Spencer Penrose opened The Broadmoor one hundred years ago, creating a lasting impact that extends even beyond the luxury resort.
By Tiffanie Wen
A century ago, Sea Island sister property The Broadmoor opened near the southern edge of the Rocky Mountains thanks to the efforts of businessman and philanthropist Spencer Penrose. With an adventurous spirit that drew him to the West, an appreciation for city luxuries and a knack for promotion, Penrose created an iconic destination in Colorado Springs and, ultimately, a legacy that continues to benefit the entire state of Colorado.
The Adventurer from Philadelphia
The Penrose family’s arrival in America can be traced back to Bartholomew Penrose, who was invited to Philadelphia to pioneer a shipyard in 1698 by none other than William Penn, who founded the colony of Pennsylvania. Spencer Penrose was born in 1865, the fourth of six surviving brothers in one of Philadelphia’s most prominent families. His father, Richard Alexander Fullerton Penrose, was one of Philadelphia’s leading physicians and founder of the city’s Children’s Hospital. His mother, Sarah Penrose, home-schooled the boys, and both parents instilled the values of higher education into their children. Spencer’s three older brothers, Boies, Charles and Richard, would uphold the family legacy as expected from an early age, all three graduating from Harvard at the top of their respective classes. Boies would continue to earn a law degree and represent Pennsylvania in the senate for over 20 years, and Charles and Richard would both earn Ph.D.s—Spencer, who went by “Spec,” was an educational anomaly in the family.
“He was kind of a black sheep in the family,” says The Broadmoor archivist Beth Davis. “He barely made it out of Harvard.” He did graduate, but according to some, as last in his class. The accomplishment earned him a gift of $2,000, the equivalent of about $52,000 today, from his father and the offer of a job in a bank.
However, Spencer turned down the job and decided to take his money and head out West, starting in Texas to visit his geologist brother, Richard, and then to New Mexico, where he had a series of unsuccessful business ventures. By 1892, Spencer was working at La Mesilla farm in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and he was lost for direction.
Fortunately, Richard, who was by then based in Denver, handed him a lifeline. Richard wrote to Spencer that his close childhood friend Charles L. Tutt had moved out to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to be treated by his brother-in-law for a heart condition and had some interesting prospects. Gold had been discovered in Cripple Creek, Colorado, in 1890, and the rush was on.
“So Spec jumps on a train to Colorado Springs,” says R. Thayer Tutt Jr., president and chief investment officer of El Pomar Foundation and the great-grandson of Charles L. Tutt Sr. “And as the story goes, Penrose arrived with no money and Charles, who just acquired a mining interest in Cripple Creek called the COD Mine, sold half interest in the mine for $500 to Spencer and loaned him the money to buy it. And that’s how they started out as business partners.”
This partnership with Charles, formed in 1892, would change the course of Spencer’s life. “It turned out that the COD Mine was the same ore body as Bob Womack’s, who discovered gold in Cripple Creek. So they hit it big right there at the beginning,” Tutt says. The pair had a bigger vision, though, so they sold interest in their mine for $250,000 and got into ore processing, eventually buying a copper mine in Utah and pioneering a new process similar to strip mining.
In the first years of the 1900s, Spencer also met Julie Villiers Lewis McMillan, a widow whose husband had died of tuberculosis and whose son had died of appendicitis. A socialite with one surviving daughter who ran in the same Colorado crowds as Spencer, the story goes that she was the one to court Spencer for years. When they found themselves on the same ship to Europe in 1906, Spencer asked his brother to write to their father for permission to marry Julie.
“Once he gets permission, he proposes to her in Europe,” Davis says. “They get married in London. And Penrose comes home married after leaving for Europe as a bachelor.” Spencer had gone from a notorious bachelor, known for being an all-business, no-nonsense guy who liked to drink with his friends, to a husband and stepfather.
“But Julie slowed him down, and got him interested in the arts,” Tutt says. They became benefactors to the Broadmoor Art Academy and City Opera, and it was with Julie that Spencer turned to his most glamorous project yet: The Broadmoor.
Bringing the City to Colorado
By the turn of the century, Spencer’s love for the West and Colorado was well-established. He especially loved the area near the base of Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs, the site of William Willcox and Count James Pourtales’ Broadmoor Dairy (so named because Willcox thought the land looked like the broad moors of Scotland). In 1890, Pourtales had formed the Broadmoor Land and Investment Co. and purchased a 2,400-acre tract, constructing Cheyenne Lake and a casino.
“Spencer knew the area, he was a member of the Cheyenne Mountain Country Club, which Count Pourtales had started,” Davis says. “He was well aware of the casino that was originally here, where the hotel is now. His brother [Richard] … knew the count and Spencer knew how gorgeous the area could be.”
Spencer had never lost his blueblood Philadelphia tastes, writing to ask friends to ship pounds of caviar and other luxuries from the city. In 1916, now a wealthy entrepreneur, Spencer bought the El Pomar estate nearby, and then the 40-acre site where The Broadmoor was to be built, and set about creating a place that would entice all of Philadelphia to come to Colorado. “When he built The Broadmoor, he hired Warren and Wetmore, who created Grand Central Terminal. He wanted East Coast landscaping, so he hired Frederick Law Olmsted, who did Central Park,” Tutt notes. One person who wasn’t involved this time around was Spencer’s childhood friend and business partner, Charles, who had died of a heart attack in 1909. The relationship didn’t end there, however—Spencer went on to hire Charles Tutt Jr. to run the hotel.
