Imagine you are in 1911 Denver at a 5 star hotel, in an immaculately clean foyer that leads into a dining room. Ornate chandeliers provide the lighting for yet another fantastic 7-course dinner, in which Denver’s elite are the guests. Champagne flutes clink and elegant music plays from the piano just feet away. Now fast forward to 50 years later. That same hotel is now host to Denver’s downtrodden. Drug addicts and dealers are common residents of the hotel along with prostitutes and recently released felons. Yes, the Newhouse Hotel has a very interesting history, and Rustin Waller is the kind-hearted man in charge of cleaning up its past, in hopes of making the Newhouse Hotel sparkle like it once did.
Rustin has been the General Manager of the Newhouse Hotel for only 5 ½ years, but the hotel itself has been a prominent feature on the corner of Grant and Colfax for 107 years. “It was originally built for the state lawmakers, who stayed here for 2 or 3 weeks while they were making laws at the Capitol. It was supposed to be a playground for rich politician guys. Really fancy,” says Rustin as we stroll through the lobby. Snaking our way through, he mentions that the building has undergone a lot of renovations since, but he’s doing his best to bring the hotel back to life. He points out that the paintings on the walls are actually painted into the walls themselves. “All these Al Fresco paintings have been here for 107 years, and are all actual locations in Colorado, no one knows who did these paintings but I’ve paid to have an artist come through to preserve them as much as we can.”
Another interesting fixture of the hotel that has survived its century-long history is the Melville Clark piano. “This looked terrible with a sign that said ‘do not play’ and the owners actually wanted me to throw it away when I took over. I told them let me keep it, I’ll fix it.” The piano is magnificent and, according to Rustin and guests, the acoustics travel all the way to the top of the hotel, so that the entire building is flooded with the sound of this incredible instrument. “It sounds so pretty, it creates an ambiance and so many talented people come through and play on it,” says a grinning guest in the lobby while we’re stopped by the piano.
And while the piano may create an elegant atmosphere, what Rustin has had to deal with just beyond the lobby is anything but pretty. “When I first started, this place was probably condemnable or close to condemnable, it was really neglected. The owners that I work for have owned it for 100 years but the people that ran it for 30 or 35 years just let it go.” With an odd shade of dinosaur-purple coating the walls, an absurd trim job and rotted fragments of plaster and floor just falling away, “This is what the whole building looked like 35 years ago.” Rustin had his work cut out for him.
With a project this big, it’s like, where do you start? He laughs and says, “One room at a time.” Pipes will burst, radiators will leak, roofs will completely collapse in and because it’s an old building, when one thing goes wrong, the whole thing needs to be gutted and brought to code. It’s not an easy job, but Rustin does it – and with a smile. He’s very proud of what he’s accomplished thus far. And he should be, as the rooms are modern, elegant and impeccably clean. The additions that Rustin has worked on have allowed the building to take on a new charm all of its own, although he still keeps much of its original allure by maintaining that which is special.
Take for example the elevator. The elevator is not your push-a-button and the elevator appears. No, this elevator is from over a century ago where everything needs to line up perfectly on both ends or it won’t run. Big enough for probably two full grown adults and their carry-ons, it’s not nearly as spacious as something you’d find at DIA. If you can picture a giant bird-cage with two humans in it, then you can picture this elevator. At one point it used to be completely open so that you could look out of it as it went up and down, but now it’s enclosed for safety reasons, “It’s not perfect but considering it’s still running after 107 years, it’s badass. You could see how it used to be ornate, it used to be a sightseeing feature that you could look out to the east.” As we climb into the elevator Rustin says, “Shall we head to the haunted basement?” Uh, YES!
It’s no surprise that with the building being as old as it is, of course this hotel is haunted. I mean, all of Colfax is practically haunted. “Every floor is haunted, the basement has more activity than anywhere else. The crawlspace has more activity than the basement. And the boiler room has the most activity,” he says as we make our descent down to the basement. As we step out of the elevator it looks like any ordinary basement: there’s a bicycle being repaired, a wall with tools, and a workbench just below that.
