August 3, 2015
If the walls of The Hotel Denver could talk, they would tell stories of immigrant struggles, Prohibition, two world wars, a shooting or two, and of the good times as well. The Bosco family, founders of The Star Hotel and later The Hotel Denver, were several generations of real people who lived through these times in this special place. Here is their story.
Henry Bosco was born in Italy in 1885. At age twenty nine and with just thirty cents, he landed in New York. He worked various jobs building railroads and mining coal before lighting on Riverfront in Glenwood Springs. There, he set up a business in a tent, as did a number of other people in 1887. His next move was to New Castle where he farmed. Returning to Glenwood Springs in 1896, he remained there the remainder of his life.
1904 brought the “new” D&RG train station, and with it a host of visitors and business opportunities. In the block surrounding the train station, fourteen or more saloons were operating. The saloons catered to the travelling public, as well as miners and other workers from Aspen and Leadville. The miners would travel to Glenwood Springs on their days off to bathe and do their laundry in the pleasant hot water. Called “laundry trains”, the primary activity shifted from cleaning to revelry, including drinking, gambling, and visiting the ladies. Saloons catered to this public, and Henry saw the opportunity to cater to the saloons. The enterprising Henry Bosco rented a room in the basement of the Oberto Saloon to sell wholesale liquor.
In 1908, Mike Bosco followed his uncle Henry to Glenwood Springs. As a young man of 16 with $5 in his pocket, he would have been one of the train passengers greeted by the hodgepodge of saloons, rooming houses and stores that included his uncle’s liquor business. Knowing no English, he enrolled in first grade to learn the language. He went to work polishing stones at the mill in Marble. Like many immigrants, he did not know what he earned because his English was poor and he was afraid that asking would get him fired. Mike collected discarded bottles and resold them, eventually making more money from that enterprise than in the mill. Using his earnings, in 1912 he began the franchise of bottling a new soft drink, and was the first Coca Cola distributor in town. He operated from his Uncle Henry’s bottling business.
Enjoying success with the liquor sales, Henry was able to buy the building. By 1912, he operated the liquor wholesale business in the basement, a saloon on the first floor, and rooms to rent on the third. Henry acquired two more lots and began construction of The Star Hotel, which opened in 1915. Nephew Mike operated hotel and sold Coca Cola until he served in the army during the Great War.
Prohibition started the first day of 1916, and the bars on Riverfront, now re-named 7th Street, were in trouble. Art Kendrick, who owned The Hotel Denver on the west side of the block, was finally able to purchase the remaining lots to the west. Bosco expanded to the east. Although competitors, Kendrick and Bosco were great friends.
Mike married Phyllis Panier in 1921, who was also working in Glenwood Springs. Baby Hank was born in 1922. Henry Bosco died in 1929 at age 72.
The two hotels weathered the Great Depression. The Star Hotel provided a roof over the Bosco family, but little else. Mike Bosco supplemented his income by purchasing train-car loads of grapes and selling them to other Italian families to make wine. Apparently there was an exception to the Prohibition rules that allowed.