History in Focus: The Cosgriff — A symbol of an era
Buildings and businesses are landmarks, guideposts of sorts, that become part of a town’s identity. In the life of our small town, these landmarks come and go and inevitably recede into the forgotten past. One exception to this process is the Cosgriff Hotel. Even though it was demolished over 24 years ago, its enduring legacy is warmly remembered by citizens and is still part of our active identity.
In 1939, Denver businessman J.W. Cosgriff sought to build a modern hotel in the Yampa Valley. At a cost of $130,000, construction was financed by Denver investors, a loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), and members of the Craig Lions Club. Construction started in November and continued through the bitter winter months of early1940 (Craig Empire Courier (CEC) 4/12 and 11/15/39).
The RFC was a federal government corporation started by President Herbert Hoover, and provided loans to the private sector to jump start the economy during the Great Depression. It was expanded in FDR’s New Deal and operated throughout World War II.
During construction a naming contest was held and the finalists were Cosgriff, Yampa, Lodore, Sage, Westerner, and incredibly, Tom Horn! Cosgriff’s wife, Wilma, made the final decision and chose Cosgriff, “because the modesty of Mr Cosgriff made him lean toward the name “Yampa” (CEC 3/13/40).
With 44 rooms, a cocktail lounge, and restaurant, the grand opening was an exciting event. In May, 200 Denver businessmen were scheduled to arrive in Craig by the Moffat Road to tour the new hotel and be fed and entertained by the Craig Lions Club and the wool grower association (CEC 4/17/40).
The hotel quickly became the center of social life hosting parties, receptions, banquets, concerts and meetings. Unfortunately, restricted travel and rationing during World War II hurt business and the Cosgriff defaulted on its RFC loan and filed for bankruptcy in 1942. On July 15, 1943, in a tense bidding war on the steps of the courthouse, local businessmen outbid a group of Denver investors and purchased the RFC loan for $62,000 (CEC, 7/21/43)
Surprisingly, In March of 1945, the War Production Board, the government bureaucracy charged with rationing and directing scarce war materials gave its approval to the Cosgriff to expand by 16 rooms.
After such a roller coaster start, the Cosgriff was now perfectly poised for the post war boom of the 1950’s. Regionally, Rangely’s oil fields were booming as the nation’s love affair with the automobile flourished. As a result, Craig was the major railroad shipping point for Rangely, and the Cosgriff benefitted from all the travelers and workers flowing through Craig.
A quick look at the hotel’s dinner menu from, Monday, August 15, 1955, gives a hint at the amount of business and cash flowing through the hotel. Just a few of the choices: 1.5 pounds broiled fresh Maine lobster, sauteed Veal Mignon, poached filet of red snapper in a white wine sauce, and the item that really piqued my interest is the Boiled Kosher Ox tongue in a raisin sauce. It’s as though Iron Chef Bobby Flay worked at the Cosgriff!
Over time, without consistent renovation and plagued by asbestos, the venerable landmark lost pace with changing times. The power plant boom of the late 1970’s brought new and flashier hotels, namely the Holiday Inn.
Unable to meet modern expectations, the Cosgriff hung on until 1992 when it was condemned as uninhabitable and finally demolished in July of 1996. In 2004, the property was purchased by Daryl Camiletti for $130,000, the original cost to build the hotel in 1940, and the site is now home to Mountain West Insurance (Craig Daily Press, 4/19/2004)
The Cosgrif Hotel was more than just a hotel. It was a local symbol of America’s post World War II confidence and optimism as it stepped forward on to the world stage as a superpower. It represented an era of growth and possibility and the reason it is still part of our identity almost 25 years after its demise.
James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, for his research and granting access to the museum archives.
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