The Renaissance Hotel and Its Murals


With two of my daughters, I finally made it to the new Renaissance Hotel in downtown Denver – and it was well worth the effort. The old Colorado National Bank has been handsomely brought into a 21st century role, and in the process its unique Allen True murals have been honored and preserved.

Barbara Sternberg at Renaissance

Like so many early pioneers in Denver’s cultural history, muralist Allen True had been mostly forgotten when Jim and Maggie Barrett bought his home and studio in Denver. They decided to acquaint themselves with True’s life and work. As a result of their extensive research, their travels to meet some of his descendants, and their discoveries about his murals in State Capitols and commercial buildings throughout the U. S., an impressive 3-location exhibit of True’s works was staged in Denver in October, 2009.The locations included galleries in: the Denver Public Library Western History Department, the Denver Art Museum and History Colorado. The Barretts also stimulated the making of a PBS documentary, “An American Artist”, about True’s life and work, and were involved in its production. The reputation of Allen Tupper True was resurrected – rescued from obscurity.

Publication of “Allen Tupper True: An American Artist” in 2009, simultaneously with these other events, contributed greatly to this renewed public recognition of True’s achievements. “This first definitive biography of the Colorado artist Allen Tupper True (1881-1955) was written by True’s eldest daughter, Jere True and her daughter, Victoria Tupper Kirby. It relies on letters, diaries, and contemporary news accounts as well as family history to describe his artistic evolution from illustrator to easel painter to muralist. The lavish illustrations include most of True’s murals (both extant and destroyed), a selection of his major easel paintings, as well as some of his sketches and cartoons and Indian-inspired designs.” (Visit Copies of the original hard cover book sell on Amazon for the astounding price of “from $2,904 up.” (The paperback sells for $18.03 and up.)

ceiling“The Lovely Old Girl Comes Alive!” was the reaction of Joan True McGibben, Allen True’s granddaughter, to the opening of the Renaissance Hotel. She said that “it was with utter joy that I walked into her lobby filled with people, gleaming marble and my grandfather Allen Tupper True’s murals alive again in vivid color and eliciting excitement and respect from the crowd.” (Visit

Anne Evans played a quiet but significant role in True’s career. She was his first patron, commissioning a painting from him to hang over the fireplace in her mountain home of the Evans Ranch. For this she apparently paid $500, a considerable sum in those days. She also significantly involved him in the ambitious project to salvage the Central City Opera House and develop an ongoing summer festival. True was appointed to oversee the restoration of the Opera House. To be able to devote the necessary time to this, he moved his family to live in Central City.

The Renaissance Hotel offers to the visitor a fascinating reprint of a 1923 booklet, Indian Memories, in which Allen True talks about his murals. “The Indian in mural decoration has usually been depicted as surrendering to the Whites, making treaties with the Whites or fighting the Whites. Seldom if ever has he been accorded the dignity of standing alone on his own intrinsic worth or beauty.” True goes on to describe an aspect of his thinking about the current status of the Indian – an aspect which was also predominant in Anne Evans’ attitude to the pueblo tribes of New Mexico, for whose values and ways of life she had so much appreciation. True says that, “The method of presentation (of the murals) is through a series of retrospective visions – the Indian dreaming of his vanished glory.” The attitude was not only that tribal values could not survive, but also, curiously, that the Indians were actually disappearing. Perhaps, given the huge toll that Western diseases were taking, the relentless wars, and their increasingly being exiled to inhospitable places, the expectation may have seemed reasonable.

In her paper about the Hopi tribe, Anne Evans wrote, “I would advise all of you most strongly to make a pilgrimage while you can yet get to this fountainhead, for it can’t last very long. The people are dying out, they are not very robust and our method of civilizing them is apparently quite disastrous even to their bodies.” (Theosophical Quarterly pages 309-315, April 1912)

Jim Barrett pointed out that True and Anne Evans had in common a passionate interest in the well-being and the accomplishments of American Indians. Allen True tried, through his work, to persuade America to adopt – as their own national symbology – the beautiful and original design motifs of American Indians rather than those of European origin. Anne Evans took a deep and personal interest in the work of promising young Indian artists in New Mexico, helping to set up artistic training that would encourage them to use their own tribal motifs in their modern work.

In the May 15, 2014 announcement of the opening of the new Hotel, Renaissance Hotels said “one of Denver’s most iconic structures, the historic Colorado National Bank Building, has reopened its doors as the new 230-room Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center.” There followed a useful brief account of the building’s history.

“Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Colorado National Bank Building was designed in 1915 by famed Denver architects, William and Arthur Fisher. Originally erected as a four-story building on the corner of 17th and Champa Streets, the area was then deemed the ‘Wall Street of the Rockies.’ The building’s neo-classical, Greek revival architecture is highlighted through its towering white exterior columns and walls, created with marble from the Colorado Yule Marble Company, he same marble used to build the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Large monogrammed doors open to the three-story atrium, constructed with marble flooring, ornate bronze accents and the most secure vaults in existence at the time – details that remain as part of the hotel’s design experience.”

Vaultroom_Renaissance_HotelThe Hotel offers a variety of experiences to the visitor. While I was a little ambivalent about the furnishings decor of the huge atrium, I greatly admired its provision of intimate spaces in which small groups can sit and visit in comfort. The decision to use the vaults, their huge doors expressing fine industrial craftsmanship. as private dining rooms, is creative. There is an engaging history wall, with a detailed explanation of True’s murals “as well as artifacts, mementos, architectural imagery and photos from the bank’s storied past.” A complimentary walking tour available by smartphone gives information about the building’s art work – both the historic murals and a new collection of contemporary work by emerging Colorado artists. It also talks about about the “hotel’s unique culinary offerings.” These include “cocktails and dishes available onsite that use local ingredients or spirits.” We settled for a satisfying breakfast, but are motivated to head back there soon for an interesting lunch or dinner.

All images courtesy of Francesca Starr


  1. alana says:

    You are amazing!! What a great photo and all so interesting. I want to go see now.
    You are so inspiring to me. Love you, Alana

    • Barbara E. Sternberg says:

      Dear Alana,
      You inspire me too! I am in awe of all that you have achieved with “Turning the Wheel” community dance project ( I hope you do find time, in your very busy life to visit the Renaissance Hotel.

  2. Susan Stearns says:

    I had heard that the old CNB building was really nicely converted to a hotel, but now I am excited to go see it and True’s work thanks for the great article Susan

    • Barbara E. Sternberg says:

      Dear Susan,
      It is always nice to be appreciated. Thank you for your comment. It really is a worthwhile adventure, and the food is good too.

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