Strater Hotel History
Durango’s Premier Landmark Hotel – Strater Hotel History
1887 – 1893
During a time when Durango’s future still hung in the balance – would it remain a mining camp or become a metropolis – a Cleveland pharmacist named Henry Strater had the vision and faith that Durango would prosper, and with its prosperity, it would need a grand hotel. Construction was quite a challenge, but with the help of his brothers Fred and Frank, his Father Antone, and a lot of enthusiasm, Henry’s dream was realized. The Strater Hotel opened after an expenditure of $70,000, and placement of 376,000 native red bricks and hand-carved sandstone cornices and sills, and hence the beginning of the Strater Hotel History.
As it evolved, the Strater Hotel proved to be a popular winter retreat as the Durango townsfolk would close their own homes during the cold winter months and move into the hotel. Each room boasted its own wood-burning stove and comfortable furniture, with some rooms equipped with pianos and washstands. The washstands served double duty, as the cabinet also housed the “facility,” which was emptied each morning by the maids. The hotel also boasted a strategically designed three-story privy.
Henry Strater, who placed his pharmacy in the prominent corner of the hotel, had no intention of running the property, and leased it to Proprietor, H. L. Rice. Under Rice’s management, The Strater Hotel soon became known as the place of social gathering. Women would convene in the winter to play euchre, while Rice entertained their children. Mr. Rice loved children and was known for having a warm heart, although he had the demeanor of a stern man.
Being young and inexperienced in business, Strater unfortunately discovered that he had neglected to exclude his pharmacy location in the lease to Rice. Rice extracted an extremely large rent, which infuriated the young pharmacist and prompted him in 1893 to build the competing Columbian Hotel directly to the south, with the intent of putting Rice out of business. Both hotels competed toe to toe until 1895 when the silver panic put both Henry Strater and H. L. Rice out of business.
1893 – 1926
Following the financial devastation of the silver panic, the Bank of Cleveland repossessed The Strater and sold it to Ms. Hattie Mashburn and Charles E. Stilwell. Both had the savvy and grit to make things work in the toughest of times. Stilwell took the hotel through the turn of the century and developed a rather more refined appeal by offering such things as opera and fine dinners.
1926 – 1983
During the Roaring Twenties, Durango’s economy chugged along. James A. Jarvis had introduced the movie industry, oil and gas had been discovered, and coal still fired the Narrow Gauge Railroad. In 1926, a group of Durango businessmen lead by banker Earl A. Barker, Sr. formed an organization to buy the now aging hotel, and the group focused on refreshing the image of the 39-year-old property.
The Strater’s tradition of hospitality has continued through the years. Although the townsfolk no longer retreat to the Strater in wintertime, a many noted personages have made the Strater their home away from home. For example, western author Louis L’Amour always asked for the room directly above the Diamond Belle Saloon, Room 222. He said that the honky-tonk music helped set the mood for his novels of the Old West. Indeed, a good part of his Sackett’s novels were written at the Strater. L’Amour and his family would spend a good part of the summer enjoying the local surroundings and sharing stories with the staff. Today, room 222 is known as the Louis L’Amour room.
Although built in 1887 without “modern conveniences,” the Strater has enjoyed ongoing renovation. Jentra and Earl Barker Jr. began the renovation project with special attention to such details as bathrooms, air conditioning, heating, closets, television, and telephones. The journey into creating the Victorian charm in the décor began on a trip to a hotel convention in Atlanta, Georgia, where they found an authentic Victorian bed in an antique store. Earl and Jentra supposed it would be interesting to furnish several of the larger hotel rooms with authentic period furniture. They cashed in their airline tickets and drove back in a U-Haul truck, stopping at antique stores along the way. Such is the beginning of the hotel’s collection of American Victorian-era walnut furniture, which has grown into the largest of its kind in the world.
1983 – Today
The hotel’s renovation and Antique collection has continued since 1983 under the direction and design of current President, Roderick E. Barker, son of Earl and Jentra. Rod has overseen installation of fine woodwork and beautiful hand-printed Bradbury and Bradbury wallpapers, and a configuration suiting the Victorian Period. Windowed showcases brimming with antique collectibles are located throughout the public areas and invite guests to further explore the history of Durango and The Strater Hotel. Each of the 93 guestrooms are now individually and uniquely designed, plus the beds have been converted to standard sizes including a majority in Queen size with some Kings as well.
Together with master woodworker, Charles Schumacher, Rod designed and remodeled the hotel lobby, the new and stunning Office Spiritorium, the beautiful Mahogany Grille Restaurant, the Pullman Room, and the granite and marble-lined public restrooms. Wallpapers and carpets are specially selected for each area. A single window treatment of drapes and valance can have up to 30 yards of plush velvet. Room 220 was renovated in this manner, and was a finalist for Lodging Magazine’s prestigious Gold Key Award in 1989.