Even in glory days, Rochester wasn’t so glorious

When The Rochester Hotel was refurbished 20 years ago, its new owners were purchasing and renovating a building that was a classic part of Durango’s rich history.

While that history is full of romantic tales of the Old West, complete with trains, Victorian-era homes and dress, the Wild West and quick riches, it also is filled with stories of red light districts and a flop house or two. In 1993, when Diane Wildfang and her son Kirk Komick purchased the building, it resembled the latter – a run-down, ramshackle rooming house, a shadow of what it was when first constructed in 1892. Renovation went on for a year, and the result was another gem of a building on the Historic Register and a lodging addition to a changing East Second Avenue.

Tonight, the Rochester will celebrate the anniversary of the renovation with a concert in the Secret Garden by Caitlin Cannon and the Artillery. It may be hard for anyone to remember what his or her own home looked like two years ago, let alone 20. East Second Avenue and the businesses that occupy it were completely different 20 years ago, resembling an industrial park more than a downtown business area.

“The whole street was run down. All the city car agencies were on Second Avenue, and the city parking lots were used-car lots,” Komick said. “The Rochester was 35 rooms with one bathroom on each floor. It was very, very run down.”

Wildfang and Komick already had renovated The Leland House and what now is the Cyprus Café at the time of purchase; they then bought the Rochester, knowing that if their current businesses were to thrive, something would have to be done about the dilapidated rooming house across the street. It’s now one of only a few hotels in town that remain attractive for locals and tourists that feature other activities outside of just getting a room to sleep in. The Rochester added a summertime concert venue to its uses last year with shows in the Secret Garden, along with a quaint bar in the breakfast room. It has become as much of a music and art space for locals as it is a lodging destination for tourists.

“Last summer, we did a fundraiser with music, and it spurred us on to really get into the music scene,” Komick said. “We wanted to support local artists and have great hours; they’re happy we’re done at 7:30 at night. It’s providing community space and a community park in a downtown setting. People walk by and are blown away – they’ve lived here forever, and they’ve never even known the garden was here. It’s given the business some extended life.”

The Secret Garden will host Wednesday concerts through Oct. 2, and on June 29, it will be the site of a 1920s-themed “Great Gatsby” party, complete with music and dress from the Roaring Twenties. The party will be a benefit for KDUR.

Liggett_b@fortlewis.edu. Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.