Boulder, Colorado currently enjoys a reputation as a city imbued with a healthy consciousness and populated by active, fit residents. As the home of the University of Colorado, Naropa University, and various research laboratories, Boulder, at times called "the Athens of the Rockies" also functions as the education hub of Colorado. A place of unmistakable natural beauty, throughout its history Boulder has attracted both visitors and permanent residents seeking to improve their bodies and minds. Boulder's current status as a choice location for culture, education, recreation and tourism can be traced back to the establishment of a few lodging properties early in the city's history.
However, in the first years of its existence Boulder was a rough mining town where the most sophisticated lodging came in the form of simple wood-frame hotels like the Colorado House. During this time residents of Boulder were still struggling to establish a foothold and lodging options offered only basic amenities and their proprietors were more concerned with survival than prosperity. When hostilities between settlers and the local Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes began in earnest in 1864, barricades were erected on the streets outside the Colorado House for protection from raids by the natives.
While still a bit rough around the edges, change came to Boulder in 1876 when the University of Colorado was established on the south side of town atop University Hill. The presence of the university along with Boulder's natural beauty and cool summer nights influenced the decision of a group of Texas educators to locate the Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder. The Chautauqua movement began in southwest New York State in 1874 as an effort to bring educational, cultural, religious, and recreational programs to communities and quickly spread around the United States. The Colorado Chautauqua opened in Boulder on July 4, 1898, and consisted of a tent city able to house 5,000 people, as well as an auditorium, and a dining hall. The auditorium hosted lectures, classes, and music programs while guests ate in the dining hall for $5 per week, or $.035 per meal. Lectures promoting the prohibition movement, populist politics, and self-improvement were popular during this time as were music programs teaching piano, cello, guitar, mandolin, and singing. The Collegiate Department of the Colorado Chautauqua offered classes in diverse subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, botany, physics, psychology, education, as well as English, Latin, Greek, French, and German language and literature.
Recreational outings were often led by one of Boulder's most famous early residents, "Rocky Mountain Joe" Bevier Sturtevant, an influential figure in the early years of the Colorado Chautauqua. Famous for his photography and his frontiersman image, Rocky Mountain Joe built his photography studio at the Chautauqua where he developed many of his famous images. He was a conspicuous figure, often seen dressed in buckskins, and wearing the mustache and goatee of a frontiersman while leading stagecoach excursions, or groups of children on hikes up Flagstaff Mountain where he would sit around the campfire and tell the kids exciting stories of his days as an Indian scout.
During the first summer of the Colorado Chautauqua guests resided exclusively in tents. Guests often decorated their tents with rented rugs and furniture. However, cold weather cut the season short and caused complaints by guests, and by 1900 cabins began to replace the tents. Today, many of the cabins have been winterized allowing them to house guests and permanent residents year round. Of the three remaining Chautauquas in the country, the Colorado Chautauqua has the distinction of being the only one to operate year round.
Another property located in Boulder to take advantage of the climate, and the city's unique location at the intersection of the mountains and plains is the Boulder Sanitarium. "The San" came to Boulder's Mapleton Hill neighborhood in 1896 as part of a nationwide movement that included John Harvey Kellogg's famous sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. Equal parts boarding house, hospital, religious retreat, country club, and spa, the Boulder Sanitarium represented an ideal place where people from around the country could come for "refreshment of mind, body, and spirit". Guests were encouraged to follow a vegetarian diet, and hike along the Dakota Ridge and Mt. Sanitas (which was named for the sanitarium) trails that backed up to the sanitarium's property. Amenities included indoor and outdoor gymnasiums, a swimming pool and sun bathing areas. Treatment options included Swedish massage, hydrotherapy, electroshock therapy, and adherence to a strict diet. Doctors at the Boulder Sanitarium required guests to track the calories consumed at each meal by marking their menus. In order to progressively wean them off of meat, coffee, and sugar during their stay, guests ate at a series of three dining tables, with each successive table offering a more strict menu than the last.
With educational, cultural, and recreational opportunities proliferating on the outskirts of town on University Hill, at the Chautauqua park, and on Mapleton Hill, attention shifted to downtown Boulder's development. About a decade after the founding of the Colorado Chautauqua, and the Boulder Sanitarium the citizens of Boulder began to worry about their city's growth into the future. While Boulder had a desirable climate, a gorgeous natural setting, quick access to mountain hiking, and a burgeoning cultural scene, the city lacked a world class hotel offering truly luxurious accommodations. Citizens feared that tourists would overlook Boulder as a destination if the city couldn't provide first-class lodging. With Boulder's residents longing to increase the sophistication and prosperity of the community, filling this glaring hole in the level of accommodations available became the highest development priority.
Once community members decided that a first-class hotel would be built to increase the city's caché, an unprecedented wave of excitement and motivation overtook the city. Not content to wait for a private investor to fill the lodging void in the city, residents took the matter into their own hands by collectively investing in the hotel effort. The resulting civic mobilization and exuberance raised over $100,000 and caused the founding of the Boulder Hotel Company. Boulder residents bought shares in the company worth $100, and were eligible to vote on the new hotel's name, location and architectural design.
Resident investors reached an easy consensus on the location and design of the new hotel, but choosing a name proved to be an acrimonious sticking point. Hotel Boulderado was at once championed by some and bitterly loathed by others. For those in favor the name's combination of "Boulder" and "Colorado" served as an unforgettable reminder of the hotel's location and identity. For it's detractors the name was clumsy and offensive. The editor of Boulder's daily newspaper, The Daily Camera, railed against it in print, reporting that the name probably meant "greaser" or else was a swear word. Since no superior name ever materialized the historic hotel remains the Hotel Boulderado.
The Boulderado's opening on New Year's Day, 1909 was a cause for celebration and hope for the people of Boulder. However, the hotel initially struggled to deliver on its promise of bringing prosperity and success to the city. Still the Boulderado stayed in business and even attracted celebrities like Robert Frost, Hellen Keller, and Teddy Roosevelt. President Roosevelt's connection to the West, and the effect of his presidency on the region has caused nearly every western hotel to claim him as a former guest. The Alps Boulder Canyon Inn even claims he signed the property's original liquor license.
The entire city of Boulder went dry for fifty years from 1907 to 1967, however, the Boulderado was exempted from this policy beginning in 1933. The Great Depression seriously damaged Boulder's tourist economy, and the city government tried to mitigate the damage by exempting the Boulderado from prohibition. Other hotels were decidedly less lucky. The Alps had to resort to reinventing itself as a bordello to make up its depression era shortfall.
Today the mines in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains are long gone, but the tourist economy in Boulder continues to flourish, especially in the warmer months. Visitors still come to Boulder for many of the same reasons: the city's unique natural beauty, its status as one of the West's premier education centers, and the unparalleled access to outdoor sports like, hiking, biking, running and rock climbing. Over the years Boulder hotels have catered to the interests of the city's guests, and have in turn been shaped themselves by the very features that draw visitors to Boulder.