LS: History Here and Now Column January 02, 2009

The Melrose Hotel hits 100

I like to think of this as a long-distance tribute, because I live in Southern California, and the object of my dedication is 800 miles away.

The Melrose Hotel at 337 Colorado Ave. reached a milestone in 2008: It turned 100 years old. To put this in a national perspective, around the same time that William James Ponsford broke ground for the hotel, the Chicago Cubs were in their last World Series.

Natives of Grand Junction may wonder, and rightly so, why an out-of-towner would have any interest in this milestone or the landmark. To begin with, Ponsford was my wife’s great-grandfather. The Melrose was her first home and remained in her family until 1993, when her late mother, Mary Elizabeth “Betty” Davis, sold it to Marcus and Sabrina Bebb-Jones.

From 1982 until 1993, my wife, Maricaye C. Daniels, and I played relief pitchers as overseers of the hotel whenever Mrs. Davis and her husband, Dudley Davis, took a vacation from managing the hotel, and we look back fondly on those days. Whenever we drive past the old hotel, memories naturally come flooding back.

Melrose Hotel is the last remaining hotel out of 12 in downtown Grand Junction, outlasting contemporaries such as the St. Regis (still in existence housing a restaurant and offices), the La Court, the Virginia and the Wick.

Built by hand of fireproof brick, it was originally known as “The Melrose,” as evidenced by an original calling-card of Ponsfords. Melrose Hotel and Melrose House were names that would follow.

So let me take you back to 1908, to a high-class rooming house containing rooms with water pitchers. The Melrose was a “dream come true” for Ponsford, a hotel porter from London, England, who emigrated in 1884 with his wife Charlotte Louise (Porter) and 3-month-old daughter, Charlotte Mary.

The Ponsfords homesteaded on Kannah Creek, and it took 24 years of backbreaking farming to earn enough money to build the hotel.

The first part of the hotel, constructed in 1908, was a small building of 10 rooms; the edifice was one room wide and two stories high.

Next door, in the direction of Ute Avenue, was a livery stable, which was purchased in 1911 for the second half of the hotel. The basement foundation was dug with shovel by William James Ponsford and his two older sons, George and James.

The building had a white brick facade with a white cornice and a sign over the front door reading
“THE MELROSE – Roomes 50 cents and up.” Upon Ponsford’s death in 1914, the Melrose was run by his widow until 1932. Their daughter managed it until 1953.

Most of the early customers were farmer and rancher friends of the Ponsfords from nearby areas. It took much of the day for a trip to town to buy supplies, so they would stay at the hotel overnight. In the early days, the hotel also became a focal point for family members coming from the “Old Country.” A varied lot began staying at the Melrose: ranchers, cowboys, sheepherders, miners, railroad hands, truck drivers, bus drivers and ball players. All appreciated the charm of the hotel and its reasonable prices. As Mary Elizabeth Davis would later note, “The one feature that has remained constant throughout the years is a feeling of ‘home.’ ”

In keeping with this tradition, she would often have an extra place available at the Thanksgiving or Christmas table in case a renter was alone and in need of some turkey or oyster stew. We had the privilege of joining in on numerous occasions.

There have been three main additions since the livery stable was acquired. The original 10 rooms had water pitchers, wash bowls and slop jars. It was in the 1920s that lavatories were installed, and one of the big advertising features was “Hot and Cold Water in Every Room.” The first rooms with private baths were added in the next decade, but with discretion as it was not known then whether they would be rentable.

In 1954, four modern rooms with private bath were added, rooms six through nine. Nine became known as the “Honeymoon Suite.”

I owe much of my sourcing to Mary Elizabeth Davis, who cared for the hotel as she would family from 1953 to 1993. She was always proud of the fact that in its first 85 years, the front door was never locked, conveying a sense of accommodation. In her words, “If only the Melrose could tell its own story, it would be a fascinating one.”

I hope this story lasts another century, and as we all know from the nursery tale, the house made of bricks is the one to remain standing.

Don Daniels resides in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., with his wife, Maricaye Christenson Daniels, and their two sons, Peter and Grant. He has written about Enstrom’s Candies for Sunset and is researching for a book on La Jolla, Calif.

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