When the previous owners of The Armstrong Hotel, Steve and Missy Levinger, decided to establish a hotel lounge, there was no doubt they would name it after Ace Gillett, a prominent fixture in Fort Collins’ history. They were hopeful that Ace’s family, many of whom still reside in Fort Collins, would approve the use of his name for their establishment. Ace Gillett was a man who greatly influenced the development of downtown Fort Collins, and while his accomplishments are great and many, it was unclear as to whether his descendants would allow his legacy to continue in the form of a hotel lounge. Fortunately, Ace’s daughter, Betty Anne Martell, as well as many other members of the Gillett family, graciously gave the Levingers not only their blessing, but also their wholehearted support. Additionally, they provided most of the historical guidance the Levingers needed in order to create a lounge worthy of the Gillett name.
Ace Gillett was a passionate businessman who was involved with many other hospitality ventures, in addition to owning and operating the Armstrong Hotel for decades. In 1938, Ace owned and operated the Navajo Café in Fort Morgan, Colorado. During this time, the owner of The Northern Hotel in Fort Collins approached Ace, as he was eager to have him open a coffee shop in its lobby. Members of the Fort Collins Chamber urged Ace to reject the Northern’s offer and stay in Fort Morgan, as they felt that they didn’t need any more competition in town. “That was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.” Betty Anne says, as Ace was undeterred: he moved with his family to Fort Collins and opened Ace Gillett’s Coffee Shop later that same year.
By the mid 1940’s, Ace had taken ownership of the entire Northern Hotel. There, he opened a banquet hall he christened the Gilban Room, which housed many banquets and social festivities. It also featured plush carpeting, a relatively posh addition in that time, and was the very first of its kind out west. Initially, the grandeur of the room was difficult to promote, likely due to the fact that Fort Collins was a “dry town” until well into the 1960’s. Determined to provide his guests with premier entertainment and the ultimate revelry, Ace modified his black Ford coupe with a sliding box that could be pulled out of the trunk and filled with cases of liquor. Pushed back into the car, the box hid the shipments of liquor that Ace would acquire from Denver or Wellington. These secret “booze runs”, were privy only to Ace and a trusted hotel employee. In fact, when his young grandson Jimmy inquired about the box, Ace told him it was used only for firewood. It was not until years later that Jimmy learned the true purpose of the box.
During the 1950’s, Ace found his Northern Hotel equally pitted against another downtown hotel, The Armstrong, which was owned and operated by a Mr. Chandler Post. Being a competitive and resourceful man, Ace would counter his rival by frequently sending his wife, Nelle, or his daughter, Betty Anne, to count the number of lighted windows visible from the exterior of The Armstrong. He would then turn on lights in any unoccupied rooms in his Northern hotel, thus making it appear to be the most popular hotel in town. His tactics against his competitor proved successful: Ace later purchased the Armstrong Hotel from Mr. Post and quickly set about creating a second family-run hotel.
While in his sixties, Ace and his wife resided in an apartment on the second floor of the Armstrong Hotel. Many of his family members, including his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, were integral members of The Hotel staff and worked hard to give their guests the highest quality service. Ace’s granddaughter Mary Anne recalls many wonderful memories of this season in the Armstrong, from roller skating parties with her friends in the empty basement to the many interesting, unusual, and eccentric guests who stayed at the hotel. One such resident, Elliot Heidicooper, was an heir of the Dupont Family and always reserved two rooms; one for himself, and one for the saddles and riding gear of his beloved horses. Another longtime resident, music professor Morris Nellermore, loved to practice his operatic singing in the basement of the Armstrong Hotel; the first time Ace’s wife Nelle heard Nellermore singing, she assumed a man was dying in the basement! These were just some of the many guests who found friendship and fellowship with the Gillett family.
It is difficult to imagine that Ace ever anticipated his hotel basement evolving from an opera singer’s practice room to a lively, swingin’ jazz lounge. However, it is safe to say that he would be proud of the lounge that carries his name today. We are honored to continue his tradition of providing exquisite service, classic cocktails, and good times to all.