The Hollywood of the Rockies: The Spirit of the New Rochester Hotel
As you may guess, it has something to do with making movies in and around this rugged Western town, also known for its famous Narrow Gauge Railroad, proximity to National Parks and Monuments, and year-round recreation.
Capitalizing on this theme of locally-filmed famous Hollywood movies, the historic Rochester Hotel captures the spirit of the West found in movies shot by the likes of John Ford and featuring actors such as Clark Gable and John Wayne.
In 1992, mother-and-son tandem Diane Wildfang and Kirk Komick purchased two Durango hotels, directly across from each other on 2nd Avenue, between 7th and 8th Streets, just a block east of historic Main Avenue. Beginning with restoration on the Leland House (formerly the Pittman Apartments), the pair moved on to the Rochester Hotel across the street, transforming the run-down, former Peeples Hotel built in 1891 into the Western-movie themed inn that it is today.
The exterior of the hotel follows an adaptation of the then-popular Italianate style, typically used for commercial buildings, featuring a decorative brick cornice and tall, rectangular windows. For the past hundred years, the hotel served salesmen, tourists, and became a boarding-house at one time. After falling into disrepair, Kirk and Diane purchased the properties and transformed the Rochester’s 33 rooms into 15 spacious king and double queen rooms with private baths.
Kirk is justifiably proud of the transformation he’s brought to these two properties and to 2nd Avenue in Durango. Twenty years ago, when he and his mom arrived in Durango, the street was known for its end-to-end used-car dealerships. The Rochester was kind of a half-way house where law enforcement personnel could keep an eye on a few ne’er-do-wells. Today the street has been transformed by art galleries, a brew pub, shops and restaurants that give it a wholly new look.
Each room in the Rochester is furnished according to a theme depicted by a movie shot in the Durango area. We enjoyed the downstairs Room 104, decorated in a theme inspired by the 1956 movie Around the World in 80 Days. In addition to a pair of movie posters, the dual-toned walls featured a trio of paintings of street scenes in Paris. Black-and-white retro-look tile floors in the bathroom and washroom, a shelf of old cameras and floral bedspreads on a pair of queen-sized beds added to the feeling that we were in an historic hotel.
We enjoyed the complimentary wireless internet service that worked well. In addition to air conditioning (which we did not need in April) and the en-suite bathroom, we had the use of standard cable channels on our flat-screen television, free cruiser bike rentals, and the always-enjoyable Aveda Products. (Can you ever really get enough of their Rosemary-Mint shampoo and conditioner?) The good news: There’s a dispenser of shampoo-conditioner-bath gel in the shower. Oh, and there’s a jetted tub in these rooms as well, so sit back and enjoy!
Treats are served in the afternoon. We had our choice of three kinds of freshly-baked cookies, as well as coffee or tea. The Rochester also has a full bar featuring a number of fine Durango beers and California wines that are labeled especially for this wonderful inn. These wines can be pre-ordered and waiting in your room upon arrival. Please contact the hotel if you prefer Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Prosecco.
A lovely book by Diane’s husband, Frederic B. Wildfang, entitled Hollywood of the Rockies: The Spirit of the New Rochester Hotel, (found in every room) re-calls the history of sixteen movies shot in and around Durango, along with another three movies featuring local actor Harry Carey, Jr., that were filmed in Monument Valley, Utah, just a couple hours west of Durango. Carey (who passed away in December 2012) loved Durango and moved here from southern California. “Ol’ Dobe,” as he was called by movie director John Ford became good friends with the Wildfangs and they eventually sponsored a short-lived, annual Durango Western Film Festival. The life and legend of Harry Carey, Jr. lives on here at the Rochester Hotel with photos and other memorabilia.
At the registration desk, be sure to check out one or more of the movies celebrated by this hotel. Upstairs, you’ll find a room commemorating the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In a couple upstairs rooms, I noticed the wide-screen television was perched on five suitcases! Another room celebrates the Chevy Chase classic, Vacation.
Across the street at the Leland House, most of the ten rooms are suites, featuring two rooms, along with a private bathroom. Some have kitchenettes. These rooms are historically themed, featuring famous Durango personalities. One room is called “Max Baer,” named, of course, for the legendary pugilist who won the heavyweight crown on June 14, 1934 by defeating Italy’s Primo Carnera by knockout. I don’t know if the gloves are authentic, but there are a pair hanging on the wall in this room. Unfortunately “Madcap Max” became a victim of his irrepressible sense of humor, losing a fifteen-round decision just a year later to Jimmy Braddock in the same Long Island City, NY arena, on June 13, 1935. “I clowned away the title,” he said after this fight. (Movie aficionados will remember the 2005 film portrayal of this match in the Cinderella Man, featuring Russell Crowe as Braddock.) Outside the room are framed newspaper articles about Baer as well as a handwritten letter from him. Baer attended Durango public schools and was called a “big baby,” some said, because he lost a fight when he was 12 years old. However, later he became known for his toughness. “He used to drink steer’s blood,” wrote F.K. Baskette, because his father worked in a Durango slaughter house.
Down on Main Avenue and 10th Street, outside the El Rancho tavern on a large wall is a painting of another professional pugilist, Jack Dempsey, celebrating a knockout in that location when he was 20 years old. Durango, it seems, was known for its share of taverns, churches, and prizefighters—before it became known as “The Hollywood of the Rockies.’
Beginning the first week of May 2014, The Rochester Hotel kicks off its series of outdoor concerts in the hotel’s “Secret Garden,” featuring local musicians. Concerts are held each Wednesday at 4:30 pm from May to the first week of October. Check the Event calendar on the Rochester Hotel Website to find the complete schedule of performances.
One of the best features of lodging here is the pleasure of enjoying the Rochester’s famous gourmet hot breakfast. In addition to fruits, juices, muffins, scones, hot beverages, and a wide selection of preserves, the staff cooks a delicious hot breakfast each morning, available from 7-9 a.m. Recently, NBC TV’s Today show searched for the “Top 10 Free Hotel Breakfasts” in the US and selected the Rochester Hotel & Bar as a distinguished member on that list! With 25 rooms available (10 at the Leland House, 15 at the Rochester), there are plenty of options for you, your family, or your travel group. There’s no better way to enjoy all Durango has to offer than booking a room or suite at the Leland House and The Rochester Hotel & Bar.
Leland House and the Rochester Hotel & Bar
Luxury Accommodations in the Spirit of the Old West
726 East Second Avenue
Durango, CO 81301