Julie Villiers Lewis McMillan Penrose (1870–1956) was one of the primary benefactors of Colorado Springs institutions in the interwar years. Her husband, multimillionaire Spencer (“Speck”) Penrose, profited from Cripple Creek gold and Utah copper in the early twentieth century. He used his wealth to fund the Pikes Peak Highway, the rebuilt cog railway, the Broadmoor Hotel, and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, among other important sites in Colorado Springs. But were it not for his illustrious and committed wife, there is some doubt whether the Penrose fortune would have gone to the many philanthropic causes that it did – most conspicuously, Julie’s donations to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and Penrose Memorial Hospital.
Born in 1870, Julie grew up in Detroit under the loving eye of her father, Governor Alexander Lewis. She was raised in luxury and able to travel extensively. In 1890 she married Jim McMillan, but he contracted tuberculosis ten years after their marriage and they moved to Colorado Springs in an attempt to cure him. He passed away soon afterward.
In 1901 Julie met Spencer at a clam bake. A declared bachelor like his brothers, Speck barely noticed Julie. But she courted him with immense verve. She sent servants to do his laundry and invited him over for breakfasts. When he tried to escape to Europe for a respite from her constant attention, she met him on the ship and followed him there. Months later he asked his critical father for permission to marry Julie, and in lieu of a formal proposal, he tossed his father’s approving response in her lap.
They were married in London on April 26, 1906, and moved back to Colorado Springs. After honeymooning for several years in Europe, Egypt, India, and Siam, the couple was determined to build a hotel of the same majesty as those they had stayed in abroad. This wish became the Broadmoor Hotel.
Of their many enterprises, the Broadmoor was the grandest and closest to their hearts. Julie was responsible for the hotel’s interiors. She picked out the furniture, art, china, and carpets. After the hotel was completed in 1918, she brought orchestras to the ballroom and the finest fashion to its store. She encouraged a small Catholic chapel to be built in her granddaughter’s name and went there to pray for her daughter, who was living in Belgium during World War I.
Speck was not very interested in religion or philanthropy. He thought participating in the economy and creating jobs was far more worthwhile. But he loved his wife, and together they contributed their time and money to many schools like the Fountain Valley School for boys, St. Mary’s High School, and other institutions in Colorado Springs. Independently, Julie founded the Broadmoor Art Academy in their old home. It grew in prestige and popularity to become the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. She also sponsored the Central City Opera House and the Carriage House Museum.
When Speck died in 1939, Julie took over many of his responsibilities. She became vice president of the Broadmoor Hotel and president of El Pomar Investment Company and the charitable foundation Speck created with most of his fortune, the El Pomar Foundation. She wrote a large check from her personal estate for both Penrose Memorial Hospital and the El Pomar Foundation and continued to watch over the Broadmoor from the sixth floor.
“Queen Julie” died on January 23, 1956. After fifteen years of dressing in black to mourn the passing of her husband, she was buried next to him.