If you ever ate at the now-closed El Conquistador restaurant at 110 Ivinson Avenue, did you know that you were sitting in the oldest building remaining from early Laramie?
The only business still open in the historic building is Sensuous She, a women’s contemporary clothing store at 106 Ivinson Avenue. This independently-owned shop has occupied the west end of the ground floor of the downtown building for many years.
The structure at 104-112 Ivinson Avenue was the first stone building built in Laramie. Completed in 1869, just a year after the Union Pacific Railroad reached Laramie City, it served as a hotel for railroad workers, passengers and wandering cowboys. The hotel’s bar was a well-known watering hole.
The original name of the hotel is unknown. However, shortly after it was built it acquired the name Kuster Hotel. As a hotel, it served as a stagecoach stop for long-distance travelers, and later in its life, as Laramie’s bus depot. The hotel had 26 rooms, each with a bed and a sink.
Today, the building stands as Laramie's oldest, but at first glance its history is not apparent. The building has experienced many changes throughout its nearly 150-year life. The original façade was drastically changed sometime in the mid-20th century when all of its Victorian architectural features were removed. The roof now has seven distinct layers, each one added on top of the others as the years went by.
The hotel was built by brothers T. L. and E. Dawson who were among the earliest residents of Laramie. They operated a grocery and clothing store adjacent to the railroad, and, with foresight, they built a second story to provide hotel rooms. The Dawson’s building had nearly double the street frontage of the stores on the block.
It’s not clear when the Dawson brothers left Laramie, but they may have leased the operation as early as 1873 to German immigrant Charles S. Kuster who took over building ownership in 1889. Some changes were made that year, mostly in response to a kitchen fire that required a new brick kitchen be built at the back of the building to replace the wooden one that burned.
Kuster came to Laramie in 1868, and advertised himself as a sign painter but quickly became the proprietor of the New York House, a hotel on Front (later 1st) Street. By 1871, he was also operating the Laramie City Brewery with a partner named Sanders.
In 1934, former hotel janitor James Cameron became the next owner, who, along with his family, conducted operations until 1974. The current owners, the Frausto brothers, bought the building in 1974 and ran a successful restaurant out of the hotel's first floor for over three decades. Hotel operations were shut down for good in 1985 because management costs began to get too high.
With twenty-six empty hotel rooms waiting upstairs, the former Kuster Hotel teems with potential. It stands as a testament to the flexible nature of historic buildings. They change over time, and with each addition, new owner, new business, or new guest, another layer of history is added.
With nearly 150 years under its belt, the Kuster Hotel has proved its resilience in the face of time and has solidified its place as a permanent piece of downtown Laramie. Just remember when walking down Main Street in any town that it is not always obvious from the outside which building is the oldest. Sometimes old buildings are hiding right under our noses.
By Luke Anderson
Caption: The Kuster Hotel in 1910. Charles Kuster took over the 1869 building, renamed it and operated the ground floor bar and restaurant. On the façade, the words “C. Kuster, 1876” can barely be discerned over one of the windows. Photo Courtesy of the UW American Heritage Center, from the Clarice Whittenburg collection.