The Hotel Jerome has a history nearly as long as Aspen’s. The hotel opened during the city’s early boom years and prospered along with Aspen. In the years following World War II, when skiing replaced silver as the city’s livelihood. In its long career, the Hotel Jerome has hosted numerous celebrities, including Hunter S. Thompson, who used the hotel’s J-Bar as his unofficial office.
Opened in 1889, the Hotel Jerome
has been a fixture of Aspen society for nearly as long as the city has existed.
The hotel was built by Jerome B. Wheeler, who was then a co-owner of Macy’s and
who was heavily invested in Aspen.
Wheeler was one of the earliest
residents of Aspen, which he had visited on vacation in 1883. He began
investing in the community and completed the construction of a smelter. He also
built the hotel which bore his name, and the Wheeler Opera House. His intention
for the Hotel Jerome was that it would rival the great hotels of Europe, and spared
little expense to accomplish that dream.
The Hotel Jerome was one of the
first buildings in the West to have full electric lighting. It also had other
modern conveniences, such as running water, steam heat, and an elevator. The
hotel changed hands several times in the coming years, but retained its central
place in the social life of Aspen.
The early years of the twentieth
century were comparatively lean ones for Aspen and are known as “the quiet
years.” Silver declined precipitously in the late 1800s and its population
dwindled significantly. Aspen didn’t begin to see a recovery until the
mid-1930s, when Billy Fiske, an Olympic bobsledder, realized that the terrain
around Aspen was perfect for a ski resort and bought property to build one.
World War II slowed Aspen’s
growth into a skiing destination. The
Army’s Tenth Mountain Division trained in the area during the war, and
afterward, some of them returned and began to try to revitalize the town. The
city’s first modern ski lift opened in 1947, and once again the city began to
grow and prosper.
With new interest in Aspen
because of skiing, the Jerome was restored and became a popular choice for
visitors to the city. Celebrities were frequently seen at the Jerome, including
John Wayne, Lana Turner, and Gary Cooper.
By the 1960s, however, the Jerome was attracting a different kind of
clientele, as hippies and counterculture devotees, including writer Hunter S.
Thompson, who was a regular at the hotel’s J-Bar. In the 1970s, the Eagles and
Jack Nicholson were also regular fixtures at the hotel.
At the end of the twentieth
century, the hotel underwent an extensive renovation to return it to its
boomtown glory. In the early 2000s, the property changed hands several times,
and was eventually purchased in 2015 by Auberge Resorts. The property remains a
landmark in Aspen and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.