Whether you’re a third or fourth-generation native or a tourist heading down I-25 en route to Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak, you’ve probably never heard of the small town of Victor, Colorado. There’s a good reason for that. With a small population of only 410 full-time residents as recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau this past September, the little Gold Rush town that’s only 46 miles southwest of Colorado Springs is often neglected in comparison to its neighboring gambling town of Cripple Creek.
What was once arguably the fifth largest city in the state during the late 19th century, Victor is somewhat of a ghost town today with only antique shops, a couple of inns and a handful of restaurants and bars that entertain the locals whose ancestors also called the quaint mining town home.
A stroll down the town’s main drag will leave visitors feeling an eerie calm about the place. It’s unusually quiet — particularly on a chilly day — and the dilapidated storefronts of former bustling businesses of the Wild West whistle in the wind. Ask anyone in town though, and you can’t find anywhere in Colorado quite like it. Only careful hands have been allowed to touch Victor — with old street signs and architecture artistically preserved from what remained after a horrific fire in 1899.
Victor, although surrounded by scenic mountain views, is still a relic of what once was. After the Gold Rush, the town succumbed to a series of strikes from miners and other laborers protesting dangerous working conditions and low wages, which led to a labor war against the army. Many citizens were murdered in cold blood and those who survived the feud later left to fight in World War I.
Today, Victor still stands, but its citizens admit they need a little help preserving it. When Denver contractor Adam Zimmerli first set eyes on the town, he knew he wanted to invest in it.
“I’d been to Cripple Creek several times, but I’d never been to Victor and so I kind of drove into town one day exploring and just immediately fell in love,” Zimmerli said.
Zimmerli, a creative entrepreneur of sorts, has had many interesting careers including booking for the Oriental Theater and Bender’s Tavern as well as running Stout House Hostel and Curtis St. Hostel. But he admits his passion has always been restoring and renovating old buildings.
While eating lunch at the local Fortune Club Hotel in downtown Victor, Zimmerli saw a for-sale sign in the window of the old Black Monarch, formerly known as The Monarch, across the street. The building, which was once a casino, saloon and brothel in the bustling gold mining town, had been left vacant despite a somewhat unsuccessful rebuilding after it was burned down by the historic fire.
“I called out of curiosity — not thinking anything would come out of it. I found out it was bank-owned and they were motivated to sell it,” Zimmerli said.
“They were asking for about $195K and I talked with them. The bank had this 120-year-old, family-owned, trusted loan and they wanted to see it go. They made a better deal for me to finance it, so I could hold onto all the cash I had on hand and I made a plan with the city.”
Zimmerli acquired the property nearly one year later and began his project of transforming the old structure. The improved, boutique-style Black Monarch Hotel was born. It opened its doors to the first overnight guests on May 1, 2019.
The Black Monarch isn’t your average historic hotel. With themed rooms inspired by legendary murderers and spooky folklore, the hotel features an ominous yet elegant Victorian gothic style. It’s also reportedly haunted by numerous ghosts. Fixated with extravagant chandeliers, taxidermied animal heads, creepy portraits and all-black-everything, the Black Monarch is a goth girl’s Instagram paradise.
Choose from the currently available H.H. Holmes room for an anatomical-themed nod to the infamous killer who surgically dissected his victims, the bloody red Elizabeth Bathory room to pay tribute to the notorious Hungarian noblewoman who bathed in victims’ blood, the Nikola Tesla room filled with artifacts similar to those created by the futuristic engineer who supposedly wired the Black Monarch and the Black Annis room, which is inspired by witchcraft with a suspended platform bed, tarot cards and a whole bunch of bottled curiosities.
According to Zimmerli, the hotel is only 7 to 8% finished and he and his crew have a long way to go. He says the first four rooms with a shared bathroom and kitchen are the prototype for what’s to come. He hopes to open four or five more rooms, renovate and restore the first level of the building to design a lobby, restaurant and bar, add an elevator, laundry facilities and other back-of-house necessities, design a common room library space with a revolving bookcase door and transform the hotel’s crumbling facade and its main entrance.
It’s no easy feat, but surprisingly, Zimmerli says the building was in good condition when he bought it.
“It was in really good shape, so we were able to come in and paint and build the kitchen and bathroom, buy furniture and decorate,” he said.
Zimmerli says he commutes from Denver twice a week to work on the Black Monarch and that the project requires a lot of thrift shopping at various locations to help establish the Victorian gothic style. He does have a process to his madness though.
“I have an architectural process. Color palette is big. I create a style guide first, so that means picking out the finishes for fixtures like the doorknobs and the style of the trim. A lot of that was already laid out here. The whole place is really extra, so that’s the first part,” he said. “Then, there’s a mass buying of stuff. I was jumping the gun and buying stuff for this place before I signed the contract. My budget is limited since I’m self-funded. Going directly to an antique store feels like cheating a bit, so I go to thrift stores and estate sales. You can’t spend $2,500 on taxidermied heads, but you can bide your time and get them for cheaper when somebody’s cleaning out grandpa’s space.”
