Henry Strater, a pharmacist from Cleveland, developed an interest in seeing the town of Durango, Colorado prosper. Believing the town needed place for railroad travelers to stay, Stater built the hotel with his brothers, Fred and Frank, and his father Antone, who backed the costs of building. The three brothers traveled to Durango by train in 1880 to bid on a plumbing contract in the town’s early days. Within the first few months of their arrival, the brothers established the Strater Brothers Paints and Oils Store. Henry was less interested in selling goods and more intrigued by the prospects of the hotel business. However, Henry had no desire to run the hotel and he leased the building to a proprietor named H.L. Rice.
At the height of the Gilded Age, architects combined historical styles. The Strater is an excellent example, as the structure of the hotel is an eclectic Victorian design with a boxy Italianate Romanesque structure and Renaissance details. The original building included a corner tower that combined Palladian and Gothic architecture. The original four-story brick building sits on the southwest corner of Main Street and 7th Street. Henry Strater constructed a three-story annex in 1892. The owners restored or refurbished the lobby and guest rooms to maintain its original condition as needed. The extravagant appearance cost $70,000, and the building’s height fit the narrative of Durango’s boom-town atmosphere. Desires to expand the city resulted in the improvements to the hotel.
The hotel declined in the Silver Panic of 1895, when the market price of silver plummeted. Mining was no longer profitable as it once wa,s and both Durango and the Strater Hotel lost income. Henry Strater and H.L. Rice went out of business due to the panic’s financial devastation, as many of their visitors were miners checking on their holdings. After losing the hotel, Henry Strater and his wife Carrie moved to Philadelphia, leaving behind the once successful hotel. Hattie Mashburn and Charles E. Stilwell bought the hotel in 1893. At the turn of the century, Mashburn and Stilwell offered opera and fine dinners at the hotel. It was the start of a new era for the Strater.
Jentra and Earl Barker Jr., whose family bought the hotel from Stillwell and Mashburn in 1926, are credited for renovating the Strater. Their goal was to restore the interior to resemble how it may have looked in the Victorian Era. The couple found authentic Victorian furniture at antique stores. Their son continued the restoration by adding woodwork and hand-printed wallpaper by Bradbury and Bradbury, a company that specializes in recreating historical patterns.
The legacy of the Strater is in the hands of the current owner, Rod Barker, who continues to hold up the standard of the hotel. The Office Spiritorium, award-winning Mahogany Grill, and The Diamond Belle Saloon with Ragtime Pianists, are all parts of the hotel that make it inviting to guests. Barker has incorporated the collective vision of each of the hotel’s previous owners to create an exciting place for visitors to stay, while still heavily embracing historical background.