With the fluorescent lights flickering, it’s all prime material for that perfect horror movie setting. As we’re walking through the basement he points out a drum set. “In the middle of the night we’ll hear something like the cymbals or something hit one drum and we’ll come down and the door is locked, and there’s no one in here. So, those kinds of things happen all the time,” he says so nonchalantly, as if the toast just popped up.
“We do have ghost stories here all the time, little random stuff like a chair moved from the corner and suddenly it’ll be at the top of the stairs. Or I was in my office one time and I thought I heard the sound of steam coming from the boilers but as I was doing paperwork the hissing sound got louder and I looked over and the water was turned on in my sink. We hear stories about ghost sightings and different people describe having the same experience. There’s a lot of kids seen running around. We hear lots of stories of people hearing a doorknob being jiggled. There’s also a naked, tall Native American Indian with long, black hair that many people have seen on the third floor.”
We eventually head towards the boiler room. “This big monster,” Rustin says referring to the boiler, “is running off of coal and it’s the exact same model that was in the Titanic. They were made by the same company, same year and they happen to be about the same size, so this boiler was installed at the same time they were building the Titanic.” Each room has a unique story and helps to complete the history of the Newhouse Hotel. “We actually had some people come in who wanted to do paranormal research, they sat in this room, the crawlspace and the basement for 20 minute sessions in the complete dark. And they all came out with separate stories.” Whether it was feeling the presence of others, getting tugged by someone or getting pelted with something, everyone had their own individual story to share but no one felt that they were being attacked or harmed.
“I believe that it is really haunted, like actively, but I don’t think there’s anything bad here. Like nobody tells any scary stories, nobody got scratched, nobody is afraid of the dark but people say that they’ve heard their name called and all sorts of different things. One of the employees had his girlfriend stay here and she had a recording of banging on her window, but she’s on the third floor and there’s no way that anyone could be banging on her window.”
Having heard enough ghost stories for the day, we make our way back towards the elevator. On our way out he points out the light switch, which according to the electric company is one of the oldest switches they’ve ever seen and what’s even more remarkable is that it actually works. And speaking of electric companies, “You know Xcel? They came down here one time, two guys, they installed a meter in the back corner. Something happened when they came down here and were so terrified they came over to the elevator and they pushed the button, but if the elevator doors aren’t correctly lined up then the elevator won’t come down. They freaked out and thought they were trapped in here with something scary and they took their tools and ripped the door-frame off. We had to spend $5,000 last year to get our door-frame welded back on because these technicians were so terrified, that they took the door-frame off and screamed ‘Help us, help us, get us out of here!’ And so our maintenance guy couldn’t move the elevator. So he opened the other door from the outside that led to the basement. They ran past me and never said what they saw and I never confronted Xcel about it.”
After feeling properly spooked but equally excited about all the positive changes that Rustin has made, he takes me on a sweep around the exterior of the building. Walking under the flashing neon sign that vibrantly reads, “Newhouse Hotel” we leisurely walk around the corner, up Colfax and down the alley to the back, passing Capitol Hill Books, Jerry’s and Satellite Bar along the way. He’s installed high fences and motion-detect lights to protect the courtyard from unwanted guests. “I’m creating a warm, safe, healthy place for people to sleep.”
The community, as a whole, is feeling safe once again as well. “The whole community has noticed the change. The owner from the City Grill said she gave up chasing off the drug dealers and the homeless people and the prostitutes, and I gave her hope to start fighting back because about 5 years ago when I started. Good Chemistry opened and they put a merchant guard out front of their store, so they were guarding that block, I was guarding this block, so that gave her the confidence to fight back because she saw what we were doing across the street. One block at a time.”
It’s a heck of lot that Rustin has taken on, ranging from “security to pest control to plumbing, to building ceramic showers to roofing to ghost stories and even some paperwork to keep my brain charged.” It takes a person of strong will and character to attempt such an endeavor. But at the end of the day, Rustin smiles his big charming grin and says, “I honestly think it’s the most important job I’ve ever done, my whole life. I’ve literally been tearing things out, making things beautiful, kicking out the monsters. I’ve managed a lot of things, but I really feel that we’ve changed the energy of the whole building and made it safe to the point where there’s babies everywhere, and single moms, and kids running around. I think it’s all super healthy.”