the early 80’s. And although this story isn’t about a hike or bike ride, I did tell it to a friend on a recent hike, so hopefully that counts.
Stupid Is As Stupid Does
I started my college years in 1983 at the University of Denver and joined a fraternity, which shall remain nameless. During the final stages of initiation my pledge class participated in a ‘scavenger hunt’ which was primarily about young men behaving badly. We were broken up into teams and given a list of things to get and bring back to the house. On my team’s list was a bathtub from a hotel up in Evergreen, Colorado! We couldn’t believe our eyes. But one guy on my team was from Evergreen and knew that hotel – Troutdale-In-the-Pines.
Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as railways were being constructed throughout the American west, Colorado was marketed as “The Switzerland of America” and became a major tourist destination. High-end resorts and hotels mushroomed throughout the state such as The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and The Stanley in Estes Park. As early as the 1870s roads were built from Denver up into the the foothills to support a burgeoning lumber industry, and soon people began coming to the Upper Bear Creek canyon for summer getaways.
In 1881, Jasper Babcock moved his family from Chicago to Evergreen to set up a farm on 160 acres of Bear Creek land. But he soon grew tired of farming and built a number of log cabins in addition to a main lodge for “summer boarders.” People came to get away from the big city and enjoy the local fishing, hunting, camping and beautiful scenery.
In 1916, Babcock sold the property to Denver Mountain Parks for $100,000. The city intended to invest in the property but never got around to it, and sold it in 1919 to Harry Sidles, a wealthy automobile dealer from Lincoln, Nebraska. Sidles immediately began construction on a large luxury hotel with 100 guest rooms, a ballroom, dining room, billiards room, bar, barber ship, drugstore and baker to the tune of $600,000. The grand opening was held in June 1920.
Horseback riding, golf, and other exclusive activities attracted the wealthy from both coasts.
Celebrities such as the Marx Brothers, Douglas Fairbanks, Jack Benny, Greta Garbo, Liberace, and Ethel Merman frequented the hotel during the summer season. Teddy Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson also visited.
Harry Sidles died in 1935, and that was the beginning of the decline of the hotel. His son Fred took over, and found out that the hotel never really made money – it was more of a hobby for Harry, and at the time of death was in serious debt. A few short years later WWII would start, and gas rationing made travel to other resorts such as The Broadmoor more attractive, accelerating the hotel’s state of decline. It changed hands several times and finally closed in 1961.
We Gotta Get a What?
Fast forward twenty plus years to the fall of 1983. We (four of us) jumped into my friend’s GMC Jimmy at DU, got onto I-25 and headed to the hills. We had just a few hours to get a bathtub and return to the house.
As we got into Evergreen and drove up Bear Creek Drive, one of my friends told us where to park – effectively in the driveway of a new house built adjacent to the hotel. We all got out of the Jimmy, and snuck across someone’s lawn in the pitch black of night following my friend up a hill. We couldn’t see the hotel yet, as it was set back from the road quite a bit.
At this point I couldn’t help thinking about a book I had just read – The Shining by Stephen King. I recall reading that he got the idea while staying at some creaky old Colorado hotel. As we crested the hill and the hotel came into view, I nearly wet my pants thinking this was the place King had stayed at.
We were amped on adrenaline and went in through the ground floor entrance on the right wing. We checked about five rooms, and the place was a shambles barren of anything really salvageable. Then we hit the jackpot – a pristine tub in a bathroom. As we surrounded the tub and discussed how to lift it up, we heard crashing sounds elsewhere in a distant part of the hotel. Some one, or some thing was in there with us! We all freaked a bit, grabbed the front side of the tub, and ripped it out of the wall with just two heave-ho efforts.
We then surrounded it, picked it up and quickly scooted down the hallway and out the same door we came in. Up and over the hill, across some guy’s lawn and bridge over Bear Creek, and hoisted it into the back of the Jimmy. Within minutes we were on the road down to Denver to get our next item (some shopping center off of Colorado Blvd lost its American flag that night).
As we entered the fraternity, the whole crew went wild. No one really expected us to get a tub, and the one they thought we’d go to had folks ready and waiting to scare the shit out of us. That was the noise on the other side of the hotel. I have to say this was the best and most fun night of my entire college experience.
Returning to Troutdale
A few years later after I transferred to UT Austin, I returned one summer to visit with friends, and we went back up to Troutdale to take pictures. I also did quite a bit of research at the Denver Public Library (thanks to them for the above old pix).
At that point the hotel was still rotting, but there was discussion about turning it into a drug addiction recovery center. That never came to be, and at the turn of the century it was purchased by a developer who tore down the hotel and used the materials to build beautiful mansions. Although I’m sad to see it go, it has new life.
Oh, and in case you wondered what happened to that tub – it became a most excellent keg holder.