The hard part, according to Zimmerli, isn’t buying the oddities as much as putting them together. He also repaints and repurposes furniture and accents that don’t quite make the cut on their own.
“This coffee table was a door that was here that had already been sandblasted. Somebody just left all these doors behind. They were part of this building, so I ordered these hairpin legs from China. A kit to make a table like this is only $25,” he said.
He does note that renovating a historic building has scared some members of the community, so he’s careful to preserve its architectural glory.
“There’s always a process of looking at the existing structure and saying ‘What are you, what do you want to be, how do you best lend yourself to being repurposed?’” he said. “The way we live now is totally different. How do you flip the 1890s Victorian mini-mansion into something that people want to live in now without destroying it?”
Zimmerli recognizes the rumor going around that he was creating a controversial, serial killer-inspired hotel, but he wants people to know that it’s not gory or insensitive to the victims in any way. In fact, Zimmerli is only focusing on Victorian-era killers, rather than say, Bundy or Dahmer.
“It can be creepy and morbid, but it has to have an element of class. It has to be clean because it’s a hotel room. It has to be comfortable. We have to have high-end linens,” Zimmerli said.
In regards to future room themes, Zimmerli already has plans to design a Frankenstein and Dracula-inspired room, while the others are still being debated.
“I’ve been thinking about doing Lizzie Borden. I want to do something with girl power. I was also thinking about doing a room after Harry Orchard who was here in Victor. He was a thug for the Union and murdered 18 people and derailed a train. He also blew up the governor of Idaho,” he said.
It isn’t just the creepy decor that has garnered national attention. The Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures is already planning an overnight trip and Zimmerli says his phone is ringing off the hook.
“They’re coming out of the woodwork,” he joked.
The two main accounts of the bizarre turn of ghostly events were from Zimmerli’s girlfriend and the first official guests at the Black Monarch.
“When we were working on this place over the winter, we [my girlfriend and I] were staying in the Tesla room. I was dead asleep and she woke up because she heard a woman laughing and two men fighting. It sounded like there were 50 people downstairs having a party. She goes back to sleep and tells me the story the next day and I said, ‘Well, that could have been the neighbor or a dream,’ so we just wrote it off,” he said. “Then we went to check out the very first guests that stayed here and they were like ‘Man, you guys really party in this town. We heard people laughing. There was a fight. It sounded like there were 100 people downstairs partying. And we were like, ‘There was nobody in this building except for you. Nobody’s in this town. It’s Victor in the middle of winter.’ They couldn’t get out of here fast enough.”
Zimmerli also says that the ghost of a woman is often seen looking out one of the windows in the Tesla room and she has been photographed numerous times. He’s not sure who she could be, but it’s enough to feel a little unnerved after checking in. While many other spots in the town are reportedly haunted, Zimmerli says every building in Victor has a ghostly presence.
“So much happened here. So many people here lived their lives so intensely in such a short period of time. Everybody in town has a story. Every person left an imprint,” he said.
The true haunting part of Victor though, is that it’s on the verge of extinction.
“We really need 1,000 residents to move to Victor in the next 10 years. We’re at a point where there are multiple historic sites that aren’t cared for. If somebody owns it, they don’t even live in town. They don’t even know they own it. They inherited it. We have to get people back in here, so it can change or it’s just going to fall down,” Zimmerli said. “Rotting wood is a threat to public safety. It [Victor] won’t be here much longer. It really won’t. These historic buildings back here need maintenance. Somebody has to live in them and somebody has to love them. Somebody has to have a business in them.”
According to Zimmerli, the sale prices for some of the historic buildings in Victor are extremely affordable. There’s even a tax incentive for people to move here and start businesses.
“Victor is invested in finding a cost-effective path to reactivating these buildings,” Zimmerli said.
In addition to working on the Black Monarch Hotel, Zimmerli is also renovating buildings downtown he hopes that one day will house businesses or art galleries with mostly online customers. For only $1,500 a month, new business owners in Victor would get a renovated, historic space complete with a retail shop, fabrication space and living quarters.
“It’ll be totally zoned, legal, coded, have tax incentives and a low sales tax. It’s easy. Everything is a phone call away,” Zimmerli said.
Zimmerli’s devotion to preserving Victor is a noble cause, but he says it’s not just a personal attachment to the little town, but rather the state he calls home.
“I love Colorado. The history is really important. It’s getting destroyed quickly. There are so many people that have moved here. Victor represents the real authenticity of Colorado. It’s beautiful. It’s a fantastic weekend destination if you’re local or if you’re coming from out of state to see ‘real Colorado’ and what remains of it,” he said.
There aren’t many new residents in Victor yet, but the town is working on it.
“I’m here. I’m a new resident. We’ve got a few of us here,” Zimmerli said.
As for the Black Monarch, it’s here to stay.
The Black Monarch Hotel is located at 301 Victor Avenue, Victor, Colorado. Rooms are $25 to $45 per night. Book here or call 720-585-1709 for more information.