Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Falling in Love with Hotels

I love hotels, which dates back to the six months I lived in a downtown Denver hotel while my parents waited for our new house to be finished.

Shirley-Savory Hotel

The Shirley-Savoy Hotel, built in 1903, sat squatly at the corner of Broadway and Seventeenth, across the street from the towering Mile High Center.

The company my father and mother worked for was housed in the Mile High Center, which was Denver’s slickest and tallest new skyscraper, built one year before we arrived in 1957 with a whopping 23 stories. They commuted by walking less than a block.

For a kid from Iowa, it was heady stuff living in a hotel, originally conceived as a luxury hotel and located catty-corner from Denver’s more famous hotel, the Brown Palace. This is where President Dwight Eisenhower stayed when visiting Colorado, where his wife grew up in Broomfield. It was the first time I ever saw a President of the United States in the flesh.

My mother and I moved to Denver after the New Year holiday, so I started in a new school mid-year. My morning routine was to wake up, get dressed and go with my mother to a nearby restaurant where I was served a bowl of Wheaties with cream, toast and orange juice. Then we drove for what seemed like an eternity to the suburbs where I was dropped off at North Lakewood Elementary School.

Mile High CenterJefferson County Schools in those days were at the head of the class. The principal at my elementary school had doubts I was ready to step into fifth grade in her school. Apparently she thought I was a rube, but I fit in and never looked back. I made a lot of friends quickly, several of whom remain friends today.

My schoolmates thought it would be terrible to live in a cramped hotel room. But who wouldn’t like a maid making your bed everyday.

My parents had demanding jobs. They often returned to work after dinner, with me in tow. When my mom and dad worked at the same firm in Council Bluffs, Iowa, I tagged along and learned how to type and lick envelopes. The latter skill came in handy in my political career.

Spending evenings in the 23-story Mile High Center was a bigger thrill. You could look out the windows and see the city lights, including those of the Daniels & Fisher Tower, which when it was built was the highest building west of the Mississippi.

It was a short, bracing walk from the Shirley-Savoy Hotel to the shopping district and a new complex featuring an outdoor skating rink. If I had been to New York, I would have thought this was just as good.

In those days, there was something called industrial league basketball. Denver, home of the Denver-Chicago Truckers, was the center of its universe, though the Phillips 66ers were the perennial champions. Games were played in a dingy downtown auditorium, which swirled in smoke inside. But fancy modern arenas and stadiums weren’t invented yet, so no one, including us, noticed or cared.

As an only child, I was accustomed to amusing myself. I thought nothing of playing alone in my hotel room. One of my favorite toys was a miniature set of cookware, which resembled the grown-up version my parents’ employer sold. I amazed my imaginary guests with delectable meals in my hotel room gourmet kitchen. Of course, I continued to prefer Wheaties and hamburgers.

On weekends, we set out on voyages to discover our new home state. We were like urban sophisticates who trekked through a hotel lobby to our car with restaurant-packed lunch baskets.

One of my dad’s favorite trips was to drive through Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park. That beautiful, serene canyon has been devastated by the recent flash flooding, which I know would have broken my father’s heart.

One sunny weekend, my dad wrangled with his boss to drive the company car, a swooping white Imperial convertible with bright red front bucket seats and a before-its-time tape player. We thought we had arrived as we cruised around town, turning heads at every block.

Denver was just beginning to change, with an influx of oil and gas money from Texas and Oklahoma. A lot of that oil money was invested in real estate and tall buildings. By then, we had moved to the suburbs. Before long, I was subsumed in the sports culture that defined Lakewood at that time.

I loved my time in Denver. But there is no sweeter memory than those six luxurious months in the Shirley-Savory Hotel. It opened my eyes to different possibilities. It made me look forward to those freshet moments in life when you stay in a hotel and someone makes your bed everyday.


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