It’s probably safe to say Spencer Penrose was a man accustomed to getting what he wanted, and on that fateful, apocryphal, night in 1890-something Colorado Springs, what “Speck” Penrose wanted was a drink.
He’d come to the wrong town. Such spirited thirsts were legally unquenchable in Gen. William Jackson Palmer’s (in)famously dry Eden at the base of America’s Mountain.
Finding themselves high and dry in the Springs, Penrose and his friend and business partner, Charles Tutt Sr., made their way several miles outside town to the more accommodating watering hole at Cheyenne Mountain Country Club. There, or so the story goes, they got swept into a brawl.
“Charlie and ‘Speck’ were several drinks in when a fight broke out,” wrote University of Colorado at Colorado Springs instructor DeLyn Martineau in a 2016 recounting of the bit of Penrose lore for webzine US Represented. “Speck grabbed one guy and punched him out . ”
In the aftermath of the scuffle, Penrose apologized and offered to reimburse the club’s owner for damages.
“And that’s how Speck was introduced to Colorado Springs,” Martineau wrote.
Whether that is, in fact, how Spencer Penrose first was introduced to Palmer’s fledgling experiment in municipal perfection – and the neighboring community to the southwest where he later would open The Broadmoor hotel – is debatable. It’s also, for the purposes of legend and this article, not so important.
There’s no denying Colorado Springs and its founding, teetotaling ideology thwarted, and inspired, one of Spencer Penrose’s favorite pastimes and thereby played a key role in the creation of one of the nation’s enduring Grande Dame resort hotels, The Broadmoor. It was a destination Penrose envisioned as a bucolic retreat where the ultra-well-heeled could enjoy all the charms of the Old West, with white-glove service, in European-style elegance, and – if they so chose – tippled to the gills.
Visionary men beget legendary tales, and this legendary tale is one of symmetries, rivalries, booze and hotels.
But first, let’s set the stage.
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William Jackson Palmer and Spencer Penrose were born almost 30 years apart, into vastly different social strata, but they shared Philadelphia roots and an understanding of the East Coast that would inform their endeavors Out West.
“In some ways, they were trying to rebel against it out here. But they had very different visions,” said Matt Mayberry of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.
Palmer wanted to create a “Newport in the Rockies” that would appeal to families, an “idealized community with wide streets, as opposed to the narrow streets of Philadelphia, which was the most populous city in early America,” Mayberry said.
Penrose, by contrast, was inspired by the idea of escaping the well-to-do world in which he grew up, with overachieving brothers, and blazing his own trail.
“He liked the Wild West. He came out here to kind of reinvent himself,” Mayberry said.
Raised in the Quaker tradition, Gen. Palmer was a lifelong eschewer of alcohol. When he founded the Springs in 1871 as a dry community, the move wasn’t exactly a mold-breaking one among new cities eager to buck the frontier wild town image. Palmer summed up his thoughts about the decision in an 1896 essay for the Colorado Springs Gazette marking the 25th anniversary of the city’s founding.
“We have a pretty good sense of what he was thinking from that: The liquor ordinance wasn’t just for moral or religious reasons, it was more because he was trying to create a different kind of Colorado Springs community, without the bars and saloons and the vices you’d find in the mining towns,” Mayberry said.
But Palmer was tsk-tsking the use of (cough) nonmedicinal alcohol long before he drew the lines for Colorado Springs.
“The General … even insisted that the members of his 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry unit refrain from drinking any kind of liquor during their Civil War campaigns,” Pikes Peak area historian and author Richard Gehling said in an email. “When he founded his town at the foot of Pikes Peak he demanded the same of its citizens. It was rumored, however, that he did keep a small sampling of alcoholic drinks at his Glen Eyrie castle. These were occasionally served to his distinguished guests.”
Timing alone makes it unlikely that Spencer Penrose was ever among them.
By the time his star was rising over the Front Range around the turn of the 20th century, Colorado Springs was still a youngster. Its founder, though, not so much.
Gen. Palmer died in 1909, at 72, when Penrose would have been in his mid-40s, a freshly minted tycoon.
