By Nancy Christofferson and Larry Patrick
WALSENBURG- La Plaza Inn has served the community as a hostelry for 100 years. The structure was built about 1907 by Paul Frohlich who was better known for erecting the two-story brick at the northeast corner of Fifth and Main streets in 1903 for his hardware business. Originally, the hotel was intended to have a store on the ground floor and a business upstairs.
About 1910 the structure was expanded to include rental rooms upstairs and a restaurant and barbershop down. In 1912 a billiard hall was added and shortly thereafter the rooms were used for a rooming house utilizing the café’s facilities.
The hotel was again expanded to include more rental units upstairs, until there were 33. For many years, the café was a Chinese restaurant known variously as the Mandarin or Miami Café.
In 1935 Leighton H. Kirkpatrick bought the premises in a tax sale, and in 1938 he concluded the purchase. He hired a busy and well-known local contractor, E.C. Furlong (who was, incidentally, his son-in-law) to remodel and modernize the hotel and downstairs rooms.
The project was said to cost $30,000, a good chunk of change for those Depression days, but 116-118-120 West Sixth Street became an imposing hotel with 16 spacious rooms on the second floor and three business rooms on the first floor. The old post office at the west end of the building became the lobby.
Some 1,000 people attended the hotel’s grand opening in March 1939. The next project was to renovate the old dining area into a modern coffee shop. It opened in July 1940. Kirkpatrick knew a good thing when he saw it, so bought the building to the east, 122 W. Sixth and had it revamped to look like the existing hotel.
In 1940 Kirkpatrick hired Alpheus A. “Scrappy” Marshall and his wife Ruth to run the coffee shop. This they did most successfully but left town only to return in 1945 to purchase the coffee shop and hotel.
The Marshalls opened a banquet area, called the Rainbow Room. In 1949 it was renamed the Emerald Room. This dining room became the most popular spot in the city for large gatherings, hosting everyone from civic and service clubs to social and school celebrations and meetings.
The days of hotels, however, were waning. As the automobile-centric society evolved, salesmen no longer had to rely on train travel, and the need for lodging near railroad depots faded. Motor inns and cottage camps prevailed for travelers and many downtown hotels all across America mouldered.
From 1950 until 1958 part of the old Hotel Kirk premises were used as a square dance studio, then in 1962 the bus depot moved in. For some years, the welfare office was located in one of the ground floor rooms.
Scrappy died in 1972, and in 1974 Ruth sold the hotel building to Charles and Alice Jaramillo, Walsenburg natives who had relocated to Pueblo. The Jaramillos opened the Carlile Hotel there, for retirees and senior citizens, but this was short-lived.
Through the 1980s and ’90s the building languished, housing various small businesses until even the bus station moved out. Then Martie Henderson saw the stately old building’s potential and bought it in 1996 from the Jaramillos.
Henderson renamed it La Plaza Inn and put a lot of time and money into the facility, renovating the rooms and kitchen. She operated restaurants on several occasions, for short periods of time, while also doing catering and holding community events there. Henderson made La Plaza the in-place to go for important events and fancy parties. She also rented out the 11 rooms as a bed & breakfast, serving guests from many locations across the country.
Henderson recently sold La Plaza Inn to Jeff and Karen Wilson of Upland, California, near Los Angeles. They plan to operate La Plaza as a bed & breakfast/hotel, and will do some renovating of their own. They will honor the history and period of the building and keep the charming effect of the building intact. Jeff & Karen will offer affordable rooms along with a few upscale rooms for guests.
Most people they have met ask the same question. Are you going to open up a restaurant? The answer is yes, with early summer as their goal to open. Plans call for offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. Special events will also be part of the plan.
The Wilsons want to take an active part in the community. Jeff grew up around Colorado Springs and Karen is from Texas. They have two college age children, a son & daughter. They searched the region for a year looking for a facility such as La Plaza. Getting out of the rat race of the big city was one of their goals, they operated a manufacturing plant for a number of years dealing with the housing industry.
Jeff and his son are big Denver Bronco fans and have been for many, many years. They look forward to rooting for the Broncos on their own turf, not from California. Karen says she is a fan of what makes her husband happy, in short, not a big sports fan.
The La Plaza Inn is open for business. They have been renting rooms and providing breakfast for their guests. They have high hopes for the Walsenburg area and want very much to be a part of the local community for the many years ahead. The history of the building continues with new owners and great plans for its future.