“Penrose and Tutt’s relationship then transitioned from a partnership of peers to a mentorship, and Penrose essentially adopted my grandfather as the son he never had,” Tutt explains. The Broadmoor opened in 1918 with luminaries such as John D. Rockefeller attending the private opening ceremony.
“Penrose created celebrations in the early ‘20s and entertained the top hotel people from the coasts and hosted lavish dinners. … He created the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb [automotive race]. He opened a zoo because he loved animals. He [started] a rodeo. He did everything to promote the Pikes Peak region,” Tutt says. During Prohibition, he stockpiled alcohol, the bottles of which can still be seen in the hotel in an area called “Bottle Alley,” writing to his high-profile guests that they should visit and “bring their own gasoline.”
In fact, Penrose’s abilities as a promoter and host were legendary. In one story, he shipped in an elephant on a boxcar labeled “Empress of India,” and told everyone that it was a gift from the Indian maharaja of Nagapur. In reality, the elephant, called Tessie, was a retired circus animal from Indiana.
“He used the elephant on the golf course as a caddy at some point as a marketing tool,” Davis adds. “There’s a picture of [professional boxer] Jack Dempsey with his wife. His wife is on the elephant and the clubs are kind of hanging off of it.” When Tessie caused too much damage to the Donald Ross-designed golf course, she was repurposed to carry children up the slope to the zoo.
Today, The Broadmoor still continues to play host to visitors from around the country who come for adventure and to indulge in many of the same activities that the original visitors did a hundred years ago. Guests can hike the mountain; fish or boat in the lake; visit Cloud Camp on the original site of Spencer’s Cheyenne Lodge, a lodge situated 3,000 feet above the resort; witness the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the second oldest auto race in the country; or take a ride on the Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which takes guests to the 14,200-foot-high summit of Pikes Peak.
Broadmoor and Beyond
Yet The Broadmoor is only part of Spencer’s lasting legacy. In 1937, he was diagnosed with cancer; that same year, he and Julie gave their first grants to a handful of charities including the Glockner-Penrose hospital, Central City Opera, Boys and Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region and more.
While he disliked being known as a benefactor, Spencer would ultimately become one of Colorado’s largest. He created the general-purpose El Pomar Foundation in 1937 with 15,000 shares of El Pomar Investment Co. stock valued at $1.4 million. Upon his death in 1939, Julie and Charles managed his assets, including The Broadmoor, through the foundation. When Julie died in 1956, she left the balance of the estate to El Pomar. At the end of 2016, the foundation’s assets had grown to over $570 million.
Tutt says that Spencer was so in love with Colorado that his only conditions in the guidelines of the foundation were to benefit the people of the Pikes Peak region and the state of Colorado, and that no grant should be made outside of state lines. With an emphasis on the arts, education, health, human services, and civic and community services and infrastructure, the foundation honors his legacy and the things Spencer valued during his life. It has granted more than $24 million to Penrose Hospital, over $15 million to the University of Colorado Foundation, nearly $13 million to Peak Vista Community Health Centers, over $12 million to the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region and more than $11 million to Discover Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado, just to name a few of the organizations that have benefited from the foundation.
“We honored the Penrose legacy and the things that were important to them,” Tutt says. “I think today if Mr. Penrose saw how his money continues to impact the citizens of Colorado, he would be proud.”
The Broadmoor Timeline
1916: Spencer Penrose purchases the 40-acre site at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain.
1918: At the private opening
of the hotel, 400 guests dance from 7:30 p.m. until midnight to the sounds of the Boxhorn Orchestra.
1923: Spencer Penrose purchases Camp Vigil (now Emerald Valley) from the Girl Scouts and forms Pike Peak Camping & Mountain Trails Association, creating a subscription membership club.
1924: Construction begins on Cheyenne Mountain Road. Dubbed “the Wonder Road,” the 7-mile-long Cheyenne Mountain Highway was a feat of engineering skill.
1939: Spencer Penrose dies at his home, El Pomar, at 74 years old.
1956: Julie Penrose dies at the age of 85. She is buried next to her husband, Spencer Penrose, at the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun.
1959: Ski Broadmoor is dedicated.
1961: Penrose Room opens on the top of the South Tower with expansive views of the resort.
1982: Colorado Hall, containing 18,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, is opened.
1988: The hotel is sold to Edward Gaylord, the owner of the Oklahoma Publishing Co.
1994: The Broadmoor adds
a new golf, spa and tennis facility, and the Rocky Mountain Ballroom.
2002: The main building reopens after a total restoration and renovation. Original artwork is restored on ceilings and walls; two guest elevators are added; and rooms are redesigned with five-fixture baths and a host of state-of-the-art services and amenities.
2004: Oklahoma Publishing Co. purchases the remaining interest to become a
2004: The Spa at The Broadmoor is expanded to 43,000 square feet by master architect Tag Galyean.
2006: The Broadmoor’s new restaurant, Summit, which was designed by internationally renowned architect Adam D. Tihany, opens.
2008: Penrose Room wins the AAA Five Diamond award.
2009: The residential-style Broadmoor Cottages open.
2010: The Broadmoor receives the Forbes Five-Star rating for its 50th consecutive year and the AAA Five Diamond rating for its 34th consecutive year.
2011: Anschutz Corp. of Denver, Colorado, purchases all businesses of Oklahoma Publishing, including The Broadmoor. Philip Anschutz becomes the third owner in the resort’s history.
2014: Broadmoor West is reimagined with an additional 31 guestrooms and suites.
2015: Seven Falls, with its Soaring Adventure zip-lining experience, officially opens.
2018: The Broadmoor celebrates its centennial.