“That one is more important.”
“Why do I know that?”
It is important to learn to observe. And it is important to learn to listen. Especially when it is ourself talking. And it is important to learn to ask the right questions. Buildings are important. Locations are important. Names are important. History is important. Learn to observe. Learn to listen. Learn to ask the right questions.
On Friday, I drove into Denver with the intent to go on a tour of the Governor’s Residence. They were doing tours through that day, from 10am-2pm each week day. This was in relation to the Christmas decorations that were done this year by the Colorado Interior Design Coalition. It was supposed to be beautiful.
The Governor’s Residence is more properly called the Governor’s Residence at the Boettcher Mansion. Previously, it was referred to as the Governor’s Mansion. It was completed in 1908 by Walter Cheesman. Cheesman was a druggist from Long Island originally and growing up in Chicago, working with his brother to provide the necessities in early Denver. He made his fortune in real estate and built himself a mansion, which his widow sold to Claude Boettcher in 1923. Boettcher came from a pioneering family who started with a hardware store selling to miners and built a fortune in many areas including sugar and cement. The Boettcher Foundation donated the mansion as the residence for the governor in 1959.
I ran into slow traffic on my way from Longmont to Denver, and got there too late. The tours were until 2pm, and I got to the closed gate at 2:10. I only got to see it from the road, but it is a gorgeous building. I walked around it and down the hill past the carriage house, then across Governor’s Park below it. I proceeded up the hill on the other side in the park, and say another mansion to the east of Boettcher Mansion. My mind spoke, saying, “That one is more important.” I then asked the obvious next question, “Why do I know that?” “Because it’s higher” came the answer. And I wondered why that was the reason.
High places have always been important. As are low places. Study many cultures and peoples in history, and this is quite evident. There are different reasons for this, in regard to high places. One is the military element. A high place sees more of the surrounding area, so gives you more warning of an attack. Build a tower or raised platform and it becomes more so. A high place is also easier to defend. Being above your enemy gives you the advantage, whether you are shooting (shooting arrows, throwing spears, later, shooting guns or cannons, are easier to kill with using gravity to draw them down from a height) or fighting with a melee weapon (you have an advantage swinging down, with gravity helping, over someone swinging up). Second, there is a power and government element. Being higher than someone by definition is superior, and this implies power over those below. Whoever is on the hill above is easily seen as more powerful and more affluentual. There is also a spiritual aspect, when dealing with sky gods or spirits, the high place is closest to them, just as when dealing with chthonic gods and spirits, the low place is closest, like caves and pits.
So, this second mansion is higher. So what? Does the idea above hold water? Is this second mansion, which is not the Governor’s, more important? It is most definitely higher. From the atrium of Boettcher Mansion, you can see Pike’s Peak on a clear day, which is way south near Colorado Springs. Boettcher Mansion has an amazing view. But the balcony on the highest floor of the second mansion is a good fifty feet higher, and looks out above the roof of Boettcher Mansion. In fact, before the much more recent apartment complexes around it were built, and before the sky scrapers in the Upper Downtown area were built, it would have been the highest point in Denver, with a view incorporating everything to the west of it all the way to the Frontrange, for an amazing panorama. So it has the height, but was it really more important? Is it now?
The second mansion is the Grant-Humphreys Mansion. It was completed six years before the Boettcher Mansion, in 1902, for $35,000, which was a very large sum at the time. The original building had 30 rooms and was much bigger than the Boettcher Mansion. It was built by James Benton Grant. Grant Street in downtown Denver is not named for the president as I presumed, but for this Grant. Grant was a plantation owner in Alabama who was impoverished by the Civil War and decided to try to make it back in the mining industry. He studied in Germany and moved to Leadville, Colorado where he made a fortune with a smelting company. In 1917, his widow sold the mansion to Albert E. Humphreys. Humphreys made a fortune three times, only sustaining it on the third. One was in logging, then in mining, and finally in oil. The mansion came under the stewardship of the Colorado Historical Society in 1976.
Now, as you can guess, smelting, in a time where mining was the biggest industry in the Frontrange, was a bit more important than, say, drugstores and hardware stores. Likewise, an oil baron was a bit more influential than the owners of the Boettcher Mansion. There’s a reason the second mansion is larger, higher, and older than the first.
So, I observed. I looked at two mansions and noted what I could with my senses. I listened. I listened to my internal voice, took note when I told myself the second mansion was more important. And I asked the right questions. I asked, and through those questions identified why it was so.
And named are important. They leave legacies, and the places and streets and locations bearing the names lend clues to understanding the history, the impact, and the importance of those that bore the names. The four names above, each to different degrees, were important in the Denver area and the history of the area. One of the major roads in Denver was named for Grant, who served as Colorado’s third governor, did much for Colorado’s trade and commerce industries, and contributed to great extent to education in the state. The neighbourhood to the east of Capital Hill, on which these two mansions are built, is named for Cheesman, including a park named for him, with many tales of being haunted and a colourful history. Walter Cheesman has instrumental in developing Denver’s water system, and was well known for using his money to help people. The Boettcher Foundation has been responsible for aiding in many endeavors to improve Colorado, including building projects and educational scholarships.