Satellite hotel celebrates half-century of community
This year marks the 50th birthday of the Satellite Hotel, an impressive milestone for the massive landmark that towers over Southeast Colorado Springs in silent homage to the Space Age.
It also happens to commemorate 50 years since Charlotte Brummer, then a high school educator in her 40s, bought a condominium inside the newly constructed building.
“I just knew this is where I wanted to live,” Brummer said. “And I’ve been here ever since.”
Brummer’s a testament to the staying power of the building’s “Jetsons”-style allure and the community values enshrined there for decades.
Since the Satellite Hotel’s 1969 inception — when Brummer said Airport Road was unpaved and Academy Boulevard had just one lane in each direction — Colorado Springs has undergone a massive transformation. But within the building’s concrete walls, life goes on pretty much the same.
Rooms with a view
Located near the busy intersection of Airport Road and South Academy Boulevard, the 14-story, three-wing building is hard to miss. A towering spherical sign — painted bright blue and supported by three cement legs, molded in elegant angles — welcomes visitors from the entrance at Lakewood Circle. The green expanse of Valley Hi Golf Course hugs the property’s east side.
The name “Satellite Hotel” is a bit misleading. In fact, the building’s three wings hold 241 individually owned condominium units and just 76 hotel rooms, along with 43 businesses. In a somewhat unique arrangement, the association owns and operates all of the hotel rooms — some of which are right across the hall from residents.
Most condominium owners are older than 50, but renters often include families and young professionals. Condo sales prices currently average about $217,000 (according to the county’s latest data), though they vary in size and value.
Although few (if any) residents have lived here quite as long as Brummer, her neighbors are drawn by the same sense of belonging.
Take Karol Colliver, who moved here from Missouri in 2010 after retiring.
“Everybody said, ‘You must live up north. That’s the place to live,’” Colliver recalled. “So I built a lovely townhome up north. They said it was the last one that had a view.”
Turns out, the view was from the bathroom.
“You could get in the tub and look out the window, and you could see mountains,” she said.
Colliver “wasn’t particularly happy,” despite having everything she needed in her new home. Eventually, she decided to tour one of the Satellite’s penthouse condominiums after spotting a sales listing.
She fell in love the moment she saw the view from the balcony — out over the golf course to Pikes Peak — and told her real estate agent to make the owner “an offer she couldn’t refuse.” The rest is history: “That was the end of that. And I don’t regret one second.”
Likewise, Dusty Burns headed straight to Colorado Springs when she retired about five years ago from a job in Seattle. She’d inherited a Satellite condominium from her father.
Moving into that condo was a dream come true.
“I remember visiting Dad one time, and I said, ‘Dad, I want this unit,’ because I could see right at [Pikes Peak],” Burns said. “And I have to tell you, I probably lived in that unit five years before I ever got here!”
More than an icon
But it’s not just the view that the Satellite’s residents love. It’s the “community feeling,” as Brummer put it, that comes from shared activities, social events and working together to make the building a great place to live.
The HOA runs a social committee to plan events, a documentary committee that revisits rules and bylaws, an elevator remodeling committee, a landscape committee and a restaurant committee that’s active based on whether the Satellite has a restaurant (right now it does).
“We always seem to be able to find people who will work on committees here,” Brummer said. “It’s one of those things that makes us a community, I think, is the fact that everybody works on things.”
Plus, a men’s group meets for coffee every morning, and a ladies’ group meets Fridays for lunch. There’s also a weekly Bible study, and regular poker and dominoes. All the activities are organized by residents.
Before Colliver bought her condominium, she hung around the building for two or three months to kind of “get the flavor of what was going on.” She quickly picked up on how friendly and helpful the residents were.
“As you walked any halls — didn’t make any difference which halls you walked — if you met somebody, they would say, ‘Can I help you find something?’” she said, adding that she could tell they were curious whether she was a new resident or just visiting.
“That still happens when I go to visit somebody on a different floor,” Brummer said. “The neighbors … always say, ‘Can I help you?’ Or ‘What are you looking for?’”
Although renters come and go, the owners rarely leave.
“When we lose one of our resident owners, it’s often due to health reasons,” Burns said. “People don’t move from here because they don’t like it. There always seems to be a reason.”
A colorful history
Developer Paul Brown was inspired by the Ili Kai, a 31-story building in Honolulu (you might recognize it from the opening credits of “Hawaii Five-O”). He added a space theme “because it seemed intimately tied to Colorado Springs’ identity,” the Gazette reported in a 1994 article commemorating the hotel’s 25th birthday.
The same article mentions the KKFM and KKMG radio deejays who broadcast from the penthouse back in the ’90s. Their hijinks included displaying a blow-up doll in an office window, driving golf balls off the roof and into the swimming pool, and spreading a rumor that Michael Jackson was staying at the hotel, “which caused a flood of screaming teens in the lobby,” then-reporter Warren Epstein wrote at the time. They even, apparently, hosted a wrestling match between a woman and a pig in the parking lot.
Those deejays no longer work out of the Satellite. What else has changed over the years?
Brummer wracked her brain for ideas.
“We no longer have the shuttle, of course, to go to the airport,” she said. (The Satellite was once the closest hotel to the Colorado Springs Airport, which meant pilots and crew frequently stayed as guests.) There wasn’t always a fireplace in the lobby, Brummer remembered, nor garages for residents’ vehicles.
“They did have a place where we could wash our cars with a hose, which is gone now,” Brummer said. “And the tennis courts, of course, have been built since we moved in.”
Outside, Colorado Springs tripled in population since the Satellite Hotel opened in 1969. The city exploded outwards, annexing parcels of land to the north and east. The U.S. Olympic Training Center opened in 1977, and the Olympic Committee relocated its headquarters here. What’s now known as Schriever Air Force Base (formerly Falcon Air Force Station) was founded in 1983. A dozen or so hotels popped up between the Satellite and the Colorado Springs Airport.
Colliver has been sorting through the HOA’s old minutes from over the decades, and was “amazed” to learn how similar life was inside the Satellite back then. “What’s changed? A lot and nothing,” she said.
“The building is the same,” Brummer agreed.