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.
Backstory and Context
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.