Pioneer Profiles: Spencer Penrose

This series, “Pioneer Profiles,” explores some of the interesting characters that define Colorado history.
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Spencer Penrose got a rather inauspicious debut in Colorado Springs. Fresh from a Harvard education that taught him little but decent boxing skills, Penrose had been eking out a living in Cripple Creek doing real estate transactions with his buddy Charlie Tutt. They made the rounds to Charlie’s offices in Pueblo and Colorado Springs, thinking one evening to have a few drinks and chat up the locals. Unfortunately, liquor was not allowed within Colorado Springs city limits, so the only place a visitor could get a drink was at the Cheyenne Mountain Country Club, several miles outside of town. Charlie and “Speck” (as he was known) were several drinks in when a fight broke out. Speck grabbed one guy and punched him out, apologizing to Count Pourtales, the owner of the club, and offering to pay for damages. And that’s how Speck was introduced to Colorado Springs.

Lots of people think that Speck Penrose struck gold in Cripple Creek, but that’s just not true. He and Charlie made a great team buying and selling not only real estate, but also shares in local mines in Cripple Creek and later gold sampler and processing mills both in Cripple Creek and in Colorado City. That’s where the real money was, and they made a lot of it.
Spencer Penrose and Charles Tutt were good friends and business partners. (Credit: Penrose Library Digital Collection)

Spencer Penrose (left) and Charles Tutt (right) were good friends and business partners. (Credit: Penrose Library Digital Collection)

Speck didn’t know what to do with his fortune, but in 1906 at age 41 he decided it was time to settle down and get married. He had been seeing Julie McMillan, a local young widow, around town for the last five years, and although he spent his time with a few women, he was a terrible conversationalist and had a hard time deepening his relationships with them.

Julie McMillan Penrose. (Credit: Penrose Library Digital Collection)

Julie McMillan Penrose. (Credit: Penrose Library Digital Collection)

Julie decided that Speck was worth the investment, so she began sending her household employees over to his place to make sure he was taken care of. She found excuses for them to spend time together, often showing up at events where she knew Speck would be. When she heard that he and his brother Dick were going on a trip to Europe, she arranged to be on the same ship. After Dick was “called away” to another location, Julie made her move, and Speck proposed within a few days. They were married soon after, and the rest of the trip became their honeymoon. In 1910, they moved into a little villa near the foothills near Cheyenne Canyon, and named it El Pomar because it had an apple orchard.

In 1916, General Palmer’s Antlers Hotel was one of the largest, best hotels in Colorado. Speck had been watching the hotel’s business with interest, and decided it was time to build an even grander hotel for the upper crust of society to come and spend their time in the resort-like atmosphere cultivated by Palmer to lure prospective residents to Colorado Springs. Speck had been accumulating land once owned by Pourtales for a while, and decided that the hotel would be near El Pomar, and be called The Broadmoor.

Penrose (right, in hat) and two friends with an elephant at The Broadmoor. (Credit: Penrose Library Digital Collection)

Penrose (right, in hat) and two friends with an elephant at The Broadmoor. (Credit: Penrose Library Digital Collection)

This place was going to be fantastic. It was going to have a polo field, a lake that people could swim in, and every amenity that money could buy. Parties with champagne and caviar, tours of the mountain ranges and the top of Pikes Peak, and all kinds of entertainment like full orchestras, a zoo, and magnificent restaurants with lavish and exotic menus were the order of the day. He also wanted lots of celebrities around, so he invited them to stay at his hotel once it was built in 1917. The original building burned down, so he rebuilt a new one in 1918 as it stands today. Although it has undergone many upgrades and changes in its almost 100 year history, the hotel is still a five-star resort, and one of the most spectacular properties in the world.

Broadmoor

The Broadmoor Hotel. (Credit: Broadmoor.com)

When Winfield Scott Stratton passed away in 1902, everybody expected him to leave his substantial fortune to the development of the city. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, so Speck stepped in and filled the gap. Speck gave the city its much-needed library and many other civic improvements. He donated lots of money to committees and projects to develop and beautify Colorado Springs. He started the El Pomar Foundation in 1937, which still endows local nonprofit groups today.

Speck was concerned about his final resting place, and began constructing a small memorial shrine on the side of Cheyenne Mountain. The death of his friend Will Rogers during its construction caused Penrose to name it the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun. Speck died of throat cancer in 1939, and Julie carried on his legacy until her death in 1956; both of them are interred at the Shrine.

Few people know that places like the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the Pikes Peak Highway were originated by Penrose, or that he gifted them to the city of Colorado Springs years before his death. Most locals are familiar with Penrose’s lavish lifestyle, but many may not know of the lasting legacy this wonderful man bestowed on our city. And his father had deemed him a failure!
Photo By: Penrose Library Digital Collection