New Imperial owners tackle 114 years of Cripple Creek history

September 15, 2010
photo - Gary and Wini Ledford recently bought the Imperial Casino Hotel and plan to renovate the 1896 structure. Photo by Bryan Oller
Gary and Wini Ledford recently bought the Imperial Casino Hotel and plan to renovate the 1896 structure. Photo by Bryan Oller 

When Gary and Wini Ledford bought the defunct Imperial Casino Hotel in Cripple Creek two weeks ago, they got more than 26 hotel rooms and a gambling floor.

They got a restaurant, a bar, a theater, a boarding house and, apparently, a ghost. Most of all, though, the Ledfords bought themselves one very large project.

In less than 10 days, they filled five massive Dumpsters with debris — and that’s without touching most of the casino, hotel or restaurant. They plan to turn the 26 hotel rooms into 16 larger units and renovate the entire building.

It’s a daunting task, but nothing new for the Ledfords, who bought the old Cripple Creek high school in 2004 and turned it into the upscale bed and breakfast Carr Manor, which they still run.

“Wini and I like fixing up the old buildings,” Gary Ledford said.

Carr Manor is designed as a romantic retreat, Gary Ledford said, while they hope to make the Imperial a family friendly destination — but also serve guests who want to stay close to the gambling action on Bennett Avenue.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s a beautiful building,” Wini Ledford said.

The Imperial, at 123 N. Third St., was built in 1896 as an annex to what was the Collins Hotel (now a parking lot). It was owned for decades by the Mackin family, then became a casino after gambling was legalized in 1991. It shut down March 1, 2009, after struggling for several years, including a bankruptcy in 2008.

The Imperial’s resident ghost, supposedly the spirit of George Long, who owned the hotel in the early 20th century, has had the place to himself ever since.

The hotel is filled with antiques, including several beds from the 18th century and a piano that purportedly once belonged to German Kaiser Wilhelm. Gary Ledford’s first priority when he got the keys was to have the three pianos in the building tuned. Most of the antiques will be auctioned off, with a few preserved where they won’t be abused.  “Antiques are neat to look at, but they’re not really functional in a hospitality setting,” Gary Ledford said.

Workers are already jumping into the restoration, installing a new boiler and replacing the hotel stairway that listed so badly, Gary Ledford said, “if you hadn’t been drinking, you would have sworn you were.”

The hotel’s basement was home to the Imperial Players melodrama in the Gold Bar Room Theatre for more than 50 years (its most famous alumni is actor Craig T. Nelson, currently on NBC’s “Parenthood”). A new version of the melodrama now operates at the Butte Opera House on Bennett Avenue. The Ledfords hope to resurrect the Imperial’s stage for use as a comedy club or for small shows that will complement the Butte and give visitors another option for non-gambling entertainment in Cripple Creek.

The Ledfords say the hotel, Red Rooster Bar and restaurant can operate profitably on their own, but they’re looking for an operator to take over and reopen the casino. They hope to have the remodel finished by spring 2011.

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