Built in 1905–6, the Crawford and Louise Hill Mansion at the corner of Tenth Avenue and Sherman Street in Denver stands as one of three remaining mansions from the affluent neighborhood that occupied the Sherman-Grant Historic District prior to the construction of apartment buildings (known as “Poet’s Row”) in the 1920s. The mansion served as a single-family residence for the Hills until 1947. For the next four decades, the building was used as the headquarters and clubhouse for the Town Club, a Jewish social organization. Thanks to a restoration that began in 1990, the opulent residence still exists today as the law offices of Haddon, Morgan and Foreman.
The mansion was built by Crawford and Louise Hill, recognized social leaders of early twentieth-century Denver. Crawford Hill bought the lot on November 29, 1904, to build a new house for his growing family. To design the residence, he hired the architectural firm of Boal and Harnois. A prominent local architect, Theodore Davis Boal designed some of the most important structures in early Denver, including Grant-Humphreys Mansion, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and Lowell Elementary School, as well as Osgood Castle in Redstone. For the Hill Mansion, Boal planned a three-story French Renaissance residence that cost $35,000 (roughly $1 million in today’s dollars). Construction began in 1905 and was completed in 1906.
The 17,000-square-foot mansion is surrounded by a brick-and-stone wall with an embellished iron fence. Inside the wall, the house boasts three porches. The north porch is topped by a classical pediment, the east contains Tuscan columns and ornate Corinthian capitals, and the south was originally open (though a 1956 renovation enclosed it). The exterior facade features classically symmetrical proportions, columns, a mansard roof, rounded dormers, and arched windows.
Inside, the mansion has twenty-three rooms, nine fireplaces, and an exquisite curved staircase with an orchestra balcony. The first floor originally comprised the dining room and other gathering spaces; in 1909 a “Palm Room,” with many windows and skylights, was added to the south side. The second floor contained multiple bedrooms, and the third floor acted as servants’ quarters. Maple floors and glass chandeliers can be found throughout the structure.
The Hill Mansion played a key role in the social history of Denver from its construction until it was sold for the first time in 1947. Although the front door faces Tenth Avenue, the Hills preferred to use the address 969 Sherman Street; Sherman Street led directly to the State Capitol, so having a Sherman address implied a sense of political and social stature within the community. From her Sherman Street mansion, Louise Sneed Hill ruled over Denver’s high society for four decades. She created a society circle dubbed the Sacred 36, which became the first internationally recognized elite social group in Denver.
Louise Hill’s interior decorations helped establish her social authority. In the reception hall, for example, she chose a lamp that was supposedly from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. (The lamp’s more likely provenance was Jefferson Davis, whose family was related to Louise’s family, the Sneeds.) She also traveled overseas in 1905 to acquire rich draperies, costly ornamentation, old mahogany, soft-toned Bokhara rugs, rare tapestries, bits of ivory, and paintings to decorate her new home. The Rocky Mountain News declared that the Hills’ mansion was the most elegantly furnished and artistic home in Denver.
Hill exerted her authority in part through invitations to parties held in the sumptuous interior she designed. Her bridge parties were legendary; in fact, the Sacred 36 took its name directly from the capacity of her bridge tables, nine tables of four players each. Local newspaper outlets featured stories of Hill’s innovative ideas and parties at her stately home. She was responsible for many firsts in Denver society, including breakfast balls; private banquets with an orchestra playing during the meal; and afternoon dances with guests frolicking to the “turkey trot” and the “worm wiggle.”
After Hill became the first Denverite presented in an English court in 1908, she and her Sacred 36 entered the limelight. She became acquainted with various European nobles, many of whom made the trip to Denver to stay at the Sherman Street mansion. President William Howard Taft also lodged with the Hills, as he was a close friend of Crawford Hill. Louise was the only woman permitted to entertain President Taft socially during his 1911 visit to Denver.
Even after Crawford Hill’s death in 1922, Louise Hill’s reign over Denver’s high society continued through the 1920s and 1930s. By 1944, however, the ravages and rationings of World War II caused Hill to shut down her mansion for parties and social gatherings. After the war, the upkeep of the large mansion became too much for her, especially after she suffered a stroke around 1947. Consequently, Hill and her staff moved into the Skyline Apartments at the Brown Palace, and her sons sold the mansion to the newly established Jewish Town Club. Many of Hill’s expensive clothes and furnishings were put up for auction. The Town Club managed to retain a few of the mansion’s original furnishings, including a life-size statue of a nude woman holding a bouquet of Easter lilies, Hill’s favorite flower.
The Jewish Town Club
The Town Club was newly organized when it purchased the mansion for $60,000. A Jewish social club, the group used the mansion as its headquarters and as a clubhouse for members’ families and friends. The club made many changes to the building’s exterior and interior. The dining room became a library, in the process losing its fireplace trim along with most original detailing. The kitchen and service areas on the east side of the ground floor were remodeled into a large commercial kitchen and a low-ceilinged bar, the walls covered with dark paneling. Outside, the mansion’s porches were enclosed. In 1953 the south garden was ripped out to put in a swimming pool, locker rooms, and equipment house.
When membership began to fade in the late 1980s, the Town Club put the mansion on the market. By the time the club left, the mansion reportedly had an abandoned look.
In 1990 the law firm Haddon, Morgan and Foreman bought the Hill Mansion for $450,000 and immediately embarked on a $600,000 restoration to remove the Town Club’s remodeling and return the building to its original state. The firm placed the mansion in the National Register of Historic Places, revived the original color schemes, and removed the obstructions that had obscured the mansion’s light and airy feeling (especially in the solarium, which the Town Club had completely boarded over). The firm’s careful, sensitive restoration received a Stephen H. Hart Award for Historic Preservation and a Western Mountain Region / American Institute of Architects Award. Today the grand Hill Mansion continues to serve as Haddon, Morgan and Foreman’s offices, displaying the splendor and social authority that Louise Hill intended.