The El Pomar Estate at 1661 Mesa Avenue in Colorado Springs was originally built in 1909 as a private residence for Grace Goodyear Depew. Following her death, prominent Colorado businessman and philanthropist Spencer Penrose purchased and improved the estate. Penrose died in 1939 and the estate was bequeathed to the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, who operated it as a spiritual retreat. In 1992 the El Pomar Foundation—established by Penrose in 1937—purchased the estate as a conference center for Colorado nonprofits. The name El Pomar is Spanish for “The Orchard,” reflecting the prominent Dixon apple orchard on the property.
Construction and Early History
The discovery of gold along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains ignited the Colorado Gold Rush of 1858–59, drawing thousands of small-time miners and capitalist financiers to the Rockies to seek their fortunes. As early gold claims in the Pikes Peak region went bust, residents turned to agriculture to make a sustainable living. Railroad tycoon and visionary William Jackson Palmer established the Colorado Springs Company in 1870 to sell parcels of land at the base of Cheyenne Mountain, advertising the city as a health resort. Palmer used most of the proceeds to build streets, parks, and other city essentials. Before long, affluent people from the eastern United States were building large, ornate residences in Colorado Springs to showcase their cultural and economic prominence.
The El Pomar Estate is an example of one of these grand estates. Grace Goodyear Depew,
daughter of a wealthy family from Buffalo, had the home built in 1909 after her divorce from Gansen Depew. She moved in upon her marriage to Captain Howard Ashton Potter in 1910. Designed by Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer in the Mission Revival style, the residence’s form resembled an affluent bungalow. A large, U-shaped building with a central courtyard, the estate was primarily single-story with several two- and three-story sections added later. The home was constructed with a limestone foundation, walls of limestone, brick, and stucco, and a red ceramic tile roof. The interior decorations reflected Beaux-arts and baroque styles, embracing French and Italian influences.
Howard and Grace Potter died in 1913 and 1914, respectively, and in 1916 Spencer Penrose purchased the property along with all its contents for $75,000. A philanthropist and mining magnate, Penrose had started making his Colorado fortune when he opened the COD (Cash on Delivery) gold mine near Cripple Creek in 1892. Penrose then made the majority of his fortune in Utah copper mining. In 1916 he financed construction of the Broadmoor Hotel south of Colorado Springs and chose the nearby El Pomar Estate as his new residence.
After buying El Pomar, Penrose enhanced the estate by adding several outbuildings and landscaping. Penrose hired the renowned Olmsted brothers of Massachusetts to design a courtyard, landscape, teahouse, and additional gardens. He also hired local architects Thomas McLaren and Charles E. Thomas to design a chauffeur’s cottage in 1916. The next year, McLaren worked with T. D. Hetherington to design a gardener’s cottage and gate lodge. California-based Gordon Mayer made several improvements as well, including the construction of an auto port and decorative ironworks between 1925 and 1931. Penrose also expanded the main house through several second- and third-story additions, and he had a six-foot-high stucco perimeter wall built around the property. Penrose resided at El Pomar until his death in 1939, and his wife Julie Penrose continued to live there until moving elsewhere in 1944.
Upon his death, Spencer Penrose left much of his fortune to the El Pomar Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit organization he set up in 1937 to encourage growth and well-being for Coloradans. The El Pomar Estate remained the property of Julie Penrose until 1944, when she donated it to the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, who used the grounds as a spiritual retreat. The Sisters of Charity made several architectural changes that altered the character of the estate, including enclosing walkways for use as office space.
The Sisters of Charity held the estate until 1992, when the El Pomar Foundation purchased the property and began a major rehabilitation project to restore the estate to its Penrose-era condition. The original construction as well as the Penroses’s additions were carefully preserved and restored, ensuring the historic integrity of the main house, carriage house, teahouse, chauffeur's cottage, gardener’s cottage, gate lodge, and designed landscape. In 1995 the El Pomar Estate was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today the El Pomar Foundation uses the grounds as a free-of-charge conference center for Colorado nonprofit organizations.