Golden’s Rock House Lodge
Stopped by an establishment in Golden, Colorado yesterday – a place that always got my attention when I would pass by on Old Golden Road in the town of Golden located west of Denver near the foothills.
The establishment constructed of rocks worn round from ions spent in surrounding Colorado river beds, caught my attention for a couple of reasons. The First being that the construction seemed so hap-hazard, with extensions and wings sticking out here and there with no clear main entrance visible from Old Golden Road.
The second being those round rocks which comprise the wall structures – so similar to the construction of the buildings throughout nearby historic Camp George West. The base served as a post for the Colorado National Guard more recently but originally came about back in Colorado’s earliest days when in 1879 the Colorado National Guard was officially founded. The Colorado Guard’s primary duty was overseeing native American “unrest” in the surrounding territory. Then in 1903, in the present day location of Camp George West, the “State Rifle Range” was established continuing under that name until 1934 when it officially became “Camp George West”.
Many of the structures on the base were constructed during the nation’s big Depression by Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers. Many of the early guard members were also Colorado School of Mines students – located in nearby Golden.
And so it was probably only natural that an establishment of “pleasure” would pop up in the neighborhood. And one did – but long before Camp George West came along. In 1885 the “Rock House Rest” was built as a stagecoach stop and trading post – probably bearing little resemblance to today’s Rock Rest Lodge.
Changes at the Rock House
So, moving on, the Rock Rest was expanded in the early 1900’s to include not only a ballroom for dancing and performances but also adding several rooms serving as a brothel catering primarily to the National Guard – The owner at the time was Len “Stump Puller” Johnson. He retired and headed off to Sweden and a character by the name of Jimbo Thraken took over – expanding the brothel and adding gambling. Thracken held onto the Rock House until his death as a result of a barroom brawl in his establishment.
This lead to several changes of ownership and a near total decline of the once popular roadhouse.
Then the 1930’s came on and the Great Depression made itself felt everywhere. It was during this time that Denver orchestra leader George Morrison came to be a regular provider of dance and jazz music at the Rock House, which spurred a huge revival for the historic lounge. Morrison’s band was known as the “Rigadooners”. At one point, famed Louis Armstrong made several appearances with Morrison at the Rock House.
However, their presence at the Rock House didn’t please the local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan.
At that time the Klan was very active in the Denver area – and in fact – conducted Klan meetings high atop North Table Mountain located above Golden and just to the north of the Rock House. The Klan made threats letting it be known that they intended to dynamite the lodge and even kill the band leader – who was not only black but also a Catholic – two unforgivable sins in the eyes of the KKK.
The Klan made it’s presence felt in nearby Arvada, Colorado just a bit to the east of Golden. The sign below stands today opposite Arvada’s Shrine of St. Anne which was targeted by a Klan gathering of “Women of the Klan”. A nearby bank which still functions today the “First National Bank” was a meeting place for the Klan as explained on the sign. A counter protest was formed out of Arvada and North Denver with 25,000 marching against the Klan in 1925.
Today the Rock Rest is very much alive – and very much a vibrant gathering place for great food and entertainment. The decor is fascinating with many remnants adorning the walls and ceilings from days long past – Lots of local acts appearing – pool, and plenty of room for gatherings of all sizes. The old ballroom dance floor is expansive – and then there are all of those ladies’ bras dangling from various artifacts high up in the ceiling….. That is a whole other tale – Visit the Rock Rest and ask about the ghost of Molly Barton who lives on today at the Rock House!