Golden Plunge

This historic image shows a view looking south on Washington Avenue in downtown Golden. Note the “SWIM” sign in the left-center of the photo.
(Credit: Golden History Museum)

The next time you visit the Buffalo Rose (formerly known as Shotgun Annie’s and Duds), the pub in downtown Golden located near the Mines campus, be sure to belly up to the bar and take a little time to drink up some of its history. Turns out, the Rose is a true watering hole in more than one way. Yes, it’s a bar with drinks, but it also has a swimming pool (no, this writer hasn’t been drinking). Yep, a pool right under the dance floor. And yes, there’s a Mines tie-in.

First, it’s important to know that when you enter the building, you’re going back to 1859 and you’re standing in the second oldest business establishment in Colorado (the first is R&R Supermarket in San Luis, which opened in 1857). The original building, a log structure straight out of the Old West, was replaced in 1902. Since then, it’s had many lives: a saloon, a church, a dance hall, a hotel, a meeting place for politicians, and now a restaurant-bar.

Back in 1926, the building was converted from a car dealership to an indoor swimming pool and dubbed the Golden Plunge. It served as Golden’s community pool and attracted swimmers from around the region, some of whom even came from Denver to cool off. According to Rick Gardner, a Golden-based historian, it’s likely that Mines students, faculty, and staffers took a dip as well, even though the school had its own pool on campus. But in 1929, when the Great Depression hit, the Plunge dried up figuratively and literally and closed.

Buffalo Rose Bar & Grill

The Buffalo Rose Bar & Grill in downtown Golden, Colorado. (Credit: Laurie Schmidt)

Fast forward to 1938, when Mines was in the market for a new men’s basketball coach. School officials found a strong candidate in Elwood Romney, a first cousin of former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney’s father. Gardner says Mines hired Elwood Romney partly because of his impressive basketball career at Brigham Young University, where he amassed 1,150 points. He was also an All-American and a member of the school’s Hall of Fame, and he later played semi-professionally. “I’m sure in his basketball career, Romney certainly gave Mines teams some punishment,” Gardner says.

When Romney arrived at Mines he learned about the shuttered Golden Plunge. Eager to bring history back to life, he led a community effort to resurrect the pool, and on July 4, 1938, the Plunge reopened. Romney apparently had a flare for promotion, because he strategically hired a Mines student who had the public relations chops to generate some buzz about the pool, Nils Christiansen.

At the time, there was no question that Christiansen would be able to spawn serious buzz; he was an Olympic swimmer. Christiansen had competed in the 1936 Olympics for the Philippines (he was the son of American-born missionaries there) in the 100-meter backstroke and in the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay. Romney proudly advertised that Plunge patrons could learn from an Olympian. (It’s believed that Christiansen also sometimes trained at the pool to compete for the United States at the 1940 Olympics, but those games were cancelled, pre-empted by World War II.)

Gardner says that to date, Christiansen is the only Mines, or Golden, athlete to have qualified to compete in two Olympic games, much less for two countries. What’s more, he’s one of only three Olympic athletes from Mines. Jack Liddle competed as a runner in the 1936 games, and Leroy Brown earned a silver medal in the high jump in 1924. Gardner says former Mines’ athletic director Dave Johnston, who was also a mayor of Golden and state senator, traveled to Paris, France, to witness Brown’s medal-winning jump.

Christiansen continued to work with Romney at the Plunge until 1941, when Romney opted to sell the pool to buy Denver’s minor league baseball team, the Denver Bears. The pool was floored over when the building was transformed to a labor union hall in 1941. It has remained buried under flooring since then, housing only the hollow echoes of shuffling feet above.

Golden Plunge Swimming Pool

This image shows the former location of the Golden Plunge swimming pool.

But the story of the pool doesn’t end with that burial. The current owner of the Buffalo Rose, Kenny Lee, happens to appreciate the building’s rich history and is well aware of the pool. In fact, he says, he’s considering ways to incorporate the pool into an upcoming renovation by lowering the dance floor into the pool for a sunken effect. “I know the building has a wonderful history, and I want to honor that history the best way I can,” Lee says. “I’m looking for photos of the pool so I can maybe capture the look better, but I haven’t had much luck with that.”

Lee has also been angling toward bringing back the historic facades of the building and has consulted Gardner to get an accurate picture of what it looked like. Lee also plans to make the restaurant more of just that, a restaurant, versus a bar. “It hasn’t been renovated in 50 years, and it’s developed more of a reputation as a biker bar,” he said. “I want to redo the whole thing and modernize it and make it more family-friendly, but at the same time keep the 1859 look and feel. I want to make it more functional in “today’s society.”