Tour Stop: #13
Current Name: Spencer Center
Historic Name: Plaza Hotel
Address: 830 N. Tejon Street
Year Completed: 1901
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: W.W. and G.F. Atkinson, Colorado Springs
Designation: National Register
Access Level: Spencer Center is a working building. The public is invited inside, but we ask that ongoing activities not be disturbed.
Taking advantage of the city's status as a tourist destination and the continuing stimulus that Cripple Creek provided for the Colorado Springs economy, two local builders, W.W. and G.F. Atkinson, erected this $80,000 hotel in 1900-01. Salvaged steel from William Jackson Palmer's first Antlers Hotel, which had been destroyed by fire, was incorporated into the new Renaissance Revival style building. The H-shaped hotel with twin towers displayed walls of white St. Louis pressed brick. Planned as a family hostelry on the European plan (without meals), the facility opened with 120 rooms and 23 bathrooms. The local Facts magazine described the Plaza as a "first class hotel."
Increasing enrollment of women students at the beginning of the twentieth century surpassed Colorado College's ability to provide enough on-campus housing. As construction began, the hotel's builders added a three-story west wing that the college agreed to lease, calling it "South Hall." Thirty women moved into the space in January 1901, under the supervision of Miss Whitehill, a Smith College graduate. The Woman's Educational Society (WES) provided furnishings for the students' rooms. The WES organized in 1889 and was instrumental in bringing about the completion of its four historic women's dormitories, as well as a variety of other improvements on campus. The lease on South Hall was not renewed in 1902, and McGregor Hall opened the following year.
Before the college acquired its own student center, a drugstore in the northeast corner of the first story of the hotel served that purpose. Druggist Henry Tamm opened his business in the space in June 1901, featuring prescriptions, toiletries, and a soda fountain that attracted students. In 1906, John and Joseph Murray purchased the drugstore, operating Murray's Drug Company. The proximity of Murray's to the campus made it a natural meeting place that functioned as an unofficial student center until the late 1950s. The drugstore served as the college bookstore from 1920-41 and also provided the convenience of a post office substation. Students gathered at Murray's before and after athletic contests, cultural events, movies, and dates. Banana splits, cheese and peanut butter sandwiches, and Cokes were popular and inexpensive items offered at the soda fountain. The drugstore encouraged students to "Meet at Murray's."
The building continued to house the Plaza Hotel until the late 1960s. Longtime operator George Keener ran the enterprise from 1919 until 1953. Aided by a loan from the college, he turned a portion of the building into apartments with hotel service. Colorado College President Thurston Davies and his wife resided in one of these units in the late 1930s and after World War II. A number of college faculty members also made their homes at the Plaza over the years. After World War II, the college leased one floor for men students to relieve campus overcrowding occasioned by the G.I. Bill.
When Nestlé Company moved to Colorado Springs in 1950, a portion of the building became its corporate headquarters for two years. Colorado Interstate Gas Company operated here from 1953 to 1976. The upper hotel floors continued to accommodate tourists and permanent residents until 1969, when the entire building became offices. In 1983, the historical and architectural significance of the building received recognition when it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Colorado College, which had declined an earlier opportunity to purchase the building, acted when it became available in 1991. The building was renamed in honor of William I. Spencer, a 1939 graduate of Colorado College, in a public ceremony on 5 October 1991. Spencer, a Colorado native, pursued a career in banking and served as president and chief administrative officer of Citicorp until his retirement in 1981. He served as a member of the Colorado College board of trustees from 1967 to 1991 and as its chairman from 1984 to 1991. The building currently contains the offices of Advancement, Communications, and Human Resources.