Tomahawk Hotel: Today and Yesterday (Part 2)

Tomahawk Hotel: Today and Yesterday (Part 2)

The Tomahawk Hotel in the 1940s. Photo contributed by Sweetwater County Historical Museum

GREEN RIVER– The Tomahawk Hotel was and is a place filled with memories for baby boomer-age adults in Green River and Rock Springs who remember the hotel when it was in its heyday, along with some of the businesses which were either located in the Tomahawk Hotel building or close to it, benefiting from the presence of guests at the hotel.

Fond memories…

Some residents, through interviews and also on social media, shared their memories with SweetwaterNOW about the Tomahawk.

Former Rock Springs city councilwoman Rose Mosbey recalls being around the Tomahawk Hotel when she was growing up. “I worked at the Tomahawk Pharmacy (before they moved across the street) and also at Romig’s Department Store when I was a teenager,” Mosbey said in a statement to SweetwaterNow. In a follow-up phone interview, Mosbey guessed as best she could recall that she worked there from 1965-1968, although she was unsure of the exact time frame. The pharmacy was in the Tomahawk Hotel building, while Romig’s Department Store was one or two buildings down from the Tomahawk.

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“The pharmacy was just this little itty-bitty pharmacy. Romig’s carried home goods, clothing, a line of women’s clothing,” Mosbey said. “They were kind of like an early version of Herberger’s.”

Other long-time area residents also had memories of the department store next to the Tomahawk. “My mother-in-law worked in Romig’s in the late [19] 60’s and early 70’s,” Karen Galick Malicoat recalled. “I remember several stores on Flaming Gorge Way, but not too many in the Tomahawk itself.”

“Romig’s had clothes, crafts and sewing material,” Becky Sanchez said. “I worked there from maybe ‘73 to ‘75.”

There were also memories of the J.C. Penney store at the Tomahawk, with some of the store procedures representing pure pre-modernism. “I remember when (J.C. Penney) would make change at the office upstairs and shoot it down a rope thing,” Sandee Gunter said.

“I remember the J.C. Penney store, Johnson’s Variety, Larsen’s Pharmacy when I first lived here in 1954,” Roberta Mandros recalled.

“There was a variety store called Johnson’s Variety,” recalled Gloria Johnson. “Best candy in town. Late 1950s.”

The Tomahawk Hotel block or the building itself played host to other businesses as well which benefitted from the hotel’s presence. Loleen Denny commented, “In 1975 I opened Style Setter Beauty Salon. My husband Mike did the remodeling. Seems like there was a bar type counter in it, I know Mike had to go above the false ceiling with approximately a four-foot space between the false ceiling and the original ceiling and he always talked about the Chinese dragons painted on the walls up there. The original ceiling was covered with the stamped metal tiles. We were close to the corner and I think we were close to the entrance to the hotel. Close to the time I opened, Gary and Sue Weiss had an office supply next to me. We can’t remember the name of their store. Paula Doody and Detra Cates worked in the salon. Because of a difficult pregnancy three years later I sold the salon to Paula Doody. I know as you faced the building there was the hotel entrance, there was something to the left of me, the salon, then the office supply, then Romig’s Department store as I remember.”

A member of the Green River High School track and field team helps shovel out dirt in the Tomahawk Hotel to help prepare the building for renovations.

The Tomahawk environment was a lively downtown place in its prime years. “My grandma Elizabeth Rizzi and dad and mom, John and Kathleen Rizzi owned the Tomahawk Tavern,” Beth Rizzi Thompson said. “It was right next to the hotel entrance. Many a hotel guest stopped in. They owned it till about 1970. Many a good time was had by all. They had a yearly tradition of a big barbecue on New Year’s Eve.”

Then there were the people who worked at the Tomahawk Hotel itself. “My grandma Katie Mares Dominguez used to work there. She cleaned the rooms,” Marcy Mandros said.

Others helped. “My mom, Salome Trujillo, worked as a maid in the Tomahawk Hotel for a few years when Judge Hamm owned it,” Ben A. Trujillo said. “I got my first ‘real’ job there, which I did six days a week after school. Mom would tell me which rooms needed new light bulbs, and I would replace them. I would check all bulbs in the hallways and closets. Every Sunday, I would clean the floors and one bathroom in the basement. They had rows of cots in one large, open room, which they rented only to men, at a rate of $1.50 a night. I remember I was 15 years old at the time, because I used the money I earned to make payments…on the first car I ever bought, a blue 1946 Ford ($85 total, $5 down and $15 per month) which I bought in anticipation of getting my driver’s license. That would have been 1962.”

“My mom, Ida Vigil and Mrs. Trujillo worked there as housekeepers and Mrs. Maggie Padilla worked the front desk in the early 1950s and 60s,” Debbie Currier said.

For some, the Tomahawk Hotel was home. “I remember living in the hotel,” Jeri Allgier said. “I would have to walk all the way up to the old Washington Elementary School when I was in the first and second grades back in the late 1970s.”

The front staircase that leads to the top floor of the Tomahawk Hotel. At the top of this flight of stairs to the left is where the back entrance is.

…and maybe not so fond memories   

The Tomahawk Hotel was not without its problems. The prostitution problem sometimes reared its ugly head. The prostitutes used that discreet back entrance, up a steep flight of back stairs, Fusselman said. That way, the ladies of the evening avoided passing the front desk.

For some, working at the Tomahawk wasn’t always a glamorous job, and it could be quite time consuming.

“I was 14 years old at the time. I worked at the hotel part-time the summer of 1970,” Suz Jasperson said. “Audrey Dolfers was my boss.” Although Jasperson said that Dolfers was a good person to work for, she nevertheless added, “I helped clean rooms for railroaders. Wasn’t the best job for a very young girl.”

In a phone interview seeking further information, Jasperson said, “The hotel wasn’t really for guests staying only one night. It was set up for the railroaders. They would stay there for weeks, leaving things lying around in their rooms, having lady friends in. And there was only one bathroom on each floor, one for men and one for women. Just the environment was not the best for a young girl.” Jasperson explained that her part-time job evolved into a seven-day-a-week commitment, from 9 am until 1 pm, including Saturdays and Sundays.

The above said, Jasperson nevertheless added, “The Tomahawk was not a bad place to work. My boss [Dolfers] was nice.”

One respondent, Leland Reeves, said among other issues, the amenities were lacking at the “Tomahawk Hilton,” as the railroaders nicknamed the place.

“I stayed there for two weeks,” Reeves said, “as I had just gotten into the Ironworkers Union. There were no amenities in the rooms except a small wash basin and a bowl/pitcher of water. The restroom, shower, bath, was in the hallway, for everyone. The TV was in the lobby…Well, it seemed every night was interrupted by meth addicts, police responding, lock downs and other b……. going on, so we brought camping gear and set up camp out near Stauffer (Chemical).”

All good and not-so-good things must come to an end eventually, however. The hotel closed as a hotel in 1980, Jeff Bernal remembered in his response. Fusselman concurred, saying that the Tomahawk Hotel probably did close sometime in the 1980s.

The Tomahawk Hotel remains in business, however, as a location for office space, and many memories. With the recent moves made to remodel the building, the Tomahawk’s place in the community is sure to continue and grow, collecting more memories as the years pass by.

And unlike other rumored buildings in downtown Green River, Fusselman points out, “there are no ghosts in the Tomahawk Hotel.”

This is Part 2, the final installement of a two-part story on the history and redevelopment of the Tomahawk Hotel in downtown Green River. Check out Part 1 here. Thank you to the Sweetwater County Historical Museum for contributing photos for this story.