It is rare that Vanished presents a two-part series. However, the interest sparked after the August 26 column about this once great lady at the Denver Hotel seemed to warrant a sequel.
The Denver Hotel was a staple in Victoria for three quarters of a century. It was known as one of the finest hotels in North America, and over the years some of the nation’s elite enjoyed the amenities and food that Denver offered.
According to Victoria County’s history and heritage, Ms. William Jennings Bryan, who enrolled in 1922, and later Ms. Percy V. Pennybacker, who wrote a textbook on Texas history, have been on the Texas Schools guest list for several years.
In 1937 Gene Autry, “the singing cowboy”, was a guest at the Denver. He was in town for a one-day performance with five shows at the Uptown Theater. A reporter proclaimed at the time that Autry had starred in “countless” films. In fact, he had only starred in 19 in 1937 but would make a lifetime total of 93.
By the 1940s, the hotel had reached the height of its popularity and prestige. The guest list during this time included Ms. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Ralph Yarborough, Lloyd Benson, John Wayne, Tyrone Power, and John Ford.
There is some confusion over Mrs. Roosevelt’s visit. The Victoria Advocate reported that she had stayed at Mrs. Royston Nave’s house. Maybe she was in Victoria two nights, one with Mrs. Nave and the other in Denver.
The Denver was known for the quality of the food and especially known for its “ring steak”. In addition, the Denver was a regular opportunity for guests and residents of Victoria to socialize, making the corner of Constitution and William streets a popular spot.
Denver also had a “parrot” and a Java monkey. The parrot – actually a multi-colored macaw named Pedro – graced the courtyard or terrace. The monkey, named Barney, was kept in the lobby and wore Cab Calloway smock suits, pajamas, and sometimes a coat. It is said that Barney was an accomplished pickpocket and needed remedial action to “cure” him of this habit. Sometimes he would slip back and his illicit gains had to be taken from his cheeks, his favorite place to hide the money.
In the 1950s, Denver’s business slowly began to erode. As a sign of the times, Victoria saw its last passenger train in 1953, heralding changes in population and traffic. In addition, the self-service informality of motels being built on the highways to Victoria resulted in a decline in the Denver customer base. And on November 3, 1971, Ms. David Phelps finished the last business trip for a long list of receptionists and locked the front doors. The Denver was gone.
In 1972, the Denver’s great furniture was auctioned, including the exquisite made-to-measure Italian chandeliers, Chinese tapestries, china and cloisonné urns, fine paintings and oriental rugs.
In 1978, three men were killed when the structure suddenly and dramatically collapsed when it was demolished.
Special thanks for preparing this column to Gary Dunham, Robert Shook, Linda and Henry Wolff, Sidney Weisiger and Marie Adcock of the UHV / VC Regional History Center.
Jim Cole is a board member of Victoria Preservation, Inc. and a retired civil engineer. He can be contacted by email at [email protected]