The original main floor interior of the Press Club’s historic building shortly after it opened in 1925 as photographed by Harry Rhoads. A photographer for 60 years with stints at The Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Republican, Rhoads was a regular at the Denver Press Club. (Harry Rhoads)

The Denver Press Club is the oldest press club in the United States. Denver journalists met as “a press club” in 1867 and incorporated as “the Denver Press Club” in 1877, a year after Colorado became the 38th state. Ardent political and professional rivals in print, the editors still found time to tap into the barrel of “Taos Lightening,” discuss events of the day and play a little poker.

Membership soon outgrew the basement of Wolfe Londoner’s grocery store on Larimer Street and the club held court at a variety of Denver hotels including the prestigious Brown Palace Hotel.

Under the direction of Press Club President Edward Keating, fifty newspapermen sat down for lunch at the Albany Hotel in March 1905 to re-organize the club. Newspaper accounts reported the revamping of the press club would “prove the most elaborate and satisfactory association of the kind ever attempted in an American city.”

In addition to being a social gathering place for the Fourth Estate, the Denver Press Club also utilized their contacts in the entertainment and political world and brought national performers, orators and national conventions to Denver.

Theodore Roosevelt was one of two presidents to receive an honorary membership in the form of a solid gold-and-silver membership card to the Denver Press Club. President William Taft received the other gold-and-silver honorary membership card. When President Warren Harding visited the press club, he was scheduled to receive an oversized red-and-blue editorial pencil as his honorary membership to the Denver Press Club. President Woodrow Wilson was also among the visiting presidents to spend time in the Denver Press Club.

Club president Edward Keating was successful in bringing the prestigious International League of Press Clubs to Denver in 1906. The membership of several thousand elected him as their 1907 president.

The national and international attention earned by the Denver Press Club helped draw attention to Denver for the 1908 National Democratic Convention. Candidate William J. Bryan was a frequent visitor to the Denver Press Club. With several hundred reporters and editors covering the convention, the Denver Press Club served dual purposes as press headquarters and organizers of the convention’s social entertainment.

After wearing out their welcome at most of the leading hotels in Denver, the board of directors decided to sell their boarding-house investment property at 1330 Glenarm Place and build a permanent “press clubhouse” in 1925. The building was designed by architects Merill H. and Burnham Hoyt, the latter of whom also designed the Denver Public Library, Daniels & Fisher department store, and the Red Rocks Amphitheater.

In 1986, the club building was honored by the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission with the club’s designation as a Historic Landmark. The Society for Professional Journalists designed the Denver Press Club as one of their recipients as a “significant historical place in journalism” in 2008. In 2017, the Press Club became part of the National Register of Historic Places.

The Denver Press Club was built by Francis Kirchof for approximately $50,000, paid mostly with the sale of Who’s Who in the Rockies. The self-promotion book enabled local dignitaries to have their photographs and biographies published in the gold-leaf, leather-bound book for a modest payment.

Today, the club’s more than 350 members represent print, broadcast and digital media, advertising and public relations, and an assortment of other professions. The roster has included Pulitzer Prize journalists, cartoonists and other notables that feature Damon Runyon, Eugene Field, Gene Fowler, Frederick G. Bonfils, Palmer Hoyt, Lowell Thomas, Lee Taylor Casey, Paul Conrad, Pat Oliphant, Thomas Hornsby Ferril, Carl Akers, Starr Yelland, Stormy Rottman, Lou Kilzer, Greg Lopez, Bob Palmer, Gene Amole, Sam Lusky, and Don Kinney.

The Denver Press Club’s cornerstone Damon Runyon Award is presented to a person or persons whose career has embodied the style and verve of the legendary DPC alumnus. Proceeds from the event benefit the club’s scholarship fund and building maintenance.

As one of the few press clubs that maintains its own building, the Denver Press Club has excellent facilities for serving both its members and the community at large. In addition to complete meal and bar service on its main level, the club offers a large meeting and banquet facility on the second floor.

The basement contains a billiards room that attracts many an animated match, and a card room where regular poker games have been held since the day the club opened.

The card room is named for the late Herndon Davis, a Colorado artist and Press Club regular best remembered for his internationally known painting of “The Face On The Bar Room Floor” at the Teller House in Central City. The room is dominated by a Davis mural produced in 1945 which depicts an allegorical Denver newsroom in which the best-known newspapermen and women of the time are pictured plying their trade. The two side wings of the mural have portraits of other well-known personalities who were local newsmakers of that era.

— Alan J. Kania