Nestled in the mountainous landscape of Durango, Colorado, the Strater Hotel stands as a testament to the city’s vibrant history and charm.
A proud founding member of the Historic Hotels of America, the Strater Hotel has been a beacon of hospitality since it opened its doors in 1887.
With its handcrafted woodwork, period wallpaper, and American Victorian walnut antiques, the hotel is a living testament to a bygone era.
The Strater Hotel is a prominent downtown Durango landmark just two blocks north of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
It’s also a stone’s throw away from the rugged beauty of the San Juan Mountains and the San Juan Scenic Skyway.
Having been operated by the Barker family for 95 years, the ownership has recently passed to Ross Garrett and his family.
A Visionary’s Dream: The Birth of the Strater Hotel
The Strater Hotel was born from the ambitious vision of Henry Strater.
A pharmacist hailing from Cleveland, Strater saw the potential for a grand hotel in the booming town of Durango. Despite the formidable construction costs, he was undeterred.
With the help of his father and brothers, they embarked on the colossal task of constructing the hotel.
More than 376,000 red bricks were used to create the stunning exterior facade of the building. The project cost would equal around $1.7 million in today’s currency.
In 1887, the Strater Hotel was ready to welcome its first guests. Interestingly, Strater did not desire to run the hotel himself.
Instead, he leased the management of the hotel to H.L. Rice and focused his energies on running a pharmacy located at the corner of the hotel.
Rivalry and Revival: The Strater Hotel’s Early Years
However, the relationship between Strater and Rice soured due to a surprising oversight in the lease agreement.
Strater had forgotten to exclude his pharmacy from the lease, allowing Rice to levy a high rent on the business.
Incensed, Strater retaliated by opening a rival hotel, the Columbian Hotel, leading to an intense rivalry between the two establishments.
The economic downturn following the Panic of 1893 was a blow to both hotels, leading to their bankruptcy.
The Strater Hotel was seized by the Bank of Cleveland and subsequently sold to Hattie Mashburn and Charles E. Stilwell.
The duo worked tirelessly to breathe new life into the struggling business, investing heavily in its growth and rejuvenation.
Under their leadership, the Strater Hotel regained its former glory, becoming Durango’s beacon of sophistication and culture.
A Stage for the Elite and the Creative Minds
Over the years, the Strater Hotel has hosted various illustrious guests, from political figures to cultural icons.
Actor Will Rogers, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, and the original band members of The Grateful Dead have all enjoyed the hotel’s hospitality.
President Gerald Ford stayed at the hotel twice, and a few Apollo astronauts graced the premises.
In addition, renowned author Louis L’Amour was a frequent resident at the hotel, writing many of his novels involving the fictional Sackett family inside the Strater Hotel.
The hotel even played a crucial role in international diplomacy, hosting nations to discuss the “6th Trans-Atlantic Treaty,” which led to new telephone lines between North America and Europe.
The Barker Legacy and Beyond
In 1926, the Barker family, led by Earl A. Barker, Sr., took over the Strater Hotel. His dedication to preserving the Strater Hotel’s rich heritage was unyielding.
The Barker family legacy continued with Earl’s son, Earl Barker Jr., taking the reins of the business.
He and his wife, Jentra, ensured that the hotel’s historical charm was beautifully maintained.
In 1983, the stewardship of the Strater Hotel passed to Roderick E. Barker, Earl’s son.
He undertook a series of extensive renovations to preserve the hotel’s historic character.
With the help of master woodworker Charles Schumacher, he redesigned many of the hotel’s iconic venues, including the Office.
The Barker family maintained their ownership of the Strater Hotel for an impressive 95 years, creating a legacy of hospitality that honored Durango’s rich history.
As of 2021, the hotel was purchased by Ross Garrett and his family, continuing the tradition of family-owned operations.
Today, the Strater Hotel remains an iconic symbol of Durango’s past, offering guests a unique glimpse into the Old West. Yet, it has weathered the storms of time and grown, adapted, and thrived.
The hotel’s exceptional level of preservation and commitment to showcasing the charm of its historic roots is a testament to the families who have stewarded it throughout the years.
With each room offering a unique step back in time, the Strater Hotel remains a cherished destination for those seeking a touch of history in the heart of Durango.
In an era where boutique hotels often strive for a sleek modern aesthetic, the Strater Hotel is a testament to Victorian design’s timeless elegance.
Its architectural style, steeped in the late Victorian period, adds to its unique allure.
As an integral part of the Main Avenue Historic District, the Strater Hotel’s cultural significance is recognized far beyond the borders of Durango, Colorado.
The Strater Hotel’s unique appeal is further enhanced by its location. The rugged San Juan Mountains and the scenic beauty of the San Juan Scenic Skyway provide a spectacular backdrop.
At the same time, the proximity to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad makes it a popular choice for visitors interested in exploring the region’s history.
With its rich past, fascinating tales of rivalry and recovery, and the ability to transport guests to another era, the Strater Hotel truly is a jewel in the heart of Durango.
Its continued operation is a testament to the enduring appeal of historical charm, the dedication of its stewards, and its place in the hearts of those who visit Durango.