Secrets of Colorado: 12 Secrets of the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Building

DENVER - Are you old enough to remember when phones had a dial on them? Or when you had to call an operator to put your call through?

Then come with us into "Colorado's Bell System Palace" on 14th Street, across from Denver's Performing Arts Center.

While the building is now owned by Century Link, there are still remnants from its days as Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph (aka Mountain Bell).

Let's start at the main entrance at 931 14th Street.

Secret No. 1: If you look carefully on the outside of the building, up on the 3rd floor, you'll see an old bell that says, Bell System.

Secret No. 2: As you approach the outer doors, there's a phone booth. Remember phone booths? While the booths can be fun for photos, don't bother bringing a dime or any other money, the phone booths here are just for show, they don't work.

The materials in this entryway were Colorado sourced when possible. The iron work was milled in Pueblo, the travertine for the stone walls is from the Platte Valley and the tiles were made in Golden, according to Telecommunications History Group archivist Jody Georgeson.

In this area, you may notice two historic manhole covers that say "The Colorado Telephone Co." -- one is round and one is square. Yes, there were square manhole covers at one time.

Secret No. 3: Take a good look at the round cover -- Denver is spelled wrong. No one knows how many covers were made with the misspelling.

Secret No. 4: There are four large murals outside this entrance. They were created by Colorado artist, Allen Tupper True. He did 13 murals for the building, Georgeson told 7NEWS. The public can see six of the murals outside. Four outside the entrance at 931 14th Street and two outside the entrance at 1416 Curtis Street.

Secret No. 5: The Curtis Street entrance is where customers used to come to pay their bills and get service, but that's all done over the phone and online now, so the Curtis Street entrance is closed and is no longer used.

However, there are two of True's murals outside the entrance and if you look in the windows there, you may spot four more of True's murals in the vestibule.

True's murals can also be seen at the Colorado State Capitol, Denver Civic Center and the Brown Palace Hotel.

Secret No. 6: While you can't see it from the outside, the floors and ceilings in the building are extra sturdy and thick, Georgeson said. That's because thousands of mechanical switches were installed in the building to allow customers to dial directly, rather than using an operator, and the machines were very large and heavy.

Secret No. 7: While there are eight elevator doors in the main lobby, only six work. Elevators 7 and 8 have a sign above them that say, "This car up," but there's no car at all. Both are just equipment rooms. When the building opened in 1929, automatic elevators, without an operator, were still new to most people. The workers were afraid to ride the elevators without an operator, so Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph hired elevator operators, according to Georgeson.

Secret No. 8: There's a museum on the 14th floor that includes phones from 1875 to present. The 14th floor was the executive floor until 1984 when AT&T broke up. But you can still see the President's old office, two offices that were used by Vice-Presidents of the company and the old board room.

Secret No. 9: That table in the board room was cut in half to get it inside the building. It wouldn't fit in the elevators, so it was cut in half and brought in through a window. By the way, the light fixtures, fireplaces and wood paneling are original from 1929. However, the fireplaces don't work anymore.

Secret No. 10: One of the old Vice-President's offices is still in use today - by former Mountain Bell president Robert Timothy. Back in Timothy's day, President's were promised an office for life, so Timothy has an office and he's seen using it occasionally, according to Georgeson.

Secret. No. 11: The Telecommunications History Group has saved all the old phone books from over the years -- for all the states in the former Qwest region. Among those who look through the directories are authors, genealogists, scholars and lawyers doing research, Georgeson explained.

They even have the FIRST directory for Denver. Published in 1879, there are a few names you may have heard of including Daniels & Fisher Millinery, Zang's Rocky Mountain Brewery and H.A.W. Tabor as in, Horace Tabor.

Tabor was a prospector, postmaster, Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Senator who made it rich in silver mining, then lost it all.

Secret No. 12: This is considered the last of the Bell System Palaces. That's because it was the last one to be finished before the 1929 crash of Wall Street and the Great Depression.

"Never again would a company build such an homage to the power of industry and technology," according to the Telecommunications History Group.

You can tour the museum, see the historic executive offices and the murals on tours during Doors Open Denver weekend, April 25 and 26. Learn more about all of the insider tours being offered that weekend.

For more information, please contact the Telecommunications History Group at 303-296-1221 or telcomhist@aol.com.

Check out more of our secrets of Colorado stories:

Got a place you want us to go inside and learn the secrets of? Email Debbie@TheDenverChannel.com.

Print this article Back to Top