“Penrose was coming into his own toward the end of Palmer’s life,” Mayberry said. “Certainly they would have known each other, would have brushed into one another – it was a small town back then – but I don’t think there’s any evidence that they palled around. They were very different people, with very different personalities and views of the world that went beyond their views of alcohol.”
The ideological gulf was vast, indeed.
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Though he fought in the Civil War, Gen. Palmer held fast to the Quaker values and “religious attitude” with which he’d been raised, said historian, actor and speaker Don Moon, whose repertoire of historical personalities includes early Old Colorado City Mayor Charles Stockbridge, a contemporary of Palmer and Penrose.
“By contrast, Spencer Penrose was more freewheeling, more of a rake in his younger days … until he met Julie. The only vice he had after Julie, besides loving her to death, was drinking.”
And oh, the drinking was epic.
“It’s said that Spencer Penrose and his brothers had a pact that they’d never go a day without a drink,” Mayberry said. “Later, he was one of the key voices that tried to oppose the Prohibition movement in the U.S., and even served on a state panel working to repeal the constitutional amendment. Alcohol is very much part of his identity.”
Penrose is said to have amassed the nation’s second-largest privately held stash of booze during Prohibition, paying extortion-level rates to store it off-site or stashing it in secret rooms and tunnels at The Broadmoor.
If not for a real estate deal gone bad in the early 20th century, he might have had to be even more creative in his Volstead Act workarounds.
Palmer’s downtown Antlers Hotel, built in 1883, razed by fire and reconstructed in 1901, was considered one of the finest destinations of its kind. Penrose wanted it. Palmer wasn’t selling.
“Palmer had the vision first,” historian and filmmaker Jim Sawatzki of Palmer Lake said in a 2011 interview with Elbert County News. “He didn’t like Spencer Penrose, and he didn’t want to leave his town to that guy.”
After Palmer’s denial, Penrose reputedly rode his horse through the Antlers lobby in protest. It’s also said that the miniaturized “A” in The Broadmoor logo was adopted as a (not-at-all-obvious) jab at the Antlers.
In retrospect, though, it’s probably better for everyone involved that things didn’t work out.
“If the Antlers hotel sale had gone through, Spencer Penrose would have had his hotel monument he was looking for. The Broadmoor would have existed, but not in any way like what we have today,” Moon said.
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Penrose decided to plant his vision, instead, at the base of Cheyenne Mountain, where in 1916 he bought almost 500 acres, including The Broadmoor Casino and Resort, in the “fashionable suburb” a few miles southwest of the Springs. Two years later, his lavishly rebuilt and reimagined hotel opened as a lakeside pleasure palace for the elite, with its own menagerie, chapel and golf course, as well as a menu featuring locally harvested potatoes, cattle and trout.
“The Broadmoor had its own identity as a community for a long, long time, starting before Penrose, and it remained its own distinct community until it was annexed by the city in the ’70s,” Mayberry said. “Certainly he created the hotel, and today that hotel and resort is the focal point of that part of the community and of town, but creating a hotel is different than creating a whole community, with a philosophy and a vision.”
These days, Spencer Penrose’s voluminous liquor bottle collection is no longer hidden away, but up on shelves, behind glass, in the “liquor library” off the hotel’s main entrance.
Gen. Palmer’s liquor legacy lives on, as well, even though the ban on alcohol sales and consumption in Colorado Springs was lifted after the end of Prohibition. A restriction tucked in the fine print of property deeds in the historic parts of the city forbids the manufacture, sale and disposal “otherwise” of “intoxicating liquors … in any place of public resort in or upon the premises, or any part thereof.”
But not to worry: A built-in fee of about $50, paid at closing, (ostensibly) buys a kind of title insurance that allows owners to openly flout the “obsolete” rider, said Mike Casey, a Manitou Springs-based Realtor who’s on a mission to get the clause, and fee, stricken once and for all.
“Keeping it on there isn’t doing anything, other than costing people money it shouldn’t,” Casey said.
Gen. Palmer no doubt would be piqued to hear that, so you also might not want to tell him his dry city now is awash in bars, breweries and distilleries.
Penrose, on the other hand, probably would approve.
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