Exuding ornamentation and ostentation, Grant-Humphreys Mansion (770 Pennsylvania Street) is Denver's best-known Beaux-Arts neoclassical residence, combining Colonial Revival and Italian Renaissance elements. Prominently sited on the southwest shoulder of Capitol Hill, it overlooks Governor’s Park and the Governor’s Mansion to the west. Completed in 1902, the elaborate mansion housed two of Colorado’s wealthiest and most prominent families, notable for their key roles in mining, smelting, oil, and aviation booms. Today History Colorado maintains the residence as a wedding venue and events center.
Grant-Humphreys Mansion was originally built for James Benton Grant, a successful smelting engineer and former Colorado governor. Grant was born and raised in Alabama, where his family had a plantation before the Civil War. A wealthy relative paid for his education at one of the world’s leading schools of mineral engineering, Germany’s famed Freiberg University of Mining. After gaining practical experience in the mines of Austria, in 1877 he went to Leadville, then experiencing one of the world’s major silver booms. There he built the successful Omaha and Grant Smelter in 1880 and planned the five-mile-long Yak Tunnel to open up deep mining. Two years later, he moved to Denver to construct one of the world’s largest smelters, distinguished by the 353-foot Grant Smelter stack, the tallest in the country and world’s third largest when built. Grant later merged his smelting interests with the Guggenheims’ American Smelting and Refining Company after ASARCO’s 1899 creation. He continued to profit from mining and ore-processing plants scattered around Colorado.
In 1881 Grant married Mary Matteson Goodell, who was prominent in Denver society and a daughter of an Illinois governor. Grant’s marriage into a prominent Colorado family, his rising fame as a smelting magnate, and a major split in the Republican Party led to a successful run for Colorado governor as a Democrat (1883–85). He was the first Democrat to hold that office. He also presided over the Denver School Board and helped found Colorado Women’s College.
As movers and shakers in society as well as industry, the Grants chose in the early 1900s to build themselves a residence in Denver’s elite Capitol Hill neighborhood, where they selected a prominent site atop the southwest corner of the hill. The Grants’ unusually large mansion there became a magnet for Denver society.
Grant hired Theodore Davis Boal and Frederick Louis Harnois, architects of the Denver Country Club and other area mansions, to design his $75,000 house, reputedly to look like a neoclassical mansion in his native Alabama. The 18,000-square-foot residence has a buff brick exterior with lavish white terra-cotta trim in window surrounds, balustrades, cornices, corner pilasters, and frieze. This early use of terra cotta as a substitute for decorative stonework set an example that was widely copied. Balustrades on all three levels on all sides unify the flamboyant exterior. All four corners are embellished with pilasters. The west facade is distinguished by a monumental semicircular portico supported by four fluted, twenty-foot-high Corinthian columns.
Interiors are on a grand scale, featuring exotic woods, plaster trim, and a sunroom addition. The forty-two rooms include a billiard room, ladies’ drawing room, library, and ballroom as well as a bowling alley and a small theater complete with proscenium-arch stage.
Following James Grant's death in 1911, Mary Grant continued to live in the house before selling it in 1917 to Albert E. Humphreys and his wife, Alice Boyd.
Albert Edmund Humphreys is best remembered as the King of the Wildcatters for his lucrative discoveries of oil in Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Texas. He had made money in lumber and coal in his native West Virginia, iron ore in Minnesota, gold and silver in British Columbia, silver in Creede, and gold in Cripple Creek, Colorado, before oil brought his greatest success. He used some of his $36 million in annual oil profits to set up the still-functioning Humphreys Foundation to support Baptist schools and churches (among other causes). Humphreys and his wife came to Denver in 1898 with their two sons, Ira and A. E., Jr.
After buying the Grant Mansion in 1917, the Humphreys had the Denver architectural firm of Fisher and Fisher do extensive interior remodeling. Humphreys attached a ten-car garage, complete with gas pump, for the family’s fleet of Rolls-Royces. The garage was topped by servant’s quarters and a sun deck.
Ira and A. E., Jr. became notable businessmen in their own right. Fascinated by airplanes, in 1918 the brothers formed the Curtiss-Humphreys Airplane Company. That year they also opened Denver's first commercial airport at Twenty-Sixth Avenue and Oneida Street in North Park Hill, an ancestor of today’s Denver International Airport. Their Humphreys Gold Corporation Company did dredge boat gold mining on Clear Creek in Gilpin County, where the piles of waste rock may still be seen. In 1919 Ira patented the Humphreys Spiral Concentrator, a bumpy device used extensively in the mining industry to separate gold and other heavy metals in low-grade ores. A. E., Jr. married Ruth Boettcher and became involved with widely diversified Boettcher family enterprises.
Meanwhile, the oil that brought their father his greatest success also led to his downfall. In the 1920s, he became involved in the Teapot Dome Scandal, in which his fellow oil tycoons were found guilty of bribing the US secretary of the interior to open up naval oil reserves in Wyoming. Rather than testify against his cronies, Humphreys committed suicide in 1927, sparking persistent haunted-house folklore.
Ira and his family continued to live in the house for the next five decades. They made alterations inside the house but very few to the exterior. Meanwhile, the neighborhood evolved dramatically as many nearby mansions were torn down and replaced by apartment houses. Partly to save the mansion from such a fate, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and included in Denver’s East Seventh Avenue Parkway Historic District. Upon Ira’s death in 1976, his will provided for the donation of the house to the Colorado Historical Society (now History Colorado). He also willed the expansive surrounding yard to the city for use as a park, providing a picturesque setting for the mansion.
After performing major restoration and long-deferred maintenance, History Colorado now uses the residence for tours and rents it out for special events.