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Durango’s iconic Strater Hotel sold

New owner, a frequent visitor to Southwest Colorado, assumes operation on Saturday
From left, Jeremy Barker and his parents, Laurie and Rod Barker, owners of the Strater Hotel, with the family and new owners of the hotel, Ross Garrett, Colton Garrett and Karen Garrett, on Thursday in the hotel lobby.

Ross Garrett, who has been visiting Durango since the 1960s when he was a 9-year-old growing up in Amarillo, Texas, will be the new owner of the Strater Hotel.

Rod Barker, current owner of Durango’s iconic inn, which was built in 1887, and Garrett plan to close the sale Friday, and Garrett will assume ownership and operation of the 88-room hotel on Saturday.

The sale price was not disclosed.

“Durango and Southwest Colorado are pretty much my second home. My family spent a lot of time up here, roaming these mountains, riding dirt bikes and fishing, spending time here at this hotel, and camping in the area,” Garrett said in an interview Thursday.

For a quarter of a century, Garrett said he’s dreamed of owning the hotel.

“This inn is kind of part of history. I grew up watching Westerns and I’m fascinated by the 1880s, and I don’t think there’s any place in the country that expresses that time better than the Strater,” Garrett said. “What Rod and the Barker family have done is spectacular.

“We don’t want to change anything. I know Rod spent decades building up the Victorian furniture, the whole ambiance. It’s the real stuff, and I know how important this place is to Durango.”

Garrett said the inn’s current staff members and leadership team will remain in place.

Barker will serve as a consultant and help guide Garrett, and his wife, Karen, as they settle into their ownership role.

“There’s a lot of big, corporate companies – top companies – and a lot of those guys often come in and make big changes. That’s the last thing I want to do,” Garrett said. “I don’t want to make changes. In my view, this place can’t be more perfect.”

“I have great confidence that the Garrett family will continue the traditions of the Strater Hotel and write an exciting new chapter to its history,” says Rod Barker, who is selling the iconic downtown hotel built in 1887.

Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Business Improvement District, said the sale marks an end of an era for downtown Durango.

“Rod was instrumental in getting BID started way back in 1997. And, obviously, he and his family have invested heavily in that property, and so Rod’s fingerprints are all over town, especially downtown,” Walsworth said. “He will leave a long-lasting legacy, and we wish Rod and Laurie, his wife, and family well in their next endeavors, and we look forward to meeting the new owners.”

Garrett, Karen and their son, Colton, share time between Southwest Colorado, Amarillo, Texas, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The Garrett family owns and operates a series of marinas and other guest-service businesses across the United States, but the Strater Hotel will be operated as its own, separate entity.

“We have a place in Texas called Lone Star on Lake Ray Roberts. It’s kind of Western, and I’d like to make it similar to this, the Strater. It’s moving along in that direction, but it’s not anywhere near this place,” he said.

Rod Barker, owner of the Strater Hotel, talks about the history of the hotel in August 2019.

The Strater has been in the Barker family for 95 years, when Rod Barker’s grandfather, Earl Barker Sr., purchased an ownership share with a group of other Durangoans in 1926.

Rod Barker said his grandfather gradually purchased the shares from the other shareholders in the Strater Corp. In 1954, he bought out the last of the original shareholders, bringing the hotel under family ownership that was passed to his father, Earl Barker Jr., and finally to himself.

Executive Director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce Jack Llewellyn said he’s encouraged the staff members will remain the same at the Strater ensuring a consistent and seamless transfer.

“First off, a big thank you to Rod Barker and his family for the 95 years of owning the Strater Hotel and keeping it as an iconic, historical landmark in the heart of downtown,” Llewellyn said. “I think what I’m excited about with Ross Garrett, being an independent owner, not part of a chain, he’ll be able to make quick decisions that are in the best interest of the Strater and the community of Durango.”

The Diamond Belle Saloon is often busy with patrons eating, drinking and listening to ragtime piano.

Barker said he was approached by numerous parties who looked to purchase the inn, but they wanted to convert the model to something more generic.

“I have great confidence that the Garrett family will continue the traditions of the Strater Hotel and write an exciting new chapter to its history,” he said.

Barker said Garrett’s “humble approach to preserving the legacy of the Strater,” his love for Durango, and his business acumen were key factors in finalizing a sale.

He said: “The Strater is a one-of-a-kind treasure and one of the finest historic hotels in the West. Ross has deep respect for our place in history, and his family has the experience ... to carry forward for the future generations.”

The Barkers have been looking to sell the Strater for several years, as they planned to slow down, while remaining active in the community.

Barker thought he was close to selling the property in November 2019, but the deal fell through days before closing.

Al Harper, owner of American Heritage Railways and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, looked into buying the property in 2010.

The Strater Hotel, which has been owned by the Barker family for 95 years, will sell to Ross Garrett, a Texan and frequent visitor to Southwest Colorado.

For his part, Barker said he will look to take on other projects in Durango, “just nothing quite as large as this” he said.

“The Strater Hotel is still here because it is loved by this community,” Barker said. “The community – whether they know it or not – are part of this transaction. And they need to continue their responsibility to ensure that this remains Durango’s hotel, by coming here, by dining here, by sending their friends to this hotel.

“That’s why this place is special, and they need to continue doing that.”

parmijo@durangoherald.com

Strater Hotel timeline

1884:

Henry, Frank and Fred Strater add a second floor to Strater Bros., Dealers in Paints and Oils.

1887:

Henry opens the adjacent Strater House with seed money from his father in Ohio. Final cost of construction is $70,000, including 376,000 native red bricks and Henry’s namesake pharmacy.

1893:

After a dispute with his hired hotel manager, Henry converts the paint and oil shop into the Columbian Hotel. It operates as a direct competitor of the Strater House.

1895:

The economy of the San Juan Mountains collapses with the Silver Panic, and Henry loses both hotels to the Bank of Cleveland. Henry moves to Cuba and becomes a tobacco merchant.

1902:

Both hotels are purchased by Charles Stilwell and Hattie Mashburn. Durango locals lived at the hotel during winters to save heating costs.

1926:

A group of businessmen including Earl Barker Sr. purchase the Strater.

1941:

The “Back Forty” addition is completed after three years of construction.

1954:

Earl Sr. buys out his partners and hands operation of the hotel to Earl Jr.

1957:

While Earl Sr. is out of town, Earl Jr., his wife, Jentra, and his brother and sister-in-law convert a corner rented office into the Diamond Belle Saloon. Upon his return, Earl Sr. loves the bar and, according to local lore, takes credit for its creation.

1960s:

Spurred by the spirit of the Diamond Belle, Earl Jr. and Jentra convert the entire hotel into a Victorian showcase with the largest assemblage of authentic period furniture in the country.

1985:

With Earl Jr.’s retirement, his son Rod assumes ownership and management of the Strater Hotel.

2010:

Al Harper, owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, was in negotiations to buy the hotel.

2021:

Ross Garrett of Amarillo, Texas, and owner of marinas, guest-service businesses and the Lone Star Lodge and Marina on Lake Ray Roberts, purchases the Strater Hotel for an undisclosed amount from the Barker family.

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