Pioneer Profiles: Alice Bemis Taylor
Alice Bemis Taylor was a pioneer of arts and social programs in Colorado Springs. Although she preferred a quiet, humble lifestyle, her legacy has been the foundation of many familiar landmarks of Colorado Springs.
In 1881, Alice Bemis was four years old when she moved with her family to Colorado Springs for her mother’s health, a common reason for relocation for many people at the time. Alice had a typical childhood, playing with friends, ice skating, horseback riding, and having picnics in Garden of the Gods. Her parents raised her to do things right and to help those in need.
In 1903 she married Frederick Taylor, a wealthy stock broker, and they moved into a home on Wood Avenue. Her mother had started a day nursery a few years earlier, and Alice stayed involved with it for several years, making a permanent home for it in 1923. The day the Colorado Springs Day Nursery building was finished, she personally handed each worker a $20 gold piece. During this time, Alice had begun what was to become an extensive Native American art collection, which quickly outgrew her basement. In 1927 Frederick died, and she began construction on La Foret, a summertime retreat in the Black Forest just north of the city. Small cabins and a stable surrounded the centerpiece, the Ponderosa Lodge, which housed most of her artifact collection. She also had a small chapel built nearby in memory of her husband; she kept his ashes there. The chapel has a Native American motif and a beautiful view of Pikes Peak. (I have often said I’d love to have my vows renewed there.) It was also around this time that Alice established the Bemis Taylor Foundation to support local civic projects. Among these projects was a donation of a pipe organ to Grace Episcopal Church and the establishment of an organ recital series in Frederick’s memory.
With her Native American art collection still growing, Alice decided that she needed a much bigger place to showcase it, and with the help of Julie Penrose and the El Pomar Foundation, she established the Broadmoor Art Academy, now known as the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, which opened in 1936. Not only did this large complex include art and music studios, but also a theater and a museum to house the Bemis art and book collection.
The Bemis legacy extends to Colorado College, too. Alice’s father had been an early trustee, and Alice herself was the first female trustee in the school’s history. Together, father and daughter established Bemis and Taylor Halls, the Cogswell Theater (named for Alice’s mother), and the library, which is being updated just this year, and should be fully renovated by August. Each year, the Bemis legacy contributes $750,000 in scholarships and other endowments to Colorado College students and faculty.
After Alice’s death in 1942, the Foundation received her estate and stayed involved with her philanthropic endeavors until it dissolved in 1974, when the city of Colorado Springs used part of her money along with $50,000 from the El Pomar Foundation to purchase the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, found just south of Garden of the Gods. This purchase placed the ranch into city control, precluding any private encroachment on such a historic treasure. If you haven’t been there, go. Their great programs and activities can be found here.
If you go downtown and walk around, you’ll see the Bemis influence just about everywhere, either in artistic touches on buildings or engraved with other names on a list of benefactors for projects all over the city. Alice Bemis Taylor’s larger gifts are well documented, but her smaller gifts, like her private life, are not well known, since she wrote few letters and didn’t keep many personal accounts. Most of the time gifts like financial aid for a student or an operation for a patient were handled privately and were known only to that person, so who knows how many people she really helped. Certainly hundreds during her lifetime, and thousands beyond—and that’s just how she liked it.