Colorado’s Old Bank Vaults

Back when Denver was first establishing itself as a real city, not just a frontier stopover, companies invested in building elaborate banks (perhaps to become the bankers for those lucky miners up in the mountains!). These banks would have each have a substantial vault to keep all of the money safe. As many a movie shows, it would take dynamite to blast one of these vaults open given how solidly built they were, so even if they are no longer used as bank vaults, they remain in place.

The Magnolia Hotel

When those banks closed years later and the buildings eventually found new life as hotels or restaurants, the vaults too had to find a new purpose other than safely storing safe deposit box treasures, cash and coins. While any riches were carefully packed up when the banks closed, the enormous vaults have found new life.

In some cases, the building in which the vault was installed is now on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that limits the possibilities when the place is repurposed.

The Magnolia Hotel (818 17th St.) was formerly the First National Bank of Denver, which organized in 1865 and moved into this space in 1911. This was part of what earned Denver the nickname, “Wall Street of the West” and it was the first bank on 17th St. After its first glamorous decades, the building limped through and was at times vacant until it was redeveloped as a 246-room hotel in 1995. The original bank vault is still in the hotel’s lower level where it remains closed and…presumably empty.

Photo courtesy of The Vault Private Jeweler

For some reason it cannot be opened, but it serves as the name of the meeting room where it makes for an interesting backdrop.

Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center (918 17th St.) was built in 1915 as the Colorado National Bank. The stately neo-classical Greek revival architecture stands out with the marble columns and interior marble floors that have all been preserved and restored. Another highlight here are the Allen Tupper True murals painted in 1925 that showcase scenes of the West. The bank’s vault was considered one of the most secure of its kind when it was installed at the bank in the early 1900s. Just off the lobby is the bank vault, where the door is ajar and inside is a small conference room. Access to the conference room is limited to those who book it, but you can see inside.

The Vault Private Jeweler (730 17th St.) has the historic circular bank vault open to its customers who can view the shiny old safe deposit boxes. These secure boxes are likely home to precious gems today. This business is on the first floor of the Equitable Building, which was built in 1892 and was briefly known as the city’s tallest building with nine stories.

The former Broker Restaurant

For those who want to rent an old bank vault, the space at 821 17th St., which was formerly The Broker Restaurant, is now available for rent. There is more than one old bank vault here, and when this was operating as a restaurant, the largest one was open and part of the dining areas available. Another vault here served as a wine cellar. The grand circular vault in this historic building from 1907, has inspired the current edifice name, The Vault.

In Colorado Springs, The Mining Exchange, an upscale hotel and spa today, was once bragging of over $30 million in stock transactions. The building was first opened in 1901 and included four vaults. Visitors to the hotel will see the gold closed door to a once-impressive bank vault for those millions, but it is not open for viewing or practical use today. There is a vault in the lower level of the hotel that is used as a spa treatment room.

If nothing else, a historic bank vault — whether open or with the original door shut tight — can make for a fun photo opportunity!