When owner Rod Barker enters 222 with the plastic card passkey a non sequitur of modernity in this building of antiquity sure, he notices the American Victorian beds and couch and dressers. And hes well aware this is the room that author Louis LAmour once frequented with his wife, Kathy, and their two children.
But more than that, he FEELS the presence. He remembers it firsthand. He senses the history dripping from the ceilings and walls and stairwells at the Strater Hotel.
Barker still feels the weight of LAmours huge trunk, filled with books and other belongings that, as a bellman 40 years ago, Barker carried up the stairs. It didnt quite fit in the elevator.
It was just an ungodly weight, Barker says.
Upstairs in 323, you can stand in the room where Gustav Nordenskiold was held under house arrest in 1891. The young Finn was accosted by locals for hauling masses of artifacts from Mesa Verde National Park. His story is framed on the wall.
The point is, theres a lot of history here. A lot of Durango history. And the venerable Strater is ready to celebrate and capitalize on it.
With the help of local input, Barker says, the 124-year-old Strater is going to name all 93 of its rooms with history in mind.
Room 222 will be the Louis LAmour Room, of course, and Room 323 will be the Nordenskiold Room. Room 227, the first one that Rod and his wife, Laurie, refurbished, likely will get the Barker name.
Hes looking to honor pioneers (mule packer Olga Little comes to his mind), Native Americans (Buckskin Charlie, Chief Ouray, perhaps), businesses that played a key role in the towns development (San Juan Smelter, First National Bank) and famous guests (Robert Redford, Buzz Aldrin, Jane Fonda, John and Robert Kennedy, Gerald Ford).
Rooms will be named each month, a process that will take several years. Each room would have a binder with information about the honoree.
What better way to share the history of this turn-of-the-century mining center and at the same time give guests more of what theyre paying for: a feel for the Old West.
The naming effort will kick off with Thursdays annual open house, during which visitors tourists and natives, usually 100 or more take a guided tour of the Strater.
Barker sees the room-naming effort as a community event. He hopes people will make suggestions and offer bits of history that may have been neglected or forgotten.
Im looking at this as a long-term preservation of history and stories that just go away when people die, he says during lunch earlier this month at the Straters Diamond Belle Saloon. We all think we know a lot about the history of Durango. Is that really true?
The Straters front office manager, Barb Richter, says visitors constantly request information and stories about the buildings history. They want to soak it up, she says.
He doesnt know it all, but Barker has a pretty good feel for Durango history. Its a family legacy.
Earl Barker Sr. was part of a group that purchased the hotel in 1926, and by 1954, he had bought out everyone else. Earl Barker Jr. ran the Strater from 1954 to 83 and, with his wife, Jentra, traveled the country to gather the largest collection of American Victorian antique walnut furniture in the world.
Earl Jr.s son Rod grew up in and around the hotel. In the late 1960s-early 70s, he worked as a bellman. He got to know the guests, got to know their needs and what draws them to the Strater.
It was the best job I ever had, Barker, now 55, says with his patented enthusiasm. I loved it.
He took over hotel operations in 1983 and, along with his wife, Laurie, its been a labor of love and attention to detail.
The Strater is one of the 10 founding members of the National Historic Preservation Trusts Historic Hotels of America. The Straters business derives from its richness of history, from visitors who pass the word on to their friends and relatives. Its a quaint, well-run hotel that cares about its past and present.
Rod Barker believes what his grandfather told him many years ago. If you take care of this hotel, it will take care of you.
Its worked all these years. Why change now?
A year ago, he talked to Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad owner Al Harper about purchasing the Strater. The deal ultimately fell through. Its possible Barker could sell in the future, but dont hold your breath. He cant imagine selling to a corporation.
Its more than just making a sale, he says.
It might break his heart to see it become, for example, the Hilton Strater.
Too